Although, El Parador on east 34th is New York’s oldest Mexican restaurant — having opened in 1959 — I hadn’t been there until recently.
How lucky could I be that some friends were sitting at the table next to ours? Lucky I say as they were foodies, too and — like all foodies — agreed to share so that we’d each be able to sample more things.
I started with their signature margarita ($9 straight up; $10 on the rocks) — made with fresh lime juice, Cointreau and Zapata tequila — while nibbling the fresh made chips and two sauces. One, a very fresh pico de gallo with diced tomato (and tomato pulp), onions, lots of fresh cilantro and lime juice with some finely diced jalapeño pepper for a little bit of spice and the other, their non-vegetarian, cooked, warm salsa.
And, of course their chunky fresh guacamole “clasico” ($9) served in an adorable molcajete pig.
A must are the unusual and spicy Jalapeños Rellenos ($10). We had small ones, some filled with Anejo cheese the others with chunky peanut butter, similar to the stuffed pickled jalapeños I had sampled at The Fort restaurant just outside of Denver.
The Taco Tray ($20/$28 depending on the size you order) contained a wonderful assortment of other menu items we wanted to sample: grilled chicken, beef picadillo, sliced chorizo, refried beans, more guacamole Mexican crema (thinner than our sour cream) , diced tomatoes, fresh chopped cilantro, diced onions and a shredded blend of Mexican cheese served with warm soft tortillas. (Not the hard shelled variety Americans have come to expect in Tacos.)
Perfection. That’s the word I’d use to describe the Mole Poblano ($23) — the national dish of Mexico — with half a chicken in a complex multi-flavored sauce made from 24 ingredients, including Mexican chocolate, (No, it’s not sweet!) served with rice.
The only miss of the evening was the Saute Lobster Enchiladas ($24) with chunks of slightly overcooked lobster wrapped in corn tortillas with scallions , almonds and tomato in flavorless green pumpkin seed mole.
The Barbacoa De Costilla Pibil ($22) — baby back ribs steamed in banana leaves so tender that the meat falls off the bone as you pick it up, served with a tequila-chile Juajillo salsa and with camote (sweet potatoes) whipped with fresh lime juice. So good, I actually licked my fingers to get every last drop of the sauce.
I had no room for dessert – but that didn’t stop me from trying a bite of each of the three desserts our two tables ordered: Pastel 3 Leches ($10) – a three milks cake with a cajeta caramel sauce – topped with my favorite part, the caramel nest; a crispy and creamy Mexican fried ice cream topped with Mexican crema, honey, blueberry sauce and served with a chunk of peanut brittle; and chocolate Ibarra pot de crème ($9), a delicate Mexican chocolate pudding topped with fresh berries and whipped crème.
The final must have: house-infused pineapple tequila, straight up ($9). Think Mexican lemoncello – a real digestive.
El Parador Cafe
325 E 34th St
New York, NY 10016