It's hot people! This weekend's unseasonably warm weather got me outside soaking up some much needed sun and it also got me craving some serious Mexican food...and a few ice cold cocktails. This typically happens to me each year when the temperature hits above 65. I don't know what it is, but warm weather, great Latin/Mexican food and minty mojitos and limey margaritas are like a culinary match made in heaven. I'm guessing I'm not alone here, so I figured this is the perfect opportunity to do a quick run-down of my favorite Mexican and Latin spots around town. And yes, you CAN do Mexican food and margaritas without throwing the concept of 'healthy eating' out the window. Watch the heavily cheesy, sauced-up, fried stuff and massive portions and you're a big step ahead before even taking the first bite. Soft tacos, fajitas, basic burritos, traditional chicken, fish or lean beef and pork dishes, ceviche, and black beans instead of refried are some smart picks to start with - and they leave a little more room for a bit of guacamole and a couple of chips. Here are a few of my go-to's in the city:
1. Esperanto - 145 Avenue C @ 9th St. (esperantony.com) - Tucked pretty deep in Alphabet City, Esperanto is one of my all-time favorite places to grab a table outside, lounge around and have a long, lively dinner with friends. Flavorful, lite Brazilian and South American food is what you'll get along with live music on most nights. Their ceviches, grilled corn, tuna, salmon and shrimp dishes are killer. Beware though, the mojitos are insanely strong. And fyi, I've heard brunch there is hard to beat.
2. Delicia Brazil - 322 W. 11th St. btwn Greenwich & Washington -- I was lucky enough to be introduced to this tiny, non-descript, 'mom-n-pop' Brazilian place in the West Village by a friend a number of years ago. When I say 'mom-n-pop' I really mean it--Delicia's owned and run by the very friendly Brazil-transplant Jose and his sister who whip up authentic, homey dishes. If my grandmother was Brazilian, this is exactly what she'd make. The wait for food can be long at times, but it's so worth it. My standard order is always the heart of palm salad followed by the passion fruit baked chicken and a side of black beans, rice and farofa (a Brazilian side dish made from ground yucca). And if you can save some room for dessert, a few bites of the passion fruit mousse are well-worth the indulgence. The food's basic, but so good and the incredibly reasonable prices are always appreciated.
3. Mexicana Mama - 525 Hudson St. & 47 E. 12th St. -- "The Mama", as we endearingly call it in my apartment, is my neighborhood Mexican place. The food's so good, I'm here year-round. In fact, I made a dinner run there just tonight and had a Rachael Ray spotting (she lives in the hood). Awesome, authentic Mexican and possibly the best salsa I've ever had. It's so addictive, I'll often just get some to-go and have it at home for a quick, healthy snack with fresh cut veggies.
4. Barrio Chino - 253 Broome St. @ Orchard (barriochinonyc.com) -- This is a fairly recent and very welcome discovery on the Lower East Side/Chinatown. Solid Meixcan food mixed with Chinese decor. It's a pretty tiny place, but the fusing of cultures totally works. I've sampled the fish soft tacos (a perfect portion btw), enchilada verdes and the tequila shrimp all of which are fantastic. And if I had to rate mojitos around the city, their fresh strawberry mojito would be on the very top of the list. Keep in mind, the place is small so be prepared to wait for a good hour or more sometimes on a busy night. That much more time for another mojito!
5. Yerba Buena - 23 Avenue A @ 2nd St. (yerbabuenanyc.com) -- I must admit, the first time I ate in this cozy Latin restaurant in the East Village, it was actually snowing outside. But the delicious, refined Latin fare (the guac and pomegranate-glazed short ribs are a must) and incredible, creative cocktails (the "Hemingway" with fresh grapefruit juice, lime and rum is amazing) warmed things up real quick. The restaurant opened just last year and the reviews that followed speak to it's speedy success (read: go early or if you've got a large party, definitely make reservations).