Tacos at Alta Calidad. Credit Liz Clayman.
Mexican food in New York is always evolving and there are plenty of new spots to seek out. From Hudson Valley ingredients in a celebrity chef cafe to tiny, easygoing taquerias with micheladas and margaritas, here's where to get your fix now.
Why It’s Hot: The splashiest outpost yet for chef Alex Stupak, Empellón Midtown features modern Mexican snacks, tacos, sharable mains and an impressive roster of desserts. There’s a big list of rare mezcals and small-batch tequilas too that make for killer margaritas. With two levels, hip art and open concept kitchen, there’s plenty of space to get comfy and enjoy lunch or an after-work bite.
Must Order: Ask for the tacos exclusive to the Midtown location but save room for dessert. Justin Binnie’s (Jean Georges, Bien Cuit ) imaginative sweets like corn ice cream tacos or an avocado shaped frozen parfait are worth indulging in.
510 Madison Ave.; 212-858-9365
Why It’s Hot: Can’t get a seat at Enrique Olvera’s hot spot Cosme? Check out Olvera’s Noho neighborhood destination. It opens for breakfast (which is served until 4pm), and serves Mexican classics for lunch and dinner using Hudson Valley sourced produce and ingredients. There are housemade agua frescas, cocktails and health-minded elixirs as well.
Must Order: Don’t miss the chilaquiles (either red or green sauce) at breakfast where the traditional tortilla chip gets added crunch from flax seeds. Guacamole here is pretty surprising with chunks of avocado and bright herbs added to the mix, making it look more like a salad than your traditional guac.
Why It’s Hot: Chef Akhtar Nawab created a range of seasonal dishes for lunch, dinner and brunch at this casual Prospect Heights pick. The small spot still feels modern and playful, a perfect match for off-beat dishes like pumpkin blossom quesadillas or Mexican Coca Cola lamb ribs. Even the cocktails are fun using ingredients like garden pepper juice and chocolate rose tea.
Must Order: Brunch favorites include chilaquiles and huevos divorciados with a choice of housemade salsa. At lunch spring for any of the tacos and at dinner, the octopus and pork belly skewers served over rice are best eaten deconstructed like paella.
552 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn; 718-622-1111
Why It’s Hot: Chef Ivan Garcia (Zona Rosa, Mesa Coyoacan) was inspired by his childhood in Mexico City on this latest project, so look for a menu is loaded with classics. A tequila and mezcal focused bar has also helped make this a destination too – along with the 1940s supper club-esque dining room with live music and burlesque shows.
Must Order: Trompito al pastor is the star of the menu here. A hunk of pork is marinated in guajillo chile and pineapple served with onion, cilantro, key lime, chile de arbol and tortillas.
1 Knickerbocker Ave., Brooklyn; 718-366-0500
Why It’s Hot: If there’s one thing to know about this cozy little Gowanaus pick, it’s that the masa is what sets it apart. Everything is handled in house by chefs TJ Steele (both Union Square Cafe alums) with corn sourced directly from Oaxaca Mexico and from Steele’s upstate farm. Besides super fresh tortillas, this spot specializes in regional Oaxacan fare and that also means a solid mezcal menu.
Must Order: The barbacoa shines here. Also try the shrimp aguachile with mint and cucumber.
284 3rd Ave., Brooklyn; 347-721-3126
Why It’s Hot: This cozy Williamsburg spot from chef Bob Truitt (El Bulli, Altamarea Group) has quickly won fans over with homey, old-school dishes the chef recalls from Mexico City. It also doesn’t hurt that food is served late (and at weekend brunch) and comes accompanied by fun mezcal-focused cocktails by Meaghan Montagano (La Sirena, Extra Fancy).
Must Order: Any of the tacos. A fall favorite is the warming pozole verde soup, with braised pork, hominy and crisp pumpkin seeds.
594 Union Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211; 718-388-3555
Why It’s Hot: Helmed by chef Hugo Orozco and backed by the Tanner Smith owners, look for imaginative small plates with fresh ingredients, like broccoli tamales and mole fried chicken skewers. The bi-level spot is Instagram ready with lots of textures, bright murals and a green tiled bar.
Must Order: The seafood ceviche comes loaded with shrimp, scallops, squid, fish and pico de gallo and tostadas.
248 W 55th St.; 646-657-0565
Why It’s Hot: After re-launching her Bronx kitchen in Prospect Heights to big fanfare, Denisse Lina Chavez is growing again with this outpost inside Gowanus’s big indoor/outdoor Parklife bar. Rather than the full menu, this counter focuses on tacos first, but that doesn’t mean the pickings are slim. There are nachos and plenty of snacks too.
Must Order: Carnitas tacos with fresh, handmade blue corn tortillas.
636 Degraw St., Brooklyn; 718-399-0706
Why It’s Hot: Over the summer Los Tacos opened a larger taqueria in Times Square (in addition to its Chelsea Market kiosk) where locals and tourists alike can try the made-to-order tacos with super fresh ingredients and hand-pressed tortillas.
Must Order: Al pastor pork taco comes with shaved, spit-roasted meat and pineapple salsa. If you’re really looking for a treat, ask for a quesadilla “especial” and they’ll deep fry it.
229 W 43rd St.; 212-574-4696