If a food fight broke out in NYC, we'd want tacos in our corner--especially if they came from Upper East Side newcomer Cascabel. This three-month-old restaurant pays homage to two things: authentic Mexican food and lucha libre, the high-flying sport of Mexican wrestling.
Brightly colored luchador masks and black-and-white photos hang from the walls of this 35-seat, counter-service spot where chef-partner Todd Mitgang flaunts his chile obsession (the taqueria is named after a Mexican cherry pepper) and devotion to handcrafted dishes like heritage pork-belly chorizo ($5) and extra-creamy, made-to-order guacamole ($7).
Eight different fillings are on offer for the tacos ($7.50 for two); they include slow-roasted Berkshire pork shoulder, braised veal tongue drizzled with garlic oil, and wild shrimp in a tangy marinade of sunflower oil, shaved garlic and pasilla chiles.
Also worth your attention are the supersavory gorditas con puerco ($6). The secret to their deliciousness: braised pork belly is pureed with honey, orange juice, chipotle and morita chiles, then sandwiched between tortillas made with lard. Mitgang first sears, then deep-fries the gorditas, so they're both crispy and airy when they arrive at your table, which might be located under a life-size luchador mural.
Negro Modelo on tap nearly makes up for the lack of a full bar license; it should arrive by early February and fix Cascabel's only weak link: a great margarita.
Cascabel, 1542 Second Ave. (between 80th and 81st sts.); 212-717-7800 or nyctacos.com
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