Empellon – The Best Fish Tacos in NYC

I headed to Empellon with mixed expectations. A refined Mexican restaurant run by renowned pastry chef Alex Stupak,  it has received everything from raves to pans. Clearly, the only thing to do was take a trip to the West Village myself and see what the scuttlebutt was about. 
 A quick drink at the bar proved that the cocktail list, at least, was up to par. My Empelloma, made with Reposado tequila and homemade grapefruit soda, was properly tart and fizzy, with the slight bitter edge of the tequila bringing out the soda’s sweeter notes. 
 The small dining room, with exposed brick walls and low lighting, is hip but not trendy or pretentious. It can be classy enough for a date or fun enough for a gals night out. 
 Guacamole and Tortilla Chips with Smoked Cashew and Arbol Chile Salsas
Of course salsa and chips should come gratis at a Mexican restaurant, but this is NYC. So, I sucked it up and paid the (obscene amount of) money for them. In their defense…they were delicious. Fresh, still warm tortilla chips, generously salted, served with creamy, cilantro laden, intensely avocado-y guacamole – not too acidic or spicy. Those flavors came from the salsas, both the nutty, smoky cashew salsa and the positively fiery chile de Arbol salsa, deep and spicy.
 Sopes with Shortribs and Salsa Roja
Sopes are little discs of fried masa, or cornflour. They are sort of like a softer cornbread or a more firm tamale – dense and moist, perfect for sopping up the juices of the tender, beefy short rib and the sweet-spicy salsa. These were delicious and hearty.
 Sopes with Smoked Plantains and Crema
Soft, slightly sweet plantains worked very well by being smoked, making them more savory and substantial. Whereas the sopes before seemed soft under the beef, they seemed dense and more toothsome here. The sopes took on the opposite characteristics of whatever topping they accompanied. 
 Queso Fundido with Red and Green Chorizo
Spicy, salty, fragrant, meaty chorizo, seasoned with…who knows what? Cilantro, cumin and smokey chiles for sure, but there were so many complex flavors that I just can’t place. The sweetness of pork melded perfectly with the many hot and aromatic seasonings, and the cheese…
 Melty, stretchy, mild and a little tangy was delicious slathered onto homemade tortillas, doused in the hot salsa and scooped into my mouth with a spoon.
Fish Tempura with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise
The best fish taco I have had in my life. Even better than my homemade ones. Crispy, light tempura batter that stood out almost half around the fish encased flaky, incredibly mild whitefish that was perfectly cooked with just enough of that salinity that reminded you that it was of the sea. The creamy mayonnaise added tang and acidity to the cool cabbage and the tiny slivers of peppery radish. This was crispy, creamy, salty, meaty, cooling and incredibly flavorful. It was improved by the addition of guacamole and the hot salsa, but then…what isn’t?
Empellon was a major hit. The food and drinks were expensive, but you get what you pay for, and here you get outstanding, inventive Mexican food served quickly and efficiently by servers who let you linger as long as you wish after you have finished eating. 
The only con to this meal is that for HOURS after I was done eating, I felt dehydrated. The only thing that tasted remotely salty was the basket of tortilla chips, so I can’t imagine what it was, but there was a hidden salt lick in there. 
Regardless of that fact, I would come back to Empellon, perhaps asking for less salt in the tortilla chips. I loved all the food and drinks there, and am here to settle the debate:
Empellon is a must go.
Empellón on Urbanspoon

Comments

  1. JustinM says:

    That does look good. It looks like a lot of sauce, but as long as it was good.

    BTW I'm not sure how much chorizo you ate, but it is often FULL of sodium. Sometimes one small link has more than half a days worth. And if the shortribs had been braised… I have a friend who starts out his braised shortribs by literally rolling them in salt… I mean, this could have been a salt minefield.

  2. Barb @ WishfulChef says:

    I lived in Southern California for a few years and used to go to a popular taco shop in LA called Baja Ensenada that had amazing fish tacos… We haven't found anything that compares so I am VERY excited to try Empellon's! It sounds pretty awesome. Thanks for the review!

  3. JustinM says:

    Tacos Baja Ensenada has the best fish tacos I have ever had anywhere, including Mexico. I should go there and take pics.

  4. Barb @ WishfulChef says:

    Yes, I agree! I miss it… I will still try Empellon out though :)

  5. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Justin-Unfortunately I love the taste of salt, so it could have been any of those. Oy.
    @Barb-NOTHING will be like SoCal tacos, but these are darn good for what they are

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