Mexican food is one of the cuisines we crave most consistently when the weather is warm — because what’s more evocative of sun, sand and surf than spicy salsa, tasty tacos and colorful ceviches? And the addition of frosty drinks like pina coladas and margaritas certainly doesn’t hurt. That’s why spring seems a particularly auspicious time to debut the expansive Café El Presidente, an ambitious new Mexican restaurant from the Tacombi team.
The massive, 6,500 square foot Flatiron location means menu offerings expand well beyond those at the casual Tacombi at Fonda Nolita. An assortment of separate shops and bars serve Lupita juices, housemade sodas and Veracruz-style coffees, freshly pressed corn, sweet potato and beetroot tortillas snake by on a conveyor belt in the “Tortilleria Via Hermosa,” and former Peels chef, Jason DeBriere, holds court in the open kitchen labeled “Tacos Madison,” whipping up fillings, like Al Pastor with spit-roasted Berkshire Pork, Sonoran Shrimp in Mojo Sauce, and Beer Battered Crispy Fish, as well as sides like smoky, cotija cheese-topped Esquites, creamy Guacamole, and an especially sprightly Ceviche, simply marinated with jalapeno, cilantro and lime.
But as opposed to the cute and quirky Tacombi, essentially a converted VW bus parked inside of a garage, appointed with tin-topped tables and tropical plants —the coolly corporate Café El Presidente reads more like a Mexican-styled adjunct of the nearby mega-mart, Eataly, instead of as a welcoming, come-as-you-are shack on the beachy shores of the Yucatan. Perhaps the idea of a cavernous, cloistered, fluorescent-lit market will appeal more in the dead of winter, but come margarita and sangria-drinking season, you just can’t put too high a premium on even a smidgen of outdoor space.