On a perfect summer day, the Sideways team sat down for lunch at Tacombi, a relatively new and thriving addition to Manhattan’s Mexican food scene. Sitting at one of the higher tables near the front of the restaurant, with a breeze blowing in from 24th street, one can’t help but notice that the restaurant practically gleams (at the time of writing, it is just about seven weeks old). Even the painted sign advertising “Frutos Naturales” above the juice bar looks as if it was finished that morning. We sampled a variety of tacos and other Mexican staples (including their remarkably flavorful rice and beans), as well as some of their fresh-squeezed juices. Although all of it was delicious and satisfying, we were particularly taken with a few of the dishes we tried. Their El Pastor tacos, prepared with pork roasted and marinated with pineapple for two days before serving, were tender and savory. For our vegetarian readers, the Quesadilla Maiz Azul, prepared with dried chili sauce, Chihuahua cheese, and corn on a blue tortilla, and the Black Ben Y Sweet Potatoes taco, are must-haves. And, for the scorching summer days to come, their pineapple juice with ginger and mint takes refreshment to another level. Our food came with sides of salsa verde, salsa roja, escabeche (a mix of pickled vegetables), and radish and mint, as well as an optional extra-hot habanero sauce for the adventurous — all fresh and prepared in-house. Fresh, in-house, and local is the name of the game for Tacombi’s executive chef Jason DeBriere. Everything from the tortillas — which, if you come at the right time of day, you can watch them make in their tortilleria — to the guacamole, to the meat used in their tacos, is prepared fresh every day. DeBriere even goes personally to markets around New York City to select the vegetables for the escabeche. Alan, a chef at Tacombi with whom we had the privilege of speaking, described DeBriere as a mago de comer, which roughly translates to “food wizard. ” “He never cuts corners, ” he added. He also emphasized the dedication of every chef in the kitchen to making everything fresh every day, as well as making locally sourced ingredients a major priority. “We’re just trying to produce traditional Mexican food, ” Alan told us. “We’re not trying to do a fusion with American food. ” This philosophy extends to their breakfast menu, which is full of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes like their huevos rancheros and fresh-baked breakfast pastries, like their fruit-filled empanadas. With its open, relaxing atmosphere and exceptional Mexican cuisine, Tacombi is a great place to stop by for any meal. “We want to create a space that does more than welcomes you, ” Alan said. “It transports you. ”
Although this is not its original location, the 18th Street restaurant remains loyal to its traditional Mexican cuisine roots. Known for its signature guacamole and frozen pomegranate margaritas, the restaurant consistently offers excellent, authentic food. Rosa Mexicano roughly translates to “Mexican pink, ” which is meant to embody the colors of the country's sunset. A beautiful waterfall divides the cavernous room into two sections to provide a pleasant barrier between dining patrons and those enjoying drinks before their meal. This elaborate piece of art in the middle of the restaurant, which was created by a designer from Dubai, adds to the overall experience of entering a world outside of New York City. The back room, referred to as the sky room, is illuminated by natural light that enters through the ceiling. The first location was established in 1984 on 1st Street, where Rosa herself could be found cooking behind the bar, sharing her infectious personality with everyone around her. To this day, Rosa Mexicano is proud to employ a majority of Mexicans on its staff and to present the beauty of Mexico through its cuisine.
Javelina opened in the middle of a snowstorm in 2015, and was suddenly inundated with over eighty customers. They are the ultimate restaurant success story, and Matt Post, the owner, says it is all thanks to the Texas network. While speaking to me at the bar of his seemingly always-full new space, he let me know that when Texans would get together before Javelina opened (“we always find each other, ” he said), the conversation would steer towards how there was no good Tex Mex food in the city. Despite the fact that there were many places in the 1980s, there has been a noticeable dearth in recent decades. Matt suspects the reason is that people overdosed on cheap, badly-done Tex-Mex. “Any place with a frozen margarita machine called themselves Tex-Mex, ” he explained. There was, however, one Mexican restaurant that Matt liked, called Los Dos Molinos in Gramercy, nearby his apartment. When that eatery closed in 2009, Tommy Lasagna took its place and Matt momentarily forgot about it. It was fate, therefore, when Matt started looking for a decently priced space in which to open his very first restaurant, and discovered that Los Dos Molinos’ old home was for rent. He embraced the good karma and opened Javelina. A lot of research and preparation went into Javelina. Matt found an excellent chef in Rich Caruso, who had fallen in love with Tex-Mex on a barbecue research trip to Austin. He grew up in South Brooklyn, however, and so he did not know what “queso” was. Matt informed me that queso is central to Tex-Mex, and the first thing a Texan would ask him when they heard of his plans for Javelina was “Will there be queso? ” Rich therefore spent five days tasting forty different kinds of queso before developing four varieties for Javelina. We tried his “Bob Armstrong” queso, made with guacamole, pico de gallo, ground beef, and sour cream. The north easterners who make up a part of the Manhattan Sideways team were delighted by the perfect balance of creamy cheese and zingy spices – we became immediate converts. The décor was also carefully thought out, as Matt brought in a designer from Austin in order to ensure that the ambience would be authentic, without too many of the kitschy southwestern aspects that Tex-Mex restaurants often have. There are, however, many fun quirks that Matt specifically requested. For example, he told me he that he had to fight to get the taxidermy hog behind the bar, and that he was responsible for the “True Tex-Mex” sign. The restaurant also had the clever idea to put pictures of Texans on the bathroom doors. When we visited, we saw the faces of Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey. “We spent so much time on the restaurant design, but people end up instagramming the bathrooms, ” Matt chuckled. Taking a seat at the bar, we met the bartender, Adam, who made us “the most contrasting colors on the menu: ” The extremely refreshing avocado and prickly pear margarita became an instant hit with us, and, as Matt proclaimed, with his regular customers as well. Matt brought out some San Antonio-style puffy tacos, which were deliciously crispy and piled high with guacamole. With a broad smile, he declared, “I have all regions of Texas represented, ” and pointed out the different dishes for each geographic area. When I asked Matt how his experience opening his first restaurant has been, he looked happily exhausted. “It’s been surreal so far. ” He has been thankful for word of mouth and the positive press: He has already heard stories of Californians bonding over visiting his restaurant while in New York and a friend backpacking in South America who met a fan of Javelina on the trail. Though he explained that Murphy’s Law is the governing rule of the restaurant business, he said, “It’s been really fun. ” He is pleased to have provided New Yorkers (and especially transplanted Texans) with a kind of cuisine that has been missing from the streets of Manhattan. As we were leaving, Matt said, “People keep thanking us for opening, which is bizarre…and wonderful. ”
I had been following the developments of Cosme since I first read about the impending restaurant earlier in 2014. As soon as I learned that they were taking reservations for their October opening, I grabbed one for the first week. Spacious, with cement floors and industrial black pipes on the ceiling, I found Cosme to be uncongested. The table arrangement provided far more room in this restaurant than New Yorker's are used to when dining out. I also appreciated the individual spot lighting, allowing for a more private ambiance, and the planted cacti in Mexican pottery outfitting each table. The restaurant's contemporary decor was intriguing, yes, but it was the food that took center stage. Victor, our waiter, was proud to tell my group, that Enrique Olvera's restaurant, Pujol in Mexico City, was "very famous. " I knew that the owner and chef of Cosme had a fine international reputation, but enjoyed listening to this delightful man sing his bosses praises. He went on to elaborate on the fresh ingredients and the authenticity of each; "The corn is all grown in my country and used in almost every dish that we serve. "While beginning the meal with a few tasty drinks, including the classic Margarita, we polished off a few baskets of the over-sized homemade blue corn chips and spicy dipping sauce until our orders of fried, cheese-filled quesadillas arrived. Unlike the plate of flat, limp triangles often served elsewhere, these quesadillas were crisp, puffy, and oozing with quality cheese. Although we were eager to try Mr. Olvera's take on guacamole, we were disappointed to learn that this was a bar-only item. Next time, we will have to stop at the front of the restaurant first. Moving ahead to an order of Burrata with Weeds - Victor said that "tonight's [Weeds] have a mix of dandelion, arugula and watercress" - we were ecstatic with how creamy and absolutely delicious the large ball of mozzarella was. For the main course, the guys had ordered simply prepared slices of filet that they said were perfection, served with shishito peppers, a bit of sauteed onions and an avocado and tarragon sauce. I tried a vegetarian version of the Barbacoa with small pieces of mushrooms and squash. When I asked about the Chilaquiles, a mélange that starts with fried corn tortilla chips at its core, my twenty-five year old nephew from California replied, "Well, this was the one thing that I recognized on the menu, so I ordered it, but it tastes nothing like what I am use to getting in LA. " I smiled, pleased to have introduced to him to the gourmet version of this Mexican classic.
