Two years ago, we reflected on the Mexican food renaissance in New York; a push towards refined, regional cuisine at places like Empellon Cocina, Gran Electrica, and Salvation Taco (not to mention the yet-to-open Cosme), that stood in stark relief to the city’s stable of cheesy, Tex-Mex chains. Ha! So who would have thought that, barely two years later, the tide would swing directly in favor of those aforementioned Mexicali places, so that assertively flavored and massively portioned dishes, such as Stacked Enchiladas and Chile con Queso, would become a certifiable trend?
While it certainly wasn’t the first restaurant on the scene to espouse the fare of the Lonestar State, Javelina deserves the lion’s share of the credit for New York’s current, Tex-Mex revival. Run by a native Texan, and with a Rosa Mexicana and Hill Country alum in the kitchen, the brightly tiled, succulent-strewn eatery came out of left field to become the hardest reservation to score in the city, with wait times for Puffy Tacos, Avocado Margaritas, “Bob Armstrong Queso” (topped with ground beef and pico), and Cowboy Steak doused with tomato ranchero sauce stretching well past two hours.
But there’s an even newer Tex-Mex contender in New York, hoping to woo Shiner Bock-loving expats with Armadillo Eggs (cheese stuffed, sausage-wrapped and deep-fried jalapeno peppers), and Frito Pie. Owned by native Lisa Fain (author of the James Beard award-winning “Homesick Texan” blog), El Original launched in Hell’s Kitchen only one week ago; a 7,500-square foot love letter to lard-saturated Refried Beans, Texas Red Chili, and crispy Chalupas.
While not as perpetually swarmed as Javelina or boisterous as El Original, the fast-casual Oxido (from San Antonio chef, Jesse Perez) is also enthusiastically waving the Texan flag. Located directly across from Eataly, it’s essentially an ambitious, Tex-Mex Chipotle, featuring build-your-own Taco and Burrito Bowls. Options include New Mexican Beef Curry, Red Chile Mushrooms, Chicken Poblano and lime-infused Pork Carnitas, topped with bacon-studded Pinto Beans, Sweet Corn Relish, Smoked Jalapenos, Suisa Sauce and of course, Queso Blanco… rivers of white, melted cheese.
Brooklyn can lay claim to some of the city’s most authentic Mexican food, found in thickly settled communities throughout Bushwick and Sunset Park. And yet, the borough isn’t entirely immune to the allure of Tex-Mex cuisine either, as embodied by Crown Heights’ taco spot, Gueros. Way more Austin than Oaxaca, you’ll find Chips and Queso, Quesadillas, Beans & Greens, and tortillas stuffed with everything from Fried Chicken, Fried Shrimp and Fried Avocado, to Blackened Catfish, Grilled Hangar Steak and Picadillo, and even a line of beloved-in-Texas Breakfast Tacos, filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes, rajas, cheddar, bacon and chorizo.
So give it up to the Lonestar State… because while refined New York diners have fallen head over heels for dainty Lobster Pibil and Uni Tostadas at places like Cosme, they’ve also proved equally entranced by the Monterey jack-slicked Nachos, brisket and gravy-lined Tacos, and guacamole-gobbed “Mad Mud” Queso, raucously peddled by Tex-Mex newcomers such as Javelina.
119 E 18th St., btwn. S Park Ave & Irving Pl.
735 10th Ave., btwn. 49th & 51st Sts.
18 W 23rd St., btwn. Avenue Of The Americas & Madison Ave.
605 Prospect Pl., at Franklin Ave.