Empellón
Evan Sung

New York Times’ Pete Wells Reviews Alex Stupek’s Latest Empellón

Editor
The latest edition of the Empellón empire

Alex Stupak has been creating a mini taco empire in New York City, from Al Pastor in the East Village to the recently closed Cocina to the recently opened Empellón, the subject of Pete Wells’ latest review. The massive bi-level Midtown restaurant has drawn a lot of buzz.

Restaurant reviews don’t usually turn over so much space to desserts, but the ones at Empellón deserve it. They also illustrate how much Mr. Stupak has matured as both chef and restaurateur since he left a career in pastry to tackle Mexican food.

Wells spends the first third of the review tackling the dessert menu, giving more attention to that portion of the menu than most diners do. But what strikes Wells the most is the welcoming nature of the restaurant.

Maybe it’s the competition from Cosme, which takes a much less formalist approach to high-end Mexican cooking. Maybe Mr. Stupak has more empathy for his customers now. Maybe setting up shop in a big, two-level space in Midtown in March triggered a dormant crowd-pleasing gene. Whatever the cause, the food he is cooking at Empellón wants to be liked.

Encouraging! I’m always on the hunt for a new place to down tacos, but that, shockingly, seems to be the one section of the menu that’s lacking.

Yes, anything can be turned into a taco, but perhaps not everything should. The best taco I had at Empellón, not counting the corn ice cream, was one I made from the peppers and onions sizzling on an iron plate on which a server had briefly seared a Wagyu steak. This is a great, witty take on fajitas, although the joke would be funnier if it didn’t cost $125.

You can write off the tacos completely, and what’s left is still a very enjoyable restaurant.

Whatever. I’d risk it. Anything is better in a tortilla.

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