Location: 50 SPRING STREET NOLITA | NEW YORK CITY (BETWEEN MULBERRY & LAFAYETTE STREETS)
Cuisine: Mexican Tapas (Small plates)
Items: 7 plates, 4 glasses of Sangria
Cost: $65 with 20% tip
Best Dish: For a wow factor try the toasted crickets. The surprising taste and texture are a great talking point and make for a fab dining experience. If you’re not quite so adventurous give the Zacatecas a try, you simply can not go wrong with savory sirloin and gooey melty cheese.
Overall: A relaxed comfortable atmosphere that is conducive to long conversations and a great night out with good friends.
Though New York winter has been incredibly mild thus far, meals of late have been heavy and filling. After all the richness of the holiday season many of us seek fresh clean foods with texture and flavor that brings to mind warmth and sunshine. Mexican cuisine with its bright bold flavors and freshness more than fits the bill. Though Taco Bell is great in a cinch it lacks the freshness we craved, so my companion and I sought out something more interesting. Antojeria La Popular, is a fun fresh take on traditional Mexican street food and a perfect venue for tasty tapas and fresh fruit Sangria. We happened onto this small eatery on a clear Monday night, just after happy hour. Taking our seats we glanced over the colorful menu and marveled at the selections offered. While we focused on the images we sipped on cool refreshing glasses of Sangria. The Sangria is the culmination of many trials and errors but thankfully they got it just right. Even a non drinker can enjoy the sweet flavor and fresh crisp fruit inside.
Once our thirst was quenched we dived into the first of our small plates. We began with the Morelos and the Distrito Federal. Morelos is a mixture of corn, queso fresco, epazote, mayo, lime and chili powder. The tangy sweet flavor is delicious. This item is traditional served by Mexican street vendors in small white cups and is a familiar food for locals. Another traditional favorite is ceviche.
The Distrito Federal is a type of ceviche that incorporates cooked Sirloin, shrimp, tilapia, Serrano chile, red onion in a “Tribilin” sauce. As ceviche go, this one has kick! A the briny limey flavor of the seafood balances nicely with the spices of the sauce and the tenderness of the sirloin pieces.
We found our next items in the “Mar” or from the sea section of the menu. We sampled the Tijuana and the Sonora. The Tijuana is served on a toasted blue corn tortilla and is made up of smoked salmon, crema, poblano chile, red onion, and pasilla mayo. Think of it as Mexico’s answer to lox and cream cheese.
The Sonora is a small sandwich of Bacon-Shrimp machaca, queso chihuahua, avocado, poblano, chipotle mayo serve inside pita bread. The combination of flavors in the warm sandwich are fresh with a hint of creaminess. The firm shrimp and soft ripe avocado inside the toasted shell are a splendid marriage of textures and tastes.
Our next round of Tapas were found on the “Tierra” or from the land portion of the menu. We settled on the Michoacán and Zacateca. Both dishes are served on corn tostadas and feature uniquely Mexican ingredients. The Michoacán Chicken, mole, queso fresco, lettuce, toasted sesame, and crema fresca. Mole is a common sauce in Mexico cuisine and is made with cocoa. The crunchy tostada and tender chicken were great together, think gourmet taco with a twist.
The Zacateca is truly a crave worthy dish. If you love melted cheese this is the dish for you. The tostada in this item is topped with juicy sirloin salsa verde and generous amounts of gooey melty chihuahua cheese. If you sample nothing else in life you simply must treat your taste buds to this! Its like the perfect bite in every bite.
In between courses we were visited by the awesome Chef Andres Figueroa. Though this may be his first venture as head chef he handles the kitchen like a seasoned pro. His visit to our table prompted our fearless chef to offer us the opportunity of a lifetime. He offered us the chance to sample his crickets. These little critters are very popular in Mexico, they are usually toasted and served by street vendors on a daily basis. The little creatures are also part of the Menu served with Avocado and crema fresca. Though a bit hesitant at first we put our trust in the very skillful Chef Andres, and were not disappointed. If you have ever killed a bug you are no doubt familiar with the gross squishy sound and mush associated with dead bugs. With that in mind it is completely natural to assume crickets will have the same texture, you are wrong! Toasted crickets have a texture very similar to well done bacon. It is a crunchy treat that is surprisingly tasty with a touch of Mexican spices. Additionally, they’re filled with tons of protein!
After the crunchy crickets we ended our evening with a smooth and creamy Flan. The flan selection differs with the seasons and availability of ingredients. On this day we enjoyed an apple and cheese flan with a drizzle of salted caramel, a fantastic end to an adventurous meal.
Overall “La Popular” is a great space for good food, relaxed vibes and warm atmosphere. Though the restaurant is open now it will celebrate an official grand opening this Friday which I am sure will be a grand event with great food drinks and laughter. Make sure you get in there and enjoy it while it is fresh and new, this spot will surely become one of New York’s popular night spots.
All Food Images were taken with the Samsung Galaxy Note II.