Rockstar restaurateur Stephen Starr, who owns dozens of restaurants in NYC, Philly and beyond, debuted his latest restaurant El Vez last month, a colorful and contagiously upbeat restaurant located in Battery Park City. Having tackled Asian fusion (Buddakan), Japanese (Morimoto) and Italian (Caffe Storico) in New York, Starr now turns his eye to the South, offering Mexican-American dishes like tacos, ceviches, nachos and enchiladas turned out by a culinary team with vast experience in the styles and flavors south of the border.
Executive Chef David LaForce helped 10-year-old El Vez attain its fame in Philadelphia and he'll try to do the same here, helped along by culinary director James Tracey, Puebla-born chef Dionicio Jimenez (El Rey) and consulting chef Nacxi Gaxiola (Pulqueria). The culinary task force turns out munchies like classic salsas and guacamoles to versions with goat cheese, chile flakes, pistachios and roasted tomatoes. Cheese fanatics should head straight for the Nacho Mama ($12), a gargantuan portion of chips and jack cheese, fortified with black beens, salsa ranchera, sour cream, picked onion and jalapeno; or the Queso Fundido ($10), a melted cheese gut bomb with chorizo rojo.
Tortilla-wrapped dishes include Lamb "Arabes" Tacos ($19) with pickled vegetables and crispy potatoes; Oxtail Enchiladas ($18) with salsa guajillo, chihuahua cheese, crema and red onion; and build-your-own tacos for two with proteins like grilled skirt steak and grilled shrimp. More composed plates run from Chile en Nogada ($16), a poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef, fruit and nuts to a 28 ounce, bone-in Cowboy Steak ($55).
Regardless of what you're eating, the space itself is a feast for the senses, decked out in myriