Yo Quiero Cascabel!


Cascabel Taqueria | 1542 2nd Ave. (bet. 80th & 81st Sts.) | 212.717.7800 | www.nyctacos.com

THINGS ARE STARTING to get very interesting in Yorkville this year. At least food-wise. This neighborhood, nearly bereft of all of its Old German Town charm, save the landmark Heidelberg Restaurant, has, for over 20 years, been overrun by just-grads whose palates have yet to “graduate” past 1$ packages of ramen noodles, microwavavble Hot Pockets, and Captain Crunch for dinner.

A broad but not inaccurate generalization, it speaks to the reality of how food providers have thrived during this time, such as fast food burger joints, the ever-increasing number of pizza joints, cheap and quick Chinese takeout, and now, of course, the ubiquitous “$5 footlong”.

These surely suffice for those who just need sustenance on a budget, but what about the growing number of us that eat not just to feed, but to taste as well. Well, it seems that a few neighborhood restauranteurs have proudly given us that respectful consideration.

My fisrt such discovery was the wonderful Yorkville Créperie on 1st Avenue between 84th and 83rd Streets, which appears like a transplant from a more food-savvy and glamorous Soho. Now add to that list Cascabel Taqueria, a new spot that has evolved the normally pedestrian Mexican cuisine to something more fun, exotic, tasty, and fresh ingredient-expansive.

Walking down 2nd Avenue a few blocks from my apartment last night (passing by the egregiosly subpar Blockheads on the other side of the avenue), I couldn’t miss the restaurant’s bright awning or its inviting facade.


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The interior is clean, mod, and brightly colorful in its decor, an simple and bold ambience that would soon reflect itself in its kitchen’s provisions. The theme is that of Mexican Wrestling which also portends to showmanship with which they execute the menu and its items.


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They don’t open until 5 p.m. and for good reason. They spend the day in their kitchen not just prepping all of the items to serve, but also making many of the staples. The make their own chorizo, and all the peppers the use in their homemade side sauces are roasted in-house and blended with a variety of fresh herbs and spices.

Even with beverages, of which they have a great selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic to choose from, the also can make their own sodas—at the restaurant-length bar—with some of the freshest, plumpest looking fruit I’ve ever seen displayed storefront the put through their juicer.


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Having read the menu before I had arrived—and being fully aware that their chorizo was a house brand—I had gone in having a solid idea of what I wanted to order. Ready the menu was an exercise in temptation itself. Under STARTERS, Queso Fundito comes with the house-made chorizo and roasted poblano chili and the Frito comes with blue crab, corn, fresh salsa and piquillo pepper aioli. TACOS (two per $7.50 order) could contain roasted shrimp with chili oil, fresh oregano and black bean, or braised veal tongue with spring onion and serrano chili.

I order at the counter: Gorditas con Puerca (heritage pork belly, chipotle honey glaze, cucumber, and fresh cilantro), the Pescado Tacos (crispy yellowfin tuna belly, hearts of palm, olive and onion), and the Carnitas Tacos (slow-roasted Berkshire pork butt, pickled red onion, and roasted chili de arbol).

The seating is family style, so I get a “marker” to take back to my table so the server knows where to bring my order when its ready.


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A silver tray carrying my gorditas were soon carried out to my table and immediately impressed me with their very appetizing presentation. The corn “buns” warm toasty warm and aromatic. The pork belly was especially nice since they retained the ration of lean pork to fatty pork that I like. I prefer a little more lean since, as opposed to other proteins, lean pork has plenty of flavor itself.


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There was a nice, bright “punch” to the glaze, that didn’t overwhelm with spice, heat or tartness, played its proper supporting role, while the cucumber was refreshingly cool and palate cleansing, while fresh cilantro highlighted the finish of the bite.

The tacos were likewise extraordinary. The cornmeal in the tuna belly’s breading heightened each bite’s crunch, the tortillas—soft yet sturdy—held up very well underneath the firm, fleshy fish and all of those fresh, light vegetables.


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The pork had a very homey, smokey, and rich flavor, and possessed plenty of nostalgia-inducing crispiness in its edges. The pickled onions rounded out the flavor’s layering, although after taking the teensiest bite of the roasted chili, ventured to only put small slices of it’s intenseness on my tacos.

I was so pleased with everything that I was tempted to stay and order more, but I was stuffed and couldn’t finish what I had. The staff—friendly, thorough, and gracious throughout—kindly put my leftovers into a bag to take home, as well as the Churros (cinnamon-spiced Mexican doughnut) with its house-made chocolate dipping sauce which I looked forward to sharing with the staff of the restaurant where I work which was on my way home.


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The atmosphere was so friendly that after meeting the servers, manager, and owner—and giving props to the kitchen staff—I calmly walked out of the restaurant and didn’t realize until I was at my restaurant (wanting to show my co-workers how well-priced the meal was but not finding my receipt) that I had left without paying! (And to the very few naysayers on MenuPages listing for Cascabel (among many other, well-deserved rave reviews) who are whining about a seven dollar taco: you will be very hard-pressed to find Mexican food this fresh, studied, well-executed, painstakingly homemade, tasty, and fun for a better price! I defy you to do so!)

I was also gifted with a lollipop and some other Mexican candy, and as I spent my last few minutes in contented reverie, I soak in some extracurricular culture by perusing the Mexican Wrestler action figures.


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Cascabel Taqueria is like one of those wrestlers, combatting in a neighborhood for stature and success, if not supremacy and superiority. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money of them to come out victorious.


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Bun Apple Tea!

.kac.

Cascabel Taqueria on Urbanspoon


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Cascabel Taqueria | 1542 2nd Ave. (bet. 80th & 81st Sts.) | 212.717.7800 | www.nyctacos.com



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