Cascabel Taqueria (UES) | 1538 2nd Ave. (corner of. 80th St.) | 212.717.8226 | www.nyctacos.com | | | |
OH, IF RESTAURANTS WERE only like movies! You can wait a week, a month, even a year after a movie opens; when you do eventually see it, it will be the exact same film it was at its very first screening. And the sign of a great movie is if it stands the test of time. Is it the same great movie the second and consecutive number of times after that I watch it? If it's good, then definitely yes. Restaurants don't have that same luxury, however. Many of the good, even great, ones falter just a short spell after the crowded rooms, raving accolades, and Attention Deficit Disorder whimsies of the culinary culturati have fixed their gaze on the newer, shinier food spot.
So it is with great relief that I can exhale and be ever grateful that Cascabel Taqueria is serving up dynamite Mexican grub just steps from my front door, as I happily (re)discovered initiating two of my long time friends, Gina and Walter just the other day.
I've known Walter and Gina for decades, and they known me since my remotest interest in food culture. They invited me to join them for a neighborhood lunch, as both a friend and a recommender. Their initial idea was Shake Shack< but I convinced them to enjoy some of the most special dishes Yorkville has ever had to offer, and within minutes we were seated a the corner table, outdoors on an unseasonably warm March afternoon.
I've had much of the food several times before, but as the menu has updated, I was anxious to try some new things, and as eager to turn my friends on to some uniquely tasty chow. Gina, having healthier dietary habits, opted for the quinoa salad, adorned with fried chick peas, green chili, avocado, and queso cotija. Walter decided on the queso fundido, a fondue of chihuahua cheese presented crispy-edged and sizzling in a cast iron skillet, and topped with house made chorizo and roasted poblano.
The quinoa had perfect texture and slightly nutty flavor, the avocado was fresh, with great flavor from the green chili, and spicy seasoning on the fried chickpeas. Gina would have preferred it without the cheese—she said it threw off the texture balance—but Walter & I didn't mind it too much. It's a nice addition, if you like cheese, a little bit of a distraction, I guess, if you don't like it, or at least like it with you quinoa.
The fondue was excellent, properly hot, gooey, melty, rich, slightly sharp and tangy, almost stringy, and deftly taking on the flavors from the roasted poblano and spicy, oozing-with-flavorful-oil chorizo. The toasty, pliable yet sturdy fresh tortillas a perfect easel for the colorful tastes and vessel for eating employment.
Yorkville's general knowledge of tacos come from the takeout menus residents amass, and those menus usually only showcase two or three kinds. Cascabel's taco menu is more traditional and more fully realized, with a variety of house-cooked proteins and the freshest produce and the care and love of professionals in the kitchen who obviously know their stuff. Gina went for the pollo chipotle tacos, full of slow-cooked amish chicken, and topped with green onion, avocado, and chicken chicharrón (deep-fried skin). Walter went with the carnitas tacos, slow-roasted Berkshire pork butt, topped with pickled red onion, roasted chili de arbol (also known as bird's beak chili).
Add Gina and Walter to the very long list of rabid fans of the tacos here—me among the very first of them!—and, yes, they still kick ass. Both served their meats proud, letting their natural essences sing through the orchestra of spice, kick, acid, and heat, adding to all that the cooling richness and earthiness of the avocado on the pork tacos, and the fun crunch of the fried rice puffs.
Cascabel employs a daily special as well, and this day's special was the chili relleno ground beef braised in tomatoes and broth, stuffed into a roasted pepper, and served with poblano rice and black beans. Yes, please! Surprisingly, I had yet to have the side order of chorizo in any of my previous visits, so I ordered that for the table as well.
The well-seasoned beef was nicely heightened in flavor by the chili pepper and the great char on its skin. The broth was aromatic, as was the poblano rice, slightly floral and warm with taste, all of it complimented by firm and flavorful black beans. The the richly spicy chorizo was countered sweetly by chopped raw onion and cilantro, as well as by the the nice little layer of piquillo pepper aioli that it sat in. Walter and I ravenously finished it, first by depleting any remaining fresh tortilla, then by the heaping spoonful. Gina was likewise the hug fan of both dishes, but at half the size of either Walter or myself, had figuratively hit the wall.
So, like a great movie, Cascabel, a great restaurant, still stands up very well overtime. If you haven't been, or missed any of my other visits to Cascabel, you are long overdue. But you've lost out on nothing by waiting. And, unlike a movie—or at least movie theater—you can still enjoy the experience of going out for your culinary enjoyment. May I suggest some churros (cinnamon-spiced Mexican doughnuts) from the "concession stand"?
Bun Apple Tea!
Cascabel Taqueria | 1538 2nd Ave. (corner of. 80th St.) | 212.717.8226 | www.nyctacos.com | | | |