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Dining Out 4 minutes 29 November 2018

The Best Mexican Restaurants in Manhattan

Let’s taco ‘bout it.

Mexican cuisine

Regardless of what some in SoCal may say, New York City is filled with tons of great Mexican restaurants.

Whether you’re craving classic tacos or looking for something more refined, here’s where to get the best Mexican fare in the heart of the five boroughs.

Located in the Flatiron District, Atla boasts a spectacular design. (Photo by Signe Birck/Atla.)
Located in the Flatiron District, Atla boasts a spectacular design. (Photo by Signe Birck/Atla.)

Atla

Greenwich Village

Designation:
Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: "Flatiron favorite Cosme may be doted on by diners and critics alike, but nobody puts Atla in a corner. The delightful little sibling on Lafayette St. stands proudly on its own two feet, and if the dazzling design—defined by black-and-white tiles, tiny wood tables and a bustling, worldly scene—makes it feel like a contemporary Mexican terrace, well that’s the point. First things first: order a mezcal from the massive selection, then settle in to peruse the list of small plates. A party of two could easily sample every delicious morsel on the menu, but Chef Daniela Soto-Innes really rocks the Arctic char tostada; quinoa, yogurt and tomatoes done pico de gallo-style; farro and quail egg meatballs; as well as the spectacular chicken enchiladas."

The Black Ant

East Village

Designation:
The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Bringing a dose of Mexico City chic to the area, this restaurant takes its name from the ancient Mesoamerican fable of an ant and incorporates that imagery throughout the setting. Black-and-white checkerboard flooring, wall tiles bearing the insect's motif, and a cool giant ant mural reinforce the theme. The menu is an unrestricted look at this nation’s cuisine. It is only fitting that specialties here include the Climbing Ant cocktail with tequila, Aperol and mole bitters; guacamole seasoned with crushed ant salt; and grasshopper-crusted shrimp tacos. Bug-free creations are just as appealing, as in tacos with fried cod cheek and cabbage-mango slaw. For a more traditional but moodier experience, stop by sister restaurant Ofrenda in the West Village."

Café Frida

Upper West Side

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Festive and friendly with happy hour margaritas that flow like the Rio Grande, Café Frida is almost better than it needs to be, considering its high-traffic location across from the Museum of Natural History. Overall, it feels like a rustic and welcoming hacienda. The extensive tequila list complements the relatively economical fare, showcasing traditional moles. Peruse the menu while delving into the guacamole served in a comal with crisp chips and fiery habanero sauce on the side. Don't miss the clear and warming sopa Azteca, a restorative consommé bobbing with chicken, cactus leaf and abundant vegetables as well as an array of accompaniments. Finally, tlacoyos spread with a creamy fava purée and slow-cooked pork carnitas are muy buenas.”
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Cobia al pastor

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Cosme

Flatiron District

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Donning a hip and urbane demeanor, Chef Enrique Olvera's Cosme is a cherished destination. This contemporary space features a sleek and handsome bar up front that pours a litany of stirring cocktails. Then add in the roomy dining tables and soft lighting to its playful Mexican food, and you have quite a winning formula. One glance at the menu will also tell you why this kitchen headed by Daniela Soto-Innes is so beloved. Duck enmoladas draped with mole rojo and crowned by crème fraîche is the very picture of temptation; while a tostada with creamy avocado, uni and bone marrow salsa is, fittingly, a big hit. This cooking is clever, and, at times, surprisingly delicate. Even desserts like churros with Mexican hot chocolate offer serious bursts of flavor."

Empellón

Midtown East

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Buttoned-up Midtown gets a much-needed shot in the arm compliments of chef Alex Stupak's lively new flagship for his popular Empellón family. The colorful, multi-level space offers a first floor outfitted with a generous bar area and prime view of the bustling open kitchen. On the mezzanine level, find a more intimate dining space. The menu bears the chef's signature creative flair, offering a range of small bites, tacos and shareable large plates. Sample their clever spins on salsa, like a wickedly good smoky cashew salsa that arrives with a sampler salsa starter; or irresistible lamb sweetbread tacos with a flutter of white onion and bright cilantro. Stupak is also a serious pastry chef and it shows in the otherworldly desserts, like the 'avocado.'"

La Esquina draws a hip crowd. (Photo courtesy of La Esquina.)
La Esquina draws a hip crowd. (Photo courtesy of La Esquina.)

La Esquina

Chinatown & Little Italy

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "When La Esquina opened it was a breath of bright air, offering enjoyably fresh cuisine that stood tall among the paltry selection of Manhattan Mexican. Thankfully, the city's south-of-the-border dining scene has evolved since then. However, this idol remains a fun and worthy option. More playground than restaurant, the multi-faceted setting takes up an iconic downtown corner and draws a hip crowd to its grab and go taqueria, 30-seat café and subterranean dining room-cum-bar. The spirit here is alive and kicking, with classic renditions of tortilla soup; mole negro enchiladas filled with excellently seasoned chicken; as well as carne asada starring black Angus sirloin with mojo de ajo. A baby sib in Brooklyn continues to thrive thanks to its retro vibe."

Maya

Upper East Side

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Upscale Mexican dining thrives at chef Richard Sandoval's muy popular Maya. Slick with polished dark wood furnishings, vibrant tiled flooring and accent walls the color of a ripe mango, this is always a fun scene. Adding to the revelry is the Tequileria, Maya's bar with a serious focus on agave spirits. Antojitos, such as squash blossom quesadillas and their trio of salsas, headline as starters. Tasty tacos are stuffed with smoked brisket and creamy chili slaw. Heartier dishes feature huitlacoche and wild mushroom enchiladas swathed in a creamy, fire-roasted poblano chile sauce. Especialidades like achiote-marinated carne asada with cactus-green bean salad and bacon-wrapped jalapeños display the kitchen's contemporary flair."
The cuisine of Mexico City is the inspiration for the menu at Oso. (Photo by KERM&ME/Oso.)
The cuisine of Mexico City is the inspiration for the menu at Oso. (Photo by KERM&ME/Oso.)

Oso

Morningside & Washington Heights

Designation: Bib Gourmand

What Our Inspectors Say: "This charming little Mexican restaurant, whose name means “bear” in Spanish, sits opposite the City College of New York. The space is dressed in wood tables, warm lighting and a Dia de los Muertos mural gracing a corner. One black-tiled dining counter is lined with vintage white metal stools, while another small bar faces the tidy open kitchen where the cooks hand-make tortillas at a steady clip. The cuisine of Mexico City inspires Oso's menu with a concise, impressive offering of dishes like braised octopus tostada with mandarin salsa, guava- and chipotle-glazed ribs, as well as authentic tacos and antojitos. Come summer, don't miss the wonderful radish salad, served warm with fresh cilantro, serrano peppers, anchovies and tomato vinaigrette."

Papatzul

SoHo

Designation: The Plate

What Our Inspectors Say: "Sangria and salsas are a heavenly match at SoHo's favorite cantina, where a boisterous crowd devours delightful Mexican cuisine. Decorated with masks and classic movie posters, Papatzul is abuzz with drinking buddies getting friendly with the bar's offerings and tables of friends scooping up every last drop from the signature salsa assortment—five varieties, each inspired by a different region of the country. The talented kitchen churns out tacos and enchiladas at a steady clip. You can't go wrong with an order of enchiladas San Miguel, a creative rendition that stuffs salsa roja-soaked tortillas with sautéed kale, roasted sweet cherry tomatoes and creamy goat cheese. If you still have room, go for the chocolate flan with cinnamon ice cream."

Hero image courtesy of Atla.

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