Sunday, February 23, 2014

El Maguey y La Tuna - Mexican Comfort Food Passed Down by Generations

Everyone has a few key food buzzwords that get them going when eating out at restaurants (blue cheese, bacon, chocolate, avocado, and so forth), and for me, one of those buzzwords is "Mexican."  All the delicious things that go with that word get my tastebuds tingling for something spicy, cheesy, hearty and comforting.  That's why I was super excited to visit a small, charming Mexican restaurant called El Maguey y La Tuna, with a few other blogger comrades.

Situated on East Houston Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood, El Maguey y La Tuna sits in the company of other great eats, so needless to say there's a lot to choose from.  I like that Maguey stands apart from the rest though, as it's positioned further East than the tight cluster of other restaurants that decorates this neighborhood.

While the interior is simple and no frills, it feels comfortable and authentic, sporting white subway tile walls and tables, authentic Mexican folk art and a smallish custom made bar.  It was fun to come here with a large group, but think that the intimate space is better suited for couples or smaller parties.  We observed a few folks dining here who seemed like regulars, which is always a good sign.

Receiving a generous sampling of shared plates that represented a little bit of everything on the menu, my comrades and I enjoyed the communal nature of this meal.  Everything was tasty and interesting, with the following standing apart as my favorites:

Flautas - These fried little beauties came stuffed with a hearty chicken filling that was juxtaposed by fresh flavors of avocado crema and a zesty pico de gallo.  Despite it being a fried dish, it felt light and airy and something I'd like to bite into again.

Mole Poblano - I adore a good mole poblano, mainly due to its rich color and the use of chocolate, which is ever so subtle.  Maguey's was executed perfectly, as it boasted a sweet, smooth flavor that hugged the white meat chicken that was tender and juicy inside.  Little white flecks of sesame seeds provided a touch of crunch.

Mole de 5 Chile - Never having tried this rendition of mole, I was pleasantly surprised by the pop in flavor from the dried chiles and spices used to construct the sauce.  Despite its fiery look, the taste wasn't overly spicy but certainly held its own next to the mild chicken.  A side of rice or a soft corn tortilla did the job of drinking up that delicious sauce and transporting it into our pining tummies.

Jalapeno Margarita - Always welcoming a spicy margarita in my mouth, this one came on the rocks and used fresh juices and sliced jalapenos, giving it a nice kick.  While it's not for the faint of heart, the flavor isn't over the top.

Ponche - Because this drink isn't technically on the menu makes it that much more special.  Maria, Maguey's chef gave us a touch of history behind it, shedding light on the fact that it's mainly served during holiday time.  Consisting of warm, cooked fruits such as apples, pears, oranges, prunes and even a few tropical fruits we've never heard of, it's Mexico's version of mulled wine - with some tequila in place of wine, of course.

Service and Cost:
We loved the personal way in which everything is handled at El Maguey y La Tuna, from the interior decor to the down home comforting dishes.  As mentioned, we got to chat with Maria Luisa, Maguey's chef who not only knew all the ins and outs of the family recipes, but felt closely connected with customers, giving them what they truly want.

Costs are wallet friendly, allowing you to eat like a king in the big city:

Appetizers - $3.95 -$12.95
Tacos - $6.95 - $8.95
Seafood - $12.95 - $15.95
House Specialties - $13.95 - $16.95
Desserts - $4.95

3 Mmmms

El Maguey y La Tuna - 321 East Houston Street, New York NY 10002
F Train to 2nd Avenue

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