Mouthwatering Mexican in the West Village

La Loteria
Cocina Mexicana Moderna
29 7th Ave South
New York, NY 10014

New York City is expensive—there’s no arguing with that. However, it is still possible to dine out at delicious restaurants while sticking to a budget. One of the best times of the year to sample the city’s plethora of eateries is NYC Restaurant Week. Over the course, in actuality, three weeks, over 300 restaurants throughout the boroughs create special three-course menus ($25 for lunch, $38 for dinner) in addition to their regular offerings. It’s a great way to try a new place or enjoy a high-end meal, for a more affordable price tag.

We ventured down to Bedford Street for some modern Mexican fare at La Loteria. The name of the restaurant is a play on the popular Mexican game, la loteria, which is similar to bingo. While the game might be based on luck, the food and service here are always a sure bet. Under the creative helm of co-owners, Executive Chef Julieta and Managing Partner/Owner Jaime Herrera, La Loteria has become a hotspot in the chic dining scene of the West Village.

Our night started fittingly with some classic Mexican cocktails—margaritas and sangria. The Margarita Tradicional Loteria came in a glass tumbler garnished with a salt rim. It was tart, with a good balance between the heavy tequila and sweet agave nectar, and super refreshing–really hit the spot. The red Sangria del Cantarito wasn’t too sweet and we appreciated that it didn’t come with a whole fruit basket as a garnish. It was no frills, but made with a good wine and tasty.

The Guacamole Tradicional was served in an authentically Tex-Mex stone bowl, which I love and came with a generous portion. It was chunky, so you could still taste the individual pieces of avocado, and mixed with hot chili peppers, juicy tomato chunks, highly acidic lime juice, and rough chopped cilantro that was still visible throughout the dip.

We also got a trio of salsas for the table. These salsas seriously heightened La Loteria from solid Mexican food in NYC to modern and gourmet. The tomatillo avocado salsa was sour from the fleshy tomatillos with a wonderfully bold flavor. It was pulpy from the tomatillos, and strongly acidic, with a nice bite, that was tempered by the creamy and rich avocado. The vibrant green color was also great. The peanut salsa was definitely funky and tasted like a Mexican version of an Asian sate sauce. The sauce was earthy, slightly spicy, nutty with some smoky notes to it, and garnished with chopped peanuts. Yum! The third of the trip was the more traditional chili de arbol salsa. The bright reddish-orange color contrasted beautifully with the green of the tomatillo salsa. It was also super creamy and unctuous, and had a background taste of roasted red peppers. The building heat from the red salsa played nicely with the hidden spiciness of the guacamole, and the mild taste of the peanut salsa.

To scoop up the guacamole and salsas, there were homemade corn tortilla chips. The chips were crunchy and still warm from the fryer, but not greasy. We ended up getting a second bowl of chips since they were so dippable.


The Ceviche de Pescado appetizer featured the catch of the day, which was sea bass, a meaty fish that has steadily been gaining popularity as an alternative to tuna or salmon. Sea bass was a great choice for the ceviche, since it can stand up to the strong flavors in the marinating liquid. The fish was mixed with tomatillo, avocado, and pickled cucumber. The base sauce was made with lime juice, but wasn’t too overpowering. The plate was garnished with mini corn tostadas, pea shoot tendrils and an edible flower—the flower seemed to be a theme, which is popular among many Mexican restaurants. It had a very rustic chic feel to it, and the freshness of the sea bass, almost sushi-grade in its texture, really heightened the flavors.

Ensalada de Betabel, translated to “beet salad,” was not super Mexican, but seemed very appropriate for a downtown Manhattan restaurant and tasty. The salad was a good mix of textures—the meaty grilled beets, soft goat cheese spread, creamy avocado, crunchy caramelized nuts, crunchy spinach leaves, and chewy radicchio. The beets were also the right temperature; often, kitchens serve beets that are ice-cold, which I think dilutes the sweet flavor of the beets, but here they were served room temperature.

The Quesos Flameados, or melted Chihuahua cheese baked casseroles, was also a great dish. This dish is hot in comparison to the others, and made for a nice change from the previously cold appetizers. The cheese was cooked in a cute little cast iron skillet along with some onions for both flavor and texture. The cheese ended up all melted and crusty along the outer edges. It was served with hand-pressed tortillas to scoop up the cheesy goodness, almost like a deconstructed cheese quesadilla.

