When it seemed like the rain in New York would never end, I picked myself up and drowned my soaking wet sorrows in beer and tacos with my friend Jason at Empellon. Chef/Ower Alex Stupak (formerly of WD-50) may be known as one of the best pastry chefs in the country, but a year ago he ditched the pastry side to go in the completely opposite direction and opened up a Mexican joint in the West Village. To say I was intrigued to see what he had done was an understatement, I was chomping at the bit to eat his food (plus my friend Sarah had just had an amazing meal there and I know she won’t steer me wrong)!
So ya we plopped ourselves down at a table, ordered a few beers and chit chatted a bit. The atmosphere at Empellon is cozy and relaxed and dare I say a little bit sexy with its darkly lit dining room, exposed brick walls, and hip bar area. This is a fantastic spot to go on a date or have a fun girls night out on the town. The menu is pretty extensive and offers a lot of Mexican favorites but I was here for tacos; ny friends had praised their greatness and I just had to see what all the fuss was about. With over nine different tacos to choose from, ranging from duck confit to lobster, we settled on lamb barbacoa, skirt steak with mojo ajo, and fish tempura. The tacos average about $7 each and can be ordered in 2-3s so they are great for sharing but despite their decent size, they are a bit pricey for tacos. However after the first bite you completely forget about the price.
*Fish Tempura Tacos with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise*
Best darn fish tacos I have had this side of Arizona. Holy moly, had I known they were this good I would have ordered a dozen of these bad boys. The crisp cabbage and light lime mayonnaise may be the standard accompaniment to almost every fish taco, but it was so wonderful it could be great all by itself! Same goes for the fish; it was so succulent and savory wi th a flaky and light batter that I want to encase in every fried food I eat from here on out! Last year I made fish tacos for my friend Rion who said they were the “best he’s ever had” but mine cannot hold a candle to these (they aren’t even on the same planet), and am ready bring him here to really blow his mind.
*Lamb Barbacoa Tacos with Salsa Borracha*
The almost melting meat got me ready for the season of slow-cooking. The meat was so juicy and the addition of pickles and olives was surprisingly wonderful.
*Skirt Steak Tacos with Mojo de Ajo*
I mean after eating the fish tempura taco, nothing else I ate could come close. The mojo de ajo (a garlic sauce made with lime juice and olive oil) was sick and I wished I had some chips to dip in the sauce all day long. Skirt steak is never my first choice in terms of meat as it’s almost always overcooked but this was juicy and hovered on the medium rare side which I appreciated very much.
Some within the industry may have balked at Stupak’s decision to do a complete culinary 180….but he has proved everyone wrong and shown that his genius doesn’t just lie in pastry. I only wish I would have had gotten the chance to eat at WD-50 while he was there. It’s too bad I left the West Village years ago…. or this would be my neighborhood spot. Go for many reasons (the impeccable service, great drinks, and happening atmosphere) but above anything else go for the fish tempura taco… it is my latest obsession and will soon be yours too.
230 West 4th Street (at West 10th Street)