If, like me, you happen to have lived in California, where they have excellent Mexican food on every corner, you already know that being a Mexican food enthusiast in NYC can be, shall we say, disappointing. It’s no secret that NYC restaurants can get a bit lost when it comes to delivering consistently excellent Mexican food. While many places do an acceptable job, or get two or three things (say, Guacamole) right, I’ve lost track of how many Mexican Restaurants not only miss basic details like baking the enchiladas in sauce (duh), but also do weird things like putting Goat Cheese in the Quesadillas. Seriously, no me gustan.
But I never give up on my quest for great Mexican food, and that journey recently led me to La Loteria, a “Cocina Mexicana Moderna” on Seventh Avenue South that lives up to the hype of its 4.5 Star Yelp Reviews! Taking its name from a Mexican card game similar to American Bingo, La Loteria continues that sense of playfulness with its decor that features vibrant framed prints of La Loteria Cards and handmade Day of The Dead-style Mexican sculptures and figurines. The restaurant’s interior has a bright and modern feel with many endearing, traditional touches that lend it a distinctive look among its culinary competition. Props to whoever designed this space.
Operated by Chef Julieta Ballesteros (who also owns Crema and Los Feliz) and business partner Jaime Herrera, La Loteria’s well-focused menu doesn’t get distracted from what makes an excellent taco, while also bringing in fresh seafood, and taking just the right creative liberties with Mexican favorites like Flautas and Empanadas. The result is one of the best new Mexican Restaurants in NYC, maybe ever. Worleygig.com was recently invited to enjoy a tasting menu of some of La Loteria’s signature appetizers. Here’s a look at what we ate:
Of course, we had to start with the Guacamole Tradicional ($13), served with still-warm, housemade chips. It tasted as good as it looks, with a hint of jalapeno added for a kick, and the tortilla chips were light, crispy and delicious! You can add chicharrones (crispy fried meats), including ancho chile-dusted pork belly, to your Guacamole for an additional $5 to $7. This appetizer easily serves three adults.
Complement your meal with the Salsas Del Valiente ($10) a trio of Specialty Salsas (also served with chips) that includes (left to right in the above photo): Roasted Chile de Arbol, Salsa Verde Cruda, and de Cacahuate Enchilado — a chunky/creamy, peanut-based salsa. Really nice!
The Ceviche de Pescado ($14) is made with a fresh fish of the day, and ours featured fresh-caught Red Snapper, mixed with the customary lime and citrus juices along with chunks of ripe avocado, tomatillo and pickled cucumbers. La Loteria’s Ceviche is among the freshest and most flavorful I’ve ever eaten, and I highly recommend it if you are a lover of fresh seafood.
Tostaditos de Atun ($14) are an array of mini-tostadas topped with a slice of fresh, chile-rubbed and pan-seared tuna, resting on a dollop of guacamole and dressed with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, chipotle aioli and sweet mango salsa. It’s a ton of flavors in a couple of perfect bites.
Empanadas (Mexican filled turnovers) are a favorite of mine and La Loteria’s Empanadas are made with the flakiest, most tender pastry imaginable. We tasted two varieties including De Flor De Calabaza y Huitlacoche ($18 for three) which are stuffed with squash blossom, devil corn, chihuahua cheese, yellow bell pepper coulis and cotija cheese. Also on the menu are very savory empanadas De Papa con Chorizo ($14), filled with spicy potatoes, Mexican chorizo, cream, pasilla sauce (made with Pasilla Chiles) and cotija cheese. You can’t necessarily tell by the photo, but these Empanadas are huge and very filling!
I am also highly recommending the Flautitas De Pato en Trilogia de Salsas (Small Duck Flautas with Three Sauces, $16). Here, rolled corn tortillas are stuffed with juicy, shredded duck confit, corn and caramelized onions and then fried crispy, before being topped with a colorful medley of avocado tomatillo, mole poblano (very chocolaty!) and chipotle aioli. This is a great plate to share.
For dessert, we were served two specialties of the house: warm Mexican Churros with Chocolate and Caramel Dipping Sauces (who doesn’t love churros?), and the Guava Pie, which are small tarts with layers of flan custard and sweet guava compote, then topped with whipped cream and sliced toasted almonds. Very original, light and delicious!
Service was friendly and accommodating all around. We didn’t do any drinking on this visit but we heard that La Loteria makes a mean Jalapeno Margarita! We’ll look forward to a return visit to try their take on Queso Fundido (Quesos Flameados) with homemade corn tortillas and many other Modern Mexican classics!
La Loteria is located at 29 7th Ave South (Varick Street, between Bedford & Morton). Hours are Sunday – Thursday, 12 Noon – 11:00 PM and Friday – Saturday 12:00 Noon – 2:00 AM, with a Happy Hour Daily from 4:00 – 7:00 PM. Call (212)858-9096 or visit them on the Web at This Link to make a Reservation.