The second course Enchiladas Callejeras—“street style” enchiladas—were stuffed with panela cheese that has a meaty texture and much higher melting temperature. Therefore, the cheese maintained its shape and very much stood up to the rest of the dish. The enchiladas were smothered in a mouth-watering mole sauce, and rested atop adobo fried potatoes. The mole was very earthy, with sweetness and a slight fruitiness that made it a nice contrast to the spicy, smoky potatoes. The potatoes on their own reminded me of a dish I had when I was in Spain called papas bravas, typically served as a tapas dish in Spanish restaurants that consists of fried potatoes garnished with a spicy tomato sauce or creamy aioli. We requested mushrooms instead of one of the meats available on the menu and they were cooked perfectly and formed a semi-permeable layer between the mole sauce and the enchiladas.

The fish tacos, Tacos de Pescada Baja Style, were also made with sea bass, and the dish was super crispy from the beer batter. There were three big tacos tightly wrapped with flour tortilla filled to the brim with hot fish and a crunchy, sweet and tangy jicama slaw. There was also a creamy and spicy aioli garnish that was tasty, but the taco was already so moist that it wasn’t even needed.

The meal’s final entree was Barbacoa de Arrachera. The barbacoa consisted of skirt steak braised with banana leaves, tequila, Mexican beer, oregano and salsa verde. Using skirt steak was an unusual, but smart choice–it’s a cheaper cut of meat, but the other ingredients elevate it to the fine dining level. The meat was smoky and slightly sweet from the banana leaves, moist from the beer, woodsy and deep flavors from the oregano and tequila, a nice pop of tanginess from the salsa, and fall apart tender. It was garnished with lime and a duo of sauces. The presentation was clean with the meat served in a big bowl along with some hand-pressed tortillas.


At this point, we were all pretty full, but who can say no to dessert? The Flan Napolitano was unbelievably creamy and the custard was set, with the spoon cutting through it like a panna cotta. It was sweet and tangy from the cream cheese, with a layer dulce de leche caramel and topped with some toasted walnuts flavored with cinnamon. The plate also had a raspberry garnish.

The Churros, which are always a personal favorite of mine, were fried perfectly–crispy on the outside and still eggy in the middle–and lightly dusted with cinnamon. The lack of sugar on the Churros was actually a welcome surprise, since the other desserts were uber sweet. They were served with dark chocolate and dulce de leche dipping sauces. Only thing I would change was I wish there was a little more sauce–I’d drink it from the container lol.

Last, but certainly not least, was the Pastel de Tres Leches (aka Tres Leches Cake). The cake was, as expected, super moist from the three kinds of milk–cream, evaporated milk, and condensed milk–and the sponge was slightly grainy. It’s a classic Mexican dessert and this one was a great take on it, especially with the great presentation. The plate was garnished with a small cup of milk. Not only was the white milk in sharp contrast to the dark plate, but I also love when food is garnished with what’s in it! A quality I share with Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

So if you’re in the mood for some delicious Mexican food in NYC, head downtown to La Loteria, but make sure you’re hungry! Everything is fresh and tasty, and it’s always service with a smile. Dustin, the manager, took such great care of us and really made the whole night special. Can’t wait to come back for Happy Hour and dinner again.

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Smorgasburg: Feasting in Brooklyn

New York is a city filled with food—from old school Jewish delis, to giant slices of NY pizza, chewy everything bagels, authentic Chinatown dim sum, celebrity chef restaurants and more. In the borough of Brooklyn, food has become even more of a modern commodity. In 2011, the Brooklyn Flea company began an all-food that they named Smorgasburg—a reference to the Swedish word Smörgåsbord that’s often used as a colloquialism for a large spread of food, or choices.

FullSizeRender-26FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender-1Smorgasburg is a foodie paradise. It takes place on weekends from late April – early November, in Williamsburg’s Kent State Park on Saturdays and at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5 in DUMBO on Sundays. At each location, local food vendors, food entrepreneurs, food trucks/carts etc. come and sell their products. This is not an event for the timid eater—you’ll wish you had 3 stomachs with all the selections. My plan is to try each stall at least once over the course of the season, and here’s my first entry for the 2015 season.

