Should you find yourself on the far Lower East Side – say, for a visit to the Tenement Museum – with a hankering for unpretentious and inexpensive Mexican food, you would do well to check out El Maguey Y La Tuna.
A colorful, casual, family run place — owned by a father-daughter team – it specializes in home-style rustic, regional Mexican dishes, with an accent on original family recipes from Puebla, and friendly service.
El Maguey migrated from Williamsburg to the Lower East Side ten years ago. Its chiles and spices are imported and its moles freshly made, “The same way my grandmother taught my mother.” Try an excellent Fresh Guava or Fresh Melon Margarita ($9) to start. With an order of Guacamole & Chips ($8.95), and Mexican music playing in the background, you’ll feel the atmosphere is totally authentic.
More unusual appetizer choices might include a light, refreshing and healthy Cactus Salad with cilantro sauce ($8.95) — lots of fiber in cactus — or a hot, spicy tripe soup, Pancita ($8), served with warm homemade tortillas, chopped onions and lime. In Mexico, the soup’s combination of ingredients are said to be the perfect cure for a hangover. I can believe it!
The restaurant is proud of its homemade moles, and hopes to bottle and sell them in the near future. No two cooks, restaurants or regions make their moles exactly the same way, and everyone guards their secrets. At our press dinner we enjoyed Enchilada Al Maguey ($14.95), a generous-sized, homemade, chicken-filled corn tortilla smothered in a slightly sweet, thick Mole Poblano. A house specialty, it was my favorite dish of the evening. And I particularly enjoyed the dark, almost meaty black beans (and rice) that accompanied the dish, as they do all main courses.
The Mole Verde Pork (($14.95), pork simmered in a green mole sauce, was fork tender and delicate. Another outstanding dish. The classic Chile Relleno –roasted Poblano peppers stuffed with queso blanco cheese, coated in a light batter than simmered in roasted tomato and a savory mole – seemed to please everyone, as well.
El Maguey’s homemade desserts range from Flan, Sopapilla, and Mexican Chocolate Cake to a banana filled pastry topped with ice cream, each for $4.95. An amazing bargain! And though I found the Mexican hot chocolate ($3.50) disappointingly thin, it was served in charming terra cotta pottery mugs from Puebla.
El Maguey is open every day except Monday, offers a bargain daily pre-fixe brunch with a cocktail ($11.95) from 11 to 4, and expansive delivery service, even up into the East 20s. Check it out.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
El Maguey Y La Tuna
321 East Houston Street (Between Avenue B and Attorney Street)
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