The newest Casa Carmen shares a familiar hacienda style with the Tribeca location and its menu continues the homage to the iconic Mexico City based El Bajio restaurants. One could say Casa Carmen is the US extension of El Bajio as New York based proprietors Sebastian and Santiago Ramirez Degollado, named Casa Carmen after their grandmother Carmen “Titita” Ramirez Degollado. Titita’s husband Raul was one of the El Bajio founders. She took over once he died and later expanded El Bajio to 18 additional locations. Also adding to the heritage of Casa Carmen is El Bajio restaurant designer, Luis Enrique Noriega, who created Casa Carmen Flatiron’s cozy ambiance. With only 74 seats divided between the bar and dining room, his thoughtful interior design included earth toned crafts, texture and woodwork. At the recent Casa Carmen Flatiron restaurant opening, Titita, who is Mexico City based, was in attendance. The octogenarian was raised to be a homemaker and never had an intention of becoming a chef but the Veracruz native enjoyed cooking and sharing central Mexican cuisine with others. As head of El Bajio for over thirty years, Titita has traveled the world talking about and demonstrating Mexican cooking. Numerous accolades from professional organizations have also been bestowed on Titita who was named “matriarch of Mexican flavor” by the New York Times. Although brothers Sebastian and Santiago are at the helm of Casa Carmen, almost all the traditional Mexican dishes featured on the menu at Casa Carmen were created with Titita’s recipes. Casa Carmen head chef, Ivan Gonzalez, underwent exhaustive training about ingredients, recipes and protocols at El Bajio ensuring the signature dishes and dining customs were continued at Casa Carmen. For those who fondly recount eating their way through Mexico City, the traditional dishes at Casa Carmen will provide them with a satisfying taste of familiarity. Offerings of enchiladas de mole, pescado a la Veracruzana, esquites and enmoladas provide choices for varying appetites. Clever inclusions in the agave-forward cocktail list include the Jamaica margarita, Sangre de Pacifico, mezcalitas and a Granada Spritz. And a dessert menu of flan, corn cake, churros and tres leches sweetly end the dinner experience. While the Flatiron location has opened as a dinner spot there are plans in the future to offer weekday lunch and weekend brunch. This will undoubtedly receive an enthusiastic reception as classic dishes including chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, and molletes gratinados will be featured.
As of March 2022, Eataly's rooftop bar Birreria has been turned into the pop-up SERRA. The rooftop of Eataly changes its concept each season. In 2016, for example, the sky-high spot transitioned from the beer-centric Birreria to a sea-side-themed rooftop bar called Sabbia. Each reincarnation of the bar is equally impressive, which comes as no surprise after visiting Eataly downstairs. Birreria was a sky-high brewery where Fred Avila, the head brewer, created beer in-house for three or four days out of every week. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fred and talking to him about his experience brewing above Eataly’s impressive food palace. Fred has been working for Eataly since 2011, but he started home-brewing in 2007. He has become a master at blending different flavors together and was proud to tell me about Birreria’s two seasonal beers. Vera is a summery beer with hints of lavender and blood orange, whereas the Wanda is a dark, mild beer for the fall and winter, with a lightly roasted flavor. Fred is very attuned to the weather when he drinks beer. When I asked if he has a favorite, he said that it changes with the seasons and the forecast, though he did admit, “I love to drink Oktoberfest beers. ” He featured obscure sours and saisons (pale ales specifically brewed for warm weather) in the summertime and interesting stouts in the fall. “People used to just drink IPAs or Pilsners, ” he explained to me. It is clear that working in the beer world has become considerably more exciting. Birreria collaborated with a collection of external breweries, including Dogfish Head, a microbrewery based out of Delaware. Because Birreria was part of Eataly, the list of collaborators also included two Italian companies, Birra del Borgo and Baladin. The founder of Baladin, Teo Musso, is considered the “godfather of the Italian brewing movement, ” Fred informed me. He also let me know that he always liked to have one or two New York beers available. The food menu was no less impressive, especially since it was made entirely using produce from downstairs. Unlike other parts of Eataly, however, Birreria often strayed from Italian cuisine. For example, Fred told me about a mozzarella-stuffed quail, which sounds more Northern European than Italian. Everything on the menu was designed to pair well with the bar’s unique selection of beers, creating a perfect culinary balance. I visited Sabbia shortly after it opened in 2016. It was like a taste of the tropical seaside in the middle of Manhattan: Imagine listening to the Beach Boys and sipping on one of their signature summer cocktails while lounging on a beach chair in the cabanas. The menu is filled with seafood specials that continue the seaside resort theme. It is the perfect summer spot for those who cannot leave town, and there is a retractable roof for rainy nights.
Stepping out of the culinary carnival in the main Eataly building through the side street entrance of the calm, cool wine shop next door was a soothing experience. The space is primarily filled with Italian wines, though there is a selection of local New York varieties upstairs. Also on the second floor is the “Riserva Room, ” a temperature-controlled chamber with rare wines, mainly acquired through auctions. What surprised me about the Riserva Room, however, is that the bottles are not very expensive. Despite feeling the need to whisper inside the elegant space, I noticed that many tags quoted prices under $100. We learned from Brianna Buford, the PR Assistant, that this is so that customers do not feel intimidated to try new wines. As with the rest of Eataly, Vino is dedicated to educating the public about the quality, origin, and uses of its products. There are helpful signs in the area and tastings every week. “Staff Pick” signs give shoppers individual recommendations and there are often fun promotions whose goal is to introduce customers to new labels. For example, in 2015, the wine store hid golden corks all over Eataly, offering anyone who found one a special bottle of Vino Libero. “Vino Libero” means “free the wine, ” a motto which seems to ring true throughout the store, where wine is freed from any pretension or intimidation and presented in a playful, educational way.
Many months ago, I gathered a group of friends and family to celebrate my husband's birthday. No one had ever been to Spin, so it was the perfect opportunity for everyone to have a terrific night taking turns playing a sport most of us adore, and sharing in conversation, drinks and appetizers. As we walked down the steps into the dimly lit lobby we were greeted by a friendly hostess in a chic black outfit, and it felt as though we had entered any other swanky Manhattan club. And yet, as we turned the corner we saw immediately that this was not the case. Instead of the usual dance-filled floor, at this club we were presented with rows of ping-pong tables and couples in heated competition. The diversity of the crowd was vast and only became more so as the night went on. Businessmen off from work, their white collared shirts glowing in the black light, rallied next to serious athletes there for a workout in gym shorts and sweatbands. Young couples looking for a quirky date played next to groups of older friends there to enjoy the nostalgia of this classic game. Everyone is welcome at Spin. Serious ping pong players make the circuits, challenging worthy opponents to games while casual paddlers compete in a more leisurely game. It has never been easier to enjoy ping pong, as Spin has eliminated the frustrating need for constantly picking up stray balls - staff with fascinating contraptions collect all the balls and reload the buckets regularly. Perhaps even more exciting, servers come by to the tables with what could be described as high-class bar food - some of our favorites were the alcoholic mango slushies, the fried rice balls, and the truffle mac and cheese. The delicious food and drink are honestly worth a visit on their own, and as the club often hosts championship ping pong games, even those who do not want to grab a paddle themselves can fill up a plate and watch the action. Originally opened by ping pong enthusiasts Franck Raharinosy, Andrew Gordon, Jonathan Bricklin and Oscar-winning actress Susan Sarandon, Spin has quickly become a hot spot both in other parts of the US and abroad.
Visions provides services for the blind and visually impaired; it is located in Selis Manor, a twelve-story apartment building dedicated to housing and assisting blind and otherwise handicapped New Yorkers of all types. Visions holds braille courses, exercise and rehabilitation classes, music programs, and various events and lectures.