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Mac n' Cheese
Mac n’ Cheese
Classic Grilled Cheese
Classic Grilled Cheese

We arrived around 12:30, so there were already a lot of people around. I was in a group of 3, and we decided to share a few things from different vendors. We decided to start with something semi-breakfast, and got on line at Milk Truck. Milk Truck’s menu is basically exactly as it sounds – Mac n cheese, grilled cheeses and milkshakes. We ordered the Milk Truck Classic ($5.95) and added bacon. The sandwich was cheesy, hot, and crispy. The Gruyere cheese was creamy, gooey, and had a nice deeply nutty Swiss flavor. The bread had some nice grill lines and was a great way to start the day.FullSizeRender-6FullSizeRender-5

Bacon, Egg and Cheese
Asian Bacon sandwich
French Toast sandwich
French Toast sandwich

Our next stop was another semi-breakfast stop at Rise and Swine for the French Toast Sandwich ($9) with bacon! The sandwich consisted of cinnamon-cardamom French toast, lots of chewy bacon, and cream cheese. The French toast was sweet, but also slightly earthy, the bacon was fatty and delicious, and the cream cheese layer gave a nice tang. The cream cheese also kept the sandwich moist, and provided a contrast of temperatures–hot toast, hot bacon and cold cream cheese. I put a squirt of hot sauce—from another Smorgasburg vendor–and some maple syrup on my sandwich. It made it sticky and delicious, and the hot sauce highlighted a lot of the flavors in the rest of the sandwich.

IMG_1862On the way to our next culinary delight, we had some amazing samples from local food entrepreneurs. Spicy citrus horseradish from Ish Premium Horseradish, tangy vinegar-based hot sauce made from carrots at Tango Chili Sauce, earth truffle honey from The Truffleist, decadent pineapple velvet cake from Piece of Velvet, chewy and meaty filet mignon beef jersey from Three Jerks Jerky, as well as a ginger infused cocktail sauce from Tink’s Red Ginger Cocktail Sauce.

FullSizeRender-15We decided on a slight different strategy for the next pit stop—I waited on line for our food, while my two companions got us something to drink. They came back a few minutes later with some Prickly Pear Cactus Limeade ($4 or $5) from Zia Green Chile Company. The limeade was so refreshing, especially on what turned out to be a hot day. It was tangy, sour, slightly sweet, chillingly cool, and the perfect drink for an afternoon of eating.IMG_1830FullSizeRender-14

Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg with Yogurt Sauce
Lamb Merguez Scotch Egg with Yogurt Sauce

While off getting their drink on, I was holding our spot in line at Imperial Egg NYC. Imperial Egg makes awesomely unique Scotch eggs, which I’ve only seen before in London. A traditional Scotch egg features a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and then baked or fried. At Imperial Egg, they are taking the already unique idea of a Scotch egg even more out of the box.  They have flavor combinations like chicken sausage with a sweet soy aioli, butter bean, cheddar and enchilada sauce, or one with spicy chorizo. We went with the lamb merguez topped with yogurt ($9). The initial bite was meaty and juicy, with a slight kick from the spicy lamb sausage. The outside of the egg was crunchy from the Panko with a sort of soft center that was also creamy. The egg was fatty in a totally unexpected way. It wasn’t as heavy or greasy as expected, even though it was fried. The frisée and parsley garnishes give the dish a nice change of textures.

FullSizeRender-17FullSizeRender-16We decided to take a slight detour from the savory offerings and wandered over to look at the desserts. We passed by some delicious looking whoopee pies, gourmet cookies and fudge before we found out next stop – Gooey and Co. The sign was advertising gooey butter cake at the price point of three for $5—we were three people, there were three pieces of cake—it was destiny! We chose the Original Gooey Butter Cake, the Gooey Maple Carrot Cake, and Gooey Banana Cake. The banana flavor had a burst of banana flavor, and the sweetness was very mild with a subtle cinnamon aftertaste. The cake also has some rum in it, which is cooked out, but makes for a classic flavor combination. The maple carrot had delicious cream cheese frosting, just like a slice of carrot cake, which I loved! The cake itself was very maple forward, with more carrot in the background. It was very sweet so not as easy to taste the cardamom in the cake, but extra delicious. The classic original flavor was by itself super decadent and lives up to its gooey name. The cake was buttery and soft with a great brown sugar and toffee taste. I could have eaten the entire stand!

