Ask random Westchesterites how they feel about Mexican food, and many would say they could eat it every day. And that’s possible, considering there’s no shortage of Mexican restaurants in the 914. Google Trends cites Mexican as America’s second-most-popular world cuisine (behind Chinese), perhaps because it’s so comforting and flavorful, while the setting in which it’s served is so welcoming and festive. And let’s face it: Does anyone really cry into their margarita? From the addictive and crave-worthy taco dive bars to celebrated hotbeds of finer dining, Westchester is bursting at the seams with authentic, traditional, and delicious Mexican food.
Its nondescript storefront notwithstanding, this is a slick and sophisticated eatery that defies the typical image of a fiesta-style tacos-and-tequila joint. But beyond the rich decor that delicately straddles the line between old-school NYC chop-house and sleek, industrial den, authentic Mexican cuisine awaits. “We take pride in everything we do,” says GM Jonathan Vasquez of the elevated comfort classics that mirror the upmarket ambience. Trained chefs from Mexico serve up signature sizzling fajitas, paella with fresh lobster and shrimp, and knock-your-socks-off slaws of either mango, avocado, or red and green apple. “We keep it natural, and everything is fresh,” says Vasquez.
Vibrant, colorful, and welcoming, it’s a never-ending fiesta here, where the family vibe thrives, the cocktails float flaming rinds of lime, and the young, CIA-grad chef/owner whips up down-home recipes he gleaned from his Puebla-raised parents. Alfonso Alvarez Jr. is a lifelong Yonkers resident who, at 15, began “diving into the kitchen” of nearby Tacos El Poblano, the tiny taco shop his folks have run for the past three decades. At the helm in his own space, Alvarez steers diners toward items he himself “wouldn’t pass up,” like the house enchiladas with traditional mole-sauced chicken or the “juicy, thick, beautifully plated” Tomahawk rib-eye — both easy crowd-pleasers alongside a smattering of authentic goat, beef tongue, and squash blossoms.
Always hopping, always happy, this little eatery has a little menu to match, and that’s no accident. “We keep it simple, keep it tight, but we stay fresh and on top of the game. We’re constantly adding specials,” explains chef/owner Sal Cucullo, who may not be Mexican by descent but feels he’s family with the Mexican cooks he got close with as he “grew up in a ton of kitchens.” And it’s no doubt a family affair here, with his father in the kitchen making the signature open-faced, wood-fired quesadillas, like the one with Manchego and a truffle carpaccio salsa of huitlacoche, a rare-in-these-parts delicacy. Another highlight: the burger burrito with fig jam and Oaxacan cheese.
Mount Kisco; tipsytacobar.com
Deeply passionate about Mexican food, Milton Torres of Ecuador, opened this cozy, ultra-hip strip-mall sensation to showcase what he calls the second-best cuisine in the world, after Italian. “You can do so many things with the flavors and spices of Mexican food. I’ve just always loved it,” he gushes. Torres and his chef use “healthy, local, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible,” and they’re proud that “the menu is 90 percent gluten-free.” Seared ahi tuna, fried oysters, raw wild salmon, and Black Angus steak make their way into tacos, quesadillas, and burritos, pairing well with the 60-plus tequilas and mezcals on the shelves.
Albuquerque native and CIA graduate Nancy Roper runs the show at this former truck stop that sports a refined vintage look and a laid-back neighborhood feel, serving New Mexico-inspired cuisine that, at the end of the day, is “the same food I serve at home,” she says. Roper works alongside Mexican chef Fidel Garcia and “with local farmers and the seasons as much as possible,” yielding specials like Long Island Sound bluefish tacos and standards of brisket, Berkshire pork, wild salmon, lightly fried oysters, and organic beans grown in New York.
White tablecloths against warm brick walls and a deep crimson ceiling set the tone for a dining experience that features authentic, comforting Mexican favorites in perfect culinary harmony with inventive, elevated entrées. Traditional tacos, nachos, and enchiladas boast fresh ingredients and seamlessly share menu space with oven-roasted duck and butter-sweet plantains; marine delights, from scallops to pan-seared shrimp with ancho chile pineapple-tequila sauce; and a New York strip steak served aside grilled cactus.
With an abiding love for all things Mexican, mainly the food, Jeevan Pullan, a native of India, and his Mexican chef, Jesus Martinez, conjure elevated classics in an intimate setting of exposed brick and colorful lighting. “It’s a lighter, healthier version of Mexican food, with modern dishes unique and exclusive to us.” Among the notables: carnitas of citrus-rubbed pork that are slowly simmered in dark Mexican beer; achiote slow-cooked pork, called cochinita pibil; and on-trend birria, served as a soup. “We use steak [instead of short rib, brisket, or traditional goat] marinated with fresh lime, garlic, cumin, and ginger, which Mexicans don’t use, but it gives our birria a unique flavor.”
It’s easy for a meal at a Mexican restaurant to turn into a full-on fiesta, particularly when 60-plus varieties of tequila sit behind the bar at Rio Bravo Tacos & Tequila (Tuckahoe; riobravotacosandtequila.com) and Tipsy Taco Bar (Mount Kisco; tipsytacobar.com), not to mention the arm’s length list of mezcals at each venue. Not sure which to pick, try a flight of tequila or mezcal (or both) at LA LA Taqueria (Larchmont; lalataquerialarchmont.com), which also boasts an impressive Mexican-beer list.
Margaritas are like water at Mexican restaurants, but at Dos Marias (Yonkers; dosmariasny.com), they’re on fire. Literally. Flaming rings of lime adorn each glass, making for a happy hour like no other.
Sweet, salty, savory, creamy, nutty, and tart all in one bite, this popular street treat starts with a basic ear of corn that is chargrilled, slathered in a mixture of mayo, garlic, cilantro, and chili powder, and then sprinkled with cotjita and a squeeze of lime. Traditionally enjoyed on the cob across Mexico, El Barrio (Scarsdale; elbarriony.com), Tequila Sunrise (Larchmont; equilasunriseny.com), and VEGA Mexican Cuisine (Hartsdale; vegamexican.com) have transformed the deliciously messy snack into a neater, dare we say, more gentile off-the-cob delight. However, for all the purists, LA LA Taqueria (Larchmont; lalataquerialarchmont.com) and Dos Marias (Yonkers; dosmariasny.com) serve it on the cob in all its creamy, cheesy glory.
Ubiquitous across Mexico, on this side of the Rio Grande, the place to enjoy these perfect pockets of fried-snack heaven is at Colombian eatery Aqui Es Sante Fe (Port Chester; aesantafe.com). With fillings that change daily, the standards here include a rainbow of options from savory beef, chicken, black bean, and cheese to sweet pineapple and ham, sweet cheese and guava, and luscious blueberry goat cheese.
While it certainly has a colorful ring to it, a traditional torte is truly just a sandwich, albeit a scrumptious one, served on a white, round roll or baguette-style bread. The most popular iteration is Milanese, with breaded chicken or steak, piled-high with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, jalapeños, and mayo, with or without cheese. Some of our favorite torte destinations: Café la Fondita (Mamaroneck;cafelafondita.com); Dos Marias (Yonkers); Los Abuelos (Ossining; losabuelosrestaurant.com); Sundance Deli (Pleasantville; sundancedeli.com); and Sundance Kitchen & Cantina (White Plains; sundancekitchen.com).
Native to Mexico and identified more commonly as prickly pear cactus, this veggie offers a wealth of health benefits, as it’s high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and is hailed for lowering blood sugar and cholesterol. At La Chinita Poblana (Irvington; chinitapoblanany.com), grilled cactus is a pleasing accompaniment to entrées of grilled New York strip steak and carne-asada skirt steak and can also be ordered as a nourishing outside-the-box side dish. Los Abuelos (Ossining; losabuelosrestaurant.com) offers a refreshing salad of raw cactus (simliar to diced green peppers) to be enjoyed on its own or as a topping for fried corn tortillas, and at Hacienda La Paloma (Mount Kisco, haciendalapaloma.com) cactus salad accompanies entrées of grilled skirt steak.
Similar to zucchini but with more texture, this nourishing veggie is a staple in Mexican cooking, and although there’s a scarcity in Westchester, it graces the plates at a handful of eateries. El Barrio (Scarsdale; elbarriony.com) roasts it and serves it as a soothing side dish; at Ossining’s Los Abuelos (Ossining; losabuelosrestaurant.com), it provides a healthy, hearty bed for traditional entrées of pork ribs and cutlets.
Imported, house-ground and toasted cacao beans comprise rich hot chocolate with cornmeal (fall/winter only)
Mamaroneck/Port Chester; paletasfernandez.com
A bevy of fruity and milky Mexican ice pops, with flavors both familiar (Nutella, Key lime) and more unusual (guava, avocado, spicy chili mango)
Owning a Mexican restaurant in a locale with a significant number of diners of Mexican descent can be difficult. In Port Chester, at rustic-hip Taco Shack (tacoshackpc.com), “We have to work twice as hard to please our guests,” says chef/owner Luis Aguilera. “This is a community with a lot of competition.” Namely from restaurants like the ultra-casual but super-festive Taqueria La Picardia, (taquerialapicardia.com), which offers a simple menu of down-home classics (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas) but also cooks up hearty pozole, a traditional soup of hominy (made from dried corn kernels) and pork. The popular and always bustling Coyote Flaco (coyoteflaco.today), with its extensive menu of authentic Mexican eats, is a must-try mainly for the combination platters, which feature grilled shell steak or a pile of jumbo shrimp in garlic sauce sharing plate space with a companion taco or enchilada.
New Rochelle is known for its proud Mexican community, and those with a nose for authenticity can be found at Tlaquepaque, where the offerings are mostly main-course entrées of steak ranchero, birria stew made with veal, and the standout Chicken Tlaquepaque, served with onions, bell peppers, and peaches in a light, spicy tomato sauce. Similarly, homespun Mexican classics abound at the mom-and-pop (and sibs and kids) shop Tecalitlan, where California-style burritos burst with familiar, exotic (like tongue), and tempting fillings. Festive and colorful with vibrant blue-and-yellow decor, the voluminous menu at La Herrardura (laherradura-newrochelle.com) is a taco- and burrito-lover’s paradise, but the parrillada is where it’s at: a hearty variety of grilled or barbecued meats all on one dish. The ambience is similarly colorful and upbeat at Little Mexican Café, (littlemexicancafe.com) and the dish list covers it all from sizzling fajitas and mini-tacos to carne asada fries and a lengthy list of fish and roasted pork entrées.