Right around this time each year, as the weather finally begins to warm up, we start cravingLatin flavors and its vibrant spices. So we were excited to find out that Julian Medina, the chef behind both Yerba Buena outposts and Toloache, had plans to open a “Latino diner.” And we’re even more thrilled to learn that it’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Just this week, Chef Medina flung open the doors of his funky eatery in Chelsea. Decked out in checkerboard floors and red and
blue leather banquettes (meant to evoke the bench seat of your uncle’s old Chevy), the space has all the underpinnings of a classic diner. Bar stools, coffee service and a dessert display scream greasy spoon, but nothing is as conventional as it looks. The coffee is Cuban and consulting pastry chef Pichet Ong has stocked the dessert case with creations, like chocolate- dipped churros and avocado ice cream. And like any respectable diner, breakfast is served all day, which is a very good thing when you’ve got a hankering for huevos rancheros in the evening…on a Tuesday. Medina injects his Latino touch into comfort food standards, like mac & cheese with chicharon (fried pork rinds) as well as chicken wings, served with a spicy chocolate glaze in lieu of your garden variety buffalo sauce. Chicharon pop up again on the sandwich menu in the pan con lechon where crackling pork rinds are layered with red onion and garlicky mojo sauce, which sounds like the perfect cure for late-night munchies.
The menu tops out at around $16, which will afford you some great dishes, including ropa vieja and pescado encendido, potato-crusted fillets of tilapia over a fufu (mashed green plaintains) and a rich tomato salsa (pictured right). Daily specials rotate by region: Monday is Cuban night, a twice-cooked skirt steak, while Sunday honors the Caribbean with rum-glazed shrimp.
This diner remake is neither for the diet conscious, nor the vegetarian, but we’re pretty confident that hungry night crawlers as well as the brunch crowd will flock for Medina’s blue corn pancakes with blueberries and agave nectar. It’s an all-hours spot with an all-hours menu for a city that never sleeps.