FullSizeRender-24FullSizeRender-23FullSizeRender-21After satisfying out sweet tooth, we headed towards one of my favorite stalls at Smorgasburg, Cemita’s NYC. I actually saw a segment on a cooking show, Kelsey’s Essentials on Cooking Channel a few years ago, and instantly started craving this sandwich. A cemita is a Mexican street food, similar to a torta, that’s native to Puebla, Mexico. The cemita sandwich has 10 layers, and together they make an amazing sandwich experience. The layers include: mayo, lettuce, onions, tomato, avocado, bean spread, Oaxaca cheese, spicy chipotle and a protein. Cemita’s NYC gives you a choice between southern fried chicken, carnitas, barbacoa (shredded beef), or a spicy shredded chicken called ting. Just two of us were up for splitting one of these loaded sandwiches and we went with the Southern Fried Chicken Cemita $9. As you bite into the sandwich, the first thing your tongue hits is the fluffy torta bread slathered with mayonnaise, and not too much of a bite from the pickled red onion brine. There were layers of hot and cold intermingled textures and heats throughout. Chicken There’s creamy avocado that makes the sandwich nice and messy—the way it should be!—and a nice kick of heat from the hot sauce at the end. The chicken was perfectly crisped and added a lot of heft to the cemita, and also stayed crispy. The lettuce added a nice crunch with the soft bread, and the bean spread acted as subtle glue and gave a deep flavor to the sandwich. I only wish I had more sandwiches. This was definitely a sit down sandwich. Luckily there are a few picnic tables interspersed around the market area.

IMG_1845FullSizeRender-25The last stop on our gastronomical journey was for dessert, naturally, at Blue Marble Ice Cream. Blue Marble makes premium organic ice creams and sells them in a cup or cone. We each got our own cup for $5 each. The Salted Caramel was very caramel-y with a brown sugar taste. It reminded me of those old-fashioned, chewy caramel candies. The Gingersnap Cookie flavor was not too sweet, and a little savory, with great after notes of cinnamon and allspice. The Key Lime Cookie ice cream (my choice) was tangy and refreshing, with nice chunks of cookie pieces throughout. It would’ve made an amazing milkshake. The ice cream had a burst of key lime flavor without being too sweet.

IMG_1850As we walked along the Brooklyn Pier eating ice cream, I took a few minutes to soak up the sun and truly appreciate how awesome it is to eat in New York. Then again, I am not done with Smorgasburg for the season and will be back for more unique eats, sweets and culinary delights soon.IMG_1851

Authentic Filipino Cuisine in the Outer Boroughs

FullSizeRenderLast weekend, I was planning to attend a Greek Easter party (my first) in Queens, NY, when my friend asked if I wanted to grab some dinner before the party. Who am I to say no to dinner? So we made plans to meet up with a couple of others on Saturday night Filipino food at Papa’s kitchen in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens. As I walked the few blocks from the 7 train to where Google was telling me the restaurant was located, I noticed it seemed a bit residential. Were we going to one of these underground restaurants starting to pop up around NYC the last few years? Or maybe a dinner party through something like Feastly? Alas, while eating in Papa’s Kitchen at times felt like you were in someone’s home, it is definitely a bonafide foodery, but with homely charms.
FullSizeRender-4Opened in October of 2012, Papa’s Kitchen is co-owned by a brother and sister team. Beth, is the hostess, as well as waitress and basically the entire front of the house staff. Her brother is the chef, and perhaps the Papa of the kitchen? The restaurant itself was super cozy; an intimate,
hole in the wall–in best way possible. Beth was super friendly, and even spoke to my friend in Tagalog. As a waitress she was very attentive, which admittedly was probably easy since the space was small–my estimate was 2-3 small as well as 2 larger tables. We were a party of four, so were lucky to have a great window booth in the front.
IMG_1802This place is all about no frills, simply authentic Filipino cuisine. The tables were simply decorated with the food served on styrofoam plates covered with banana leaves with plastic cutlery. The food is not out of the box or super modern, but that’s what makes it great. Personally, I feel that places like Papa’s are missing from the NYC food scene today. Here it’s all about the pure home dishes, and all of the food tasted fresh and home cooked. Food > frills any day!
Oh, not to be forgotten, this place is BYOB, with a decent liquor store down the block. Plus, they have karaoke (for free)! Although it was king of a hard sell–a tad aggressive lol–it made the atmosphere kind of awesome.
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Most important though is the food! Since I wasn’t as familiar with Filipino cuisine as my friend, I let him take the lead and just focus on eating, and singing of course. We started with the Shanghai ($7.95) or Lumpia Shanghai, which is perhaps one of the most well-known Filipino foods. In fact, there are restaurants like Lumpia Shack in Brooklyn and the West Village that specialize in these Filipino spring rolls. Naturally, these seemed like a good place to start our meal. The Lumpia were a little greasy, but made them more authentic. They were extra crispy with a nice crunch, and reminded me of a Middle Eastern cigar dish. They came with a pork filling that was deliciously moist, and a spicy dipping sauce on the side that reminded me of sriracha. Ten of them came in the order, so we were all able to have a couple.
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Next up was the Pancit Palabok/Luglug ($8.95), a dish of thick udon-esque noodles that were cooked in a shrimp sauce with cabbage. The noodles themselves were nice and aromatic with a great chew. The boiled egg and pork rid garnishes provides a nice textural contrast. The lemon, when squeezed over the noodles, provided some much-needed acid to balance out the heaviness of the noodles.
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The Kare Kare ($12.99) entrée came out about the same time as the noodles, along with a large communal bowl of rice. The dish consisted of beef stewed with eggplant, bochnoy (a version of boo choy?) and string beans in peanut sauce. The beef was super tender and the string beans retained a nice crunch. The rice was great to soak up the sauce. A salted shrimp liquid garnish elevates the curry like dish from almost bland compared to the other dishes. Using some of the chili sauce was great with the Kare Kare as well.
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The most anticipated dish, for me at least, the Crispy Pata ($14.99) was up next. To summarize in one word: Yum! Pata refers to the pork, in this case a pig’s trotter or foot, although it doesn’t look like a foot at all when it comes to the table. The Pata lived up to its crispy moniker with the super crispy skin–almost like cracklings. The meat underneath the skin was fatty and delicious, and so moist that we used our hands to tear it off the bone. There was a nice spicy sauce on the side to slather on the meat, and a separate dipping sauce for the skin of chili vinegar. The chili vinegar was tangy with a nice bolt heat, but not too strong. It was a nice break from the heavy meat and helped cut through the fat of the pork.
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While the Crispy Pata might have been the showstopper, the dark horse might have been the vegetable dish of the night, Sitaw n Kalabasa ($10.99). The menu makes a point to note that this dish was in the vegetable, but not vegetarian category. Maybe that’s why the veggies were so hearty. It sounds simple enough, pumpkin and Asian string beans in coconut milk, but the combo was magical. The chunks of pumpkin were plump and tender, but not overcooked. They had an almost potato like meatiness, without the heft that often makes potatoes turn mealy in curry dishes. The pumpkin skin was edible as well. The coconut milk sauce was super creamy and perfectly blanketed the vegetables.
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While we were waiting for our final dish, my friends decided to order a bonus dish, as if we needed anymore, but this allowed me to sample some more Filipino cuisine, so yay! Our order of Pork Adobo ($10.99) was interesting. The pork was braised, so it was slightly meow toothsome than the Pata, but not in a bad way. If that meat was pull apart tender, then this one was almost like a grilled texture. The pork was tossed with red onions that had a salty bite to them. The onions were cooked through, but with a crunch–an almost stir fry texture. The pork was dressed with a tangy, greasy sauce with hints of acid throughout, probably from the soy sauce and vinegar used in the braise. Overall, the dish was pretty addictive; it has a building flavor, and the combination of salty and sour made me keep eating it. I especially loved having some do the rice that soaked up the adobo sauce.
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Up last was the Chicken Tinola ($11.99), which was listed as chicken cooked in a ginger broth and is exactly what you get. I somehow felt that this dish should have come out at the beginning of the meal as a starter. Beth brought the clear chicken broth to the table (in a bowl that I actually have at home), and served it to us in bowls at the table. The broth was deeply aromatic and slightly funky from the ginger. The soup had sliced red onions floating throughout, as well as knobs of fresh ginger, bok choy, and pieces of chicken on the bone. The chicken had been cooked in the broth. The chicken meat ended up being nice and tender with a subtle ginger flavor. The real star of this dish was the broth though. Even though it was the end of our meal, I ended up drinking multiple small bowls of the broth. There was a lot leftover, so I wish that I had been heading home afterwards in order to take leftovers for the rest of the weekend.
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Since the place was BYOB, one of our group went to a store down the block and got a six-pack of Modelo beer, which is from Mexico. The beer was light and refreshing, and just a lIttle bit sweet. Plus, it came in a cool bottle.  Overall, the food was delicious and super tasty. This is definitely a place to come back to soon, and I definitely feel like I’ve gotten a taste of the Philippines.