Classic Tables: Sueños

Where New York fell for Mexican food

Sue Torres must be quite proud of herself.

In June 2003, Torres opened her superlative Mexican restaurant, Sueños, in a cloistered space in Chelsea. This was nearly a decade before Manhattan chefs began falling over themselves for such Mexican staples as masa and manteca.

Torres calls Sueños's sequestered location a "hidden gem." A bold statement, but a true one. The color scheme is a transporting swath of sea green, sky blue and magenta; the ambience is civilized but breezy.

Likewise, Torres's food is careful, freewheeling and personal. Her famed lobster sopes ($15) are a marvel. The masa for the corn cups is speckled with guajillo and árbol chiles; the poached lobster is dressed with a silky reduction of coconut milk, habanero chile and piloncillo (raw sugar). Instant vacation on the Mexican Riviera.

Inspired by the same Mexican region, whole branzino ($25) is marinated with citrus and the common Yucatecan spice achiote. Goat ($25) is plastered with a wet-chile rub, then slow-roasted and served with a comforting mash of sweet ripe plantains. Even the black beans and rice ($5) is a paragon of the form. 

Being ahead of the curve is laudable. Sueños, though, may have started it.

Sueños, 311 W. 17th St. (at Eighth Ave.); 212-243-1333 or suenosnyc.com