Javelina

I hate to be too optimistic but I really think we might be on the cusp of a Mexican food breakthrough in New York City. Or at least, I am.

Sure, we still have way too many of those unnecessarily upscale places, and just because you had a killer prickly pear margarita at Dos Caminos does not mean you’re on to something.

But I recently had one of the best Mexican meals in the city so far, and that’s saying something because my roommate and I are on the hunt for New York’s most promising Tex-Mex and we don’t mess around. It is our life’s passion. Is that sad? Maybe. Do I care? Nope.

This story begins a year ago when two bonafide Tex-Mex restaurants owned and operated by real Texans opened up in New York City. Back then, I was more impressed with El Original than Javelina. They kept it simple with plain yellow queso and some pretty high-quality guac.

But I’ve officially changed my opinion on Javelina and may be ready to proclaim it the best Tex-Mex establishment in the city.

See, the first time I went was right after they opened and I really don’t think you can judge a place until it’s been open at least 3 months. But here’s what went wrong: first, they mucked up their queso with guac and beef and refried beans and it was really overwhelming.

Second, someone told me to get the chile relleno and I listened, which was a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Let me describe this monstrosity: they take a poor, unassuming poblano pepper and they stuff it with beef and cheese and top it with more cheese and tomatillo sauce (this is all sounding ok right? Wait for it.) THEN they top it with walnuts and raisins…like what? AND THEN THEY DEEP FRY IT.

Call the doctor, this pepper is lethal.

So what changed since then? I guess you could say I changed. See, I remembered that when you go to a Tex Mex restaurant you don’t try the fanciest thing on the menu. You stick to the basics: guac, plain white queso, and chicken tacos.

So here we go:

The place. Fun, lively, always packed, solid ambience. Good for dinner with friends, bad for date night because so, so loud.

The food. The guac is actually so-so but I think you could salt it and save the day.

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Ignore the weird yellow tinge, it’s just the lighting

The white queso is great – a little too thick and a little too much cilantro but if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s melted cheese and that’s never bad. They also have the aforementioned jazzed-up versions: the Bob Armstrong is yellow or white queso with ground beef, pico de gallo and sour cream mixed in, and the Mag Mud is white queso with black beans, pico de gallo and guac. Honestly, they’re not bad but they are a lot, especially if you’re a traditionalist.

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Don’t order the pepper. Go for the tacos: I can only speak for the chicken, brisket or avocado but the chicken tacos are seriously the best I’ve had in the city so far. They’re simple but perfect, with seasoned, grilled chicken – none of that dry shredded nonsense – topped with guacamole, pico de gallo, queso fresco and lettuce.

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And the rice and beans aren’t bad either – finally properly seasoned sides in an NYC Tex-Mex restaurant! Hallelujah.

The drinks. Last but certainly not least: these are standard but will do the job. They serve a prickly pear on the rocks which is a big win for me because frozen drinks fill me up. The regular is also good.

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So it’s one year later and I am sufficiently impressed by Javelina. I’m making this my new go-to spot and you should too.

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