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Empellón Al Pastor

132 St. Marks Place
Empellón Al Pastor 1 Mexican East Village

With tasty tacos and a self-service sauce bar offering a selection ranging from mildly spicy to full-on mouth burn, there is something for every taste at Empellón. The specialty slow roasted pork tacos are as delicious as the enormous skewer grill is enticing, and the space of the restaurant is full of interesting details. Make sure to look up, as the ceilings of this place are impressive. Covered in graffiti-like paintings, the intricate decorations add a special touch to the atmosphere. Another fun feature is the chalk left out in the bathroom, urging guests to leave their mark on the blackboard painted walls. In 2016, Alex had the brilliant idea to separate the bar and the taqueria with a wall so that light from the taqueria does not spill into the low-lit bar area.  The two sections, which have different hours, also have new menu items, including nachos and wings.  Some of the tacos have also been beefed up, sometimes literally, including short rib and cheeseburger tacos.  There is no doubt that with a happening bar scene and tacos served on small paper plates, owner Alex Stupak has another Manhattan hit to add to his other endeavors.

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Empellón Al Pastor 3 Mexican East Village
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Empellón Al Pastor 2 Mexican East Village

More Mexican nearby

Lost Gem
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The Cabinet Mezcal Bar

Replacing the recently relocated Mace, and owned by the same company, the Cabinet - opened in May 2019 - serves a carefully prepared array of mezcals, tequilas, and ryes in a cozy and unique location in Alphabet City. The Manhattan Sideways team was immediately astonished by the attention to detail displayed by head bartender Christine Helmer in creating the atmosphere, as she busily prepared candles before presenting us with cocktails and telling us about the business. It did not take me long to realize that this attention to detail extends to almost every aspect of the bar, from its well-crafted, variously flavored cocktails to its idiosyncratically romantic, home-like interior energies curated by a decor reminiscent of a hybrid Victorian and US Western cultural era. Originally from Germany, Christine easily contextualized her bar’s specialty, mezcals, as often misperceived as too “smoky” or “aggressive” by less open-minded New York bargoers. She resists this misclassification. She notes that mezcal’s flavor potentials are almost endless and are underappreciated by many United States bars, and her cocktails proved her point; after trying the sweet, foamy, lime and watermelon flavored Primer Beso, I realized that mezcal was not relegated to the smoky aftertastes I remembered from the first time I drank it. It was true: “the more you learn about it the more you realize you didn’t know anything, ” as Christine reflectively mentioned. While the Romero and the Caminante were more harsh, they were not devoid of their own individually intricate flavors that I suspect become more complex as one’s mezcal palette develops. The Caminante was served in an Oaxacan gourd, which Christine noted was the traditional vessel for mezcal consumption among Oaxacan indigenous farmers. These liquors are a passion for Christine, who enthusiastically added that the Cabinet offers free educational seminars for its customers who want to learn more about the world of mezcal. Although she recognized that mezcal was indeed “in, ” she emphasized that the public’s affinity to liquor fluctuates dynamically with time, and that she has seen certain liquors rise and fall quickly in popularity during her career. Her knowledge of the industry was fascinating, as she described her ascendance to the Cabinet as built upon a combination of reading quality cocktail books and talking to bartenders and mentors. If anything was clear from the interview, it was that mezcal was much more than a job for Christine. She traveled down to Oaxaca, Mexico earlier in 2019, dancing in agave fields as she directly worked with mezcal farmers. She identified a number of differences between the production of mezcal in these regions of Mexico and the production of other types of liquor by large corporations in the US. Mezcal’s versatility and diversity is a product of its resistance to corporatization in the US, and it is subsequently relatively unpopular in US markets (in contrast to the “industrial” tequila); it is not only sustainably and locally developed, but is also often reflective of the other types of crops grown in the region and their flavors. The bar put its money where its mouth was: all of its liquors come from small producers, many with eye-popping approaches to graphic design that added to the stimulating decor behind the bar. The variety of these liquors “grouped by species” was notable, and they sure make you feel alive. For Christine, a constant struggle is making sure that the world of cocktails is something accessible, simple, and easily understood, rather than pretentious, arcane, and elitist, something she carries with her from her trip to Oaxaca. Cocktails do not have to be scientifically produced, and as she recognizes, sometimes it is just about finding what works along more “spiritual” lines. Her balanced approach to bartending was relieving; the overall vibe of the bar felt both renewing and healing, not overwhelming. After finishing the cocktails, we were served some delectable chicharrines with a chili-lime salt, and some soft, warm tamales from Lupita’s in East Harlem.

More places on 8th Street

Lost Gem
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Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor

What a find... down a flight of stairs from street level on 8th Street, Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor is the "antithesis of a sports bar. " Artisan and craft beer are brought together in a friendly environment that certainly had us feeling like we were right at home. The Parlor is also named for the Arts and Crafts movement, “a cultural revolt against the ideals of industrialization. ”When we visited, we spoke to Robert, one of the two owners, with whom we thoroughly enjoyed chatting. Robert is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on dining out and traveling with special diets (he co-authored the series Let’s Eat Out! ), and he also has a background in acting and producing on Broadway. He told us that the other owner, Don, has an impressive resume working with the FBI and counterterrorism efforts both in New York and around the world - which left us wondering what brought this dynamic duo together as friends and eventually co-owners. Robert informed us it was a love of American Craft Beer and the visual and performing arts... and that they actually met enjoying a pint of beer in Manhattan. Just as intriguing as its owners, the interior of Arts and Crafts is beautifully designed; the sophisticated wallpaper is custom made by Bradbury and Bradbury, and the soft green and beige pattern was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, supposedly. The constantly changing art is displayed along the wall opposite the bar, and an exposed brick wall and fireplace give the parlor a true “extension of your living room” feel. Described by Robert, as the “Bugatti of beer systems, ” the twenty plus beers the Parlor keeps on tap rotate monthly and are kept by this state of the art system at a refreshing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Robert also astounded us with how small the carbon footprint of the Parlor is — he told us they are very conscious of keeping things compostable and earth-friendly. In addition to their rotating display of art from both established and up-and-coming artists, the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor also hosts a monthly lecture series on the subjects of art as well as culinary topics. We could not get enough of how interesting this place is — both the concept of art and beer coming together and the two fascinating minds behind it.