I was recently invited to El Maguey Y La Tuna, a restaurant located on the Lower East Side that serves authentic Mexican cuisine. As a blogger, I love these press dinners, not only because you get to meet other people who love food, but also because you often meet with the owner or Chef who will give you some information or back stories that you would not have as a regular diner.
I admit that I had no idea what the name of the restaurant was referring to and thought that Tuna was...tuna! In fact, it means "The Tequila/Mezcal and Prickly Pear Plants". It is a family owned and operated business: in the kitchen, Executive Chef Leonides Cortez and his wife, Sous Chef Manuela Cortez. At the front of the house is their daughter Maria who gave us plenty of hints that evening.
It is a medium size place, with a 45 seats capacity that, as Maria mentioned, was designed to make people feel like they are in the family kitchen, a feel perfectly rendered by the terra-cotta floors, the wood and tile tables and the white tile walls, decorated with photos (one of them is Maria's grandmother, overlooking the dining room and emphasizing the importance of family), as well as ceramic from Mexico.
We started off with drinks. I could have gone for a Mexican beer but decided to go for their margaritas that they flavor with fresh fruit puree.
I ordered the mango margarita that is my favorite flavor.
I also tried, out of curiosity the jalapeño margarita (don't think I drank two margaritas: that will never happen!).
I never heard of such a drink and if there would not be jalapeños floating around, I would have never guessed what it was. It was refreshing, not spicy as I would have expected.
We started the dinner with chicken tamales that they made especially for the Holidays as Maria told us.
We had to unwrap it to discover the filling made with chicken and masa (a corn dough), that we ate with green salsa.
I have never been a big fan of tamales and Jodi loves it. It might have been because I never had a good one before. Yes, I liked it at El Maguey Y La Tuna: it had a nice amount of chicken and was tasty with the right amount of green sauce.
The next dish was chicken flautas, also called taquitos.
These little cigars were served with pico de gallo and guacamole. I like that dish with or without guacamole.
It was not greasy, crunchy and very flavorful. In fact, I preferred them over the next dish that was taquitos al guacamole: corn patties filled with ground beef, also served with guacamole and pico de gallo.
I appreciated the crispiness of the homemade corn patties, but found it less flavorful than the chicken ones.
I should add that the guacamole was quite good, tasting fresh and perfectly seasoned.
Then came the entrees. We started off with Chile Relleno.
it was made of a roasted poblano pepper that was stuffed with cheese and simmered in a roasted tomatoe sauce. They served it with rice and beans.
As well as homemade tortillas.
I like the chile relleno: very flavorful, it had a slight kick that was perfect and for sure a lot of cheese.
Then came the mole poblano, one of their specialties that is composed with close to 20 spices and takes 2 to 3 days using the original method (much quicker with a blender, but Maria mentioned that it would not have the same taste).
Because it is a complicated dish, it is also made for special occasions. This was served with chicken and, interestingly, smelled of chocolate but did not taste of it! I guess that for a lot of people, including me, a mole is associated with chocolate: we got this all wrong and I am glad I had the chance to try an authentic one.
This was delicious: it had a complex flavor but yet well balanced, perfect with chicken, rice or just eaten with a spoon.
The second mole we tried was a chipotle chile mole sauce:
It was served with pieces of pork. The pork was quite tender, smothered in a thick sauce where I could definitely taste cumin. Maria explained that this is a basic mole and that any woman has to know how to make it to be ready to get married.
The last entree was the tacos de pescado:
It is on their menu simply because they have lots of patrons from California who asked them for it!
It was also eaten with green sauce. The fish (they use either tilapia or flounder) was fried, giving a good crunch, and had a nice flakiness. It was a delicious dish for sure.
Of course, we had to try some desserts after that. There were two:
And the Mexican chocolate cake:
The chocolate cake was good, but my favorite was the flan. I truly appreciated that none of these desserts were too sweet.
But the meal would not have been complete without a Mexican coffee (con leche above and black below).
They were served in authentic Mexican cups.
El Maguey Y La Tuna is a bit off the beaten path but I truly recommend that place: I had a good time and good food. It definitely opened my eyes to the diversity of Mexican food and from now on, I will consider other dishes than the usual tacos, burritos or fajita. If I had to recommend a full meal, it would be: chicken flautas, mole poblano and flan.
Interestingly, they serve a cheap brunch menu Tuesday to Sunday where, for less than $12 you get a drink and a dish. I'll probably be back soon!
Enjoy (I did)!
If you like this post or the photos, feel free to share it using the toolbar below or to write a comment!
And Remember: I Just Want To Eat!
Please note that the meal was complimentary. However, the opinions expressed in my blog are 100% my own!