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Brooklyn Bites: 3 Must-Try Mexican Restaurants

by Kelsy Chauvin
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 23, 2018

When the urge for a salty rim or tangy chili sauce beckons, consider Brooklyn -- New York's growing center of Mexican gastronomy.

Yes, some of the best eateries are taquerias, empanada trucks, and other street-food-styled joints ideal for quick dishes on the go. But there's a growing crop of restaurants setting themselves apart with uncommon and inventive ingredients, plus craft cocktails to set off the best flavors, naturalmente. Here's a look at EDGE's three favorite Mexican restaurants in Brooklyn right now.


Leyenda

Smith Street in Cobble Hill has long been Brooklyn's fine dining and drinking Mecca, thanks in part to the craft-cocktail staple Clover Club. Yet the neighborhood wasn't quite complete until Leyenda joined the mix three years ago. Leave it to Julie Reiner, Clover Club's savvy owner, to know how to fill in the blanks.

Leyenda is a pan-Latin bar and restaurant that's a destination unto itself. It's the kind of restaurant where patrons feel instantly at ease thanks to soft lighting and raw-wood touches. Though it's not an expansive space, there's bar and high-table seating in front, with rear space for groups to sit fireside in repurposed pews, or on the back patio in warmer months.


Founders Reiner and protégé/partner Ivy Mix are master bartenders, so naturally the cocktail menu is loaded with enticing tipples that incorporate the full gamut of Latin spirits: pisco, tequila, cachaça, sherry (one is on draft), and several types of rum.

You'll find classic drinks, and seasonal menus bring interesting mashups, like winter cocktails that meld mezcal gin, fino sherry, vermouth, rum, frankincense, and myrrh (We Three Kings, $13); or hazelnut bourbon, Grand Marnier, macadamia nut orgeat, maple, lemon and a nutty Jamaican rum (Bar-Nut Hot Toddy, $13).


Food by Chef Sue Torres, served for dinner and weekend brunch, is equally tantalizing. Most are small plates or made for sharing, each with personality that stands up to the potent cocktails. Torres has livened up standards, like the Negra Modelo-battered bacalao tacos, and ceviche with pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and candied ginger. Grilled churrasco skirt steak with tangy chimichurri is pre-sliced for nibbling, but other dishes might be best kept for one's own delight, like Grandma Torres's Puerto Rican-style pernil (roasted pork) with mofongo (mashed green plantains).

As a special incentive to visit, Leyenda supports social causes. During a recent winter visit, there was a special cocktail menu for which a portion of proceeds went to women's charities. (And the cocktails were spectacular.)


El Atoradero

In the queer-centric and burgeoning-culinary enclave of Prospect Heights, El Atoradero has been quietly serving one of New York's most extensive mezcal selections, alongside simply unforgettable Mexican dinner and brunch menus. From its twin-spaced outpost (one side restaurant, the other side bar) El Atoradero delivers authentic Latin tastes by Chef Denisse Lina Chavez. Some may remember her wildly delicious Southern-Mexican fare from the Bronx outpost, which relocated in 2015 to this bigger space, in partnership with Brooklyn restaurateur Noah Arenstein.

On a recent visit, Arenstein explained that in Spanish, "atorodero" is "a place to stop and relax." The chill, neighborhood space invites that tempo, complete with a back patio. The food menu is short enough that you may want to try one of everything, and among its familiar delights are a half-dozen kinds of tacos; daily specials such as chile rellenos; and platos, including a few with the Chavez's divinely complex mole sauce.

The cocktail list is nearly as long as the food menu, with a separate, multi-page mezcal booklet. A daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. covers standard drinks, but if you're ready for flavor, try one of the berry-infused libations, or rely on the friendly bartenders to guide you.


La Loncheria

Fresh on the Bushwick dining scene is La Loncheria. The slim restaurant opened in December, introducing flavor-packed small bites and wicked-good cocktails to Wilson Avenue.

Chef Danny Mena, whose Hecho en Dumbo recently took its Brooklyn menu to lower Manhattan, collaborates here with Chef Luis Jiménez on contemporary Mexican fare.

The hook is how much authentically zesty Latin flavors they manage to pack into every dish, be it the lamb-belly barbacoa torta with au jus for dipping; tender grilled octopus with tomatillo marmalade; or even simple guacamole made to order, roasted heirloom beans, or seasonal vegetables.


La Loncheria is open daily for lunch and dinner, but daytime visits might prove hard to resist the ice-cold Mexican lagers or fine cocktails featuring clean, crisp margaritas made with tequila or mezcal.

Other classic cocktails get a new stir to them, like the smoky mezcal mojito; while new concoctions creatively incorporate rye, Oaxacan rum, or sotol, an agave-spirit blend originating in Mexico's north desert.

The restaurant, though new, perfectly represents Brooklyn's fresh takes on Mexican gastronomy: familiar ingredients transformed with new flavors, potent pairings, and friendly, intimate atmospheres.


Mark Your Calendar: This year's Brooklyn Pride Multicultural Festival and Parade is June 9.


Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBT interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.


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