Over guava bellinis and Negra Modelo, we ate like Mexican kings. Empellon, a restaurant that had been on my go-to list, ended up being a surprise destination after a failed brunch attempt somewhere else. A casual West Village spot cornered on West Fourth, it stays strong in its stance to present solid Mexican fare, tacos especially, in an unpretentious environment.
There we sat, awaiting our entrées and ate good old-fashioned chips and guacamole, only this wasn’t like the other hundred times we’ve eaten the south-of-the-border staple. Here, in sort of a musical chairs motion, we dipped the chip into guacamole and then into smoked cashew salsa, back to guacamole, and then in chipotle tomatillo salsa. We played this on repeat — crunch, scoop, crunch, scoop — a medley of sorts, blending the flavors into each other and testing how spiced our palates really were. The basic green stuff was an odd refresher when played against the strong bite of the cashew and the always beloved chipotle.
Our guac-fest was interrupted by entrées and though we could have easily thrown in the towel already, we continued on. Chilaquiles, an unfamiliar idea to my mouth, was overwhelming in flavor. Mushroom, skirt steak, and a sunnied egg nestled over once-crisped-now-soft tortillas was almost like a hearty eggs in purgatory, but another beast all in itself. The skirt steak was tender and it sopped up the richness of the egg yolk and the simmered mushrooms, and left the rest to be scooped up with a tortilla chip at the risk of losing the last bite.
In a different dish, the fat, crispy yucca on the short rib burger was the perfect balance to the tremendous things going on in between those buns. Oaxaca cheese, refried beans, a fried egg, and a near-rare burger — was a done deal. The combination of the tender short rib and the kick of the cheese, a belly-buster for sure, was surely gone as quickly as it came.
After polishing off our third round of drinks, the waiter asked if we’d been there for dinner, to which we simply replied, “Not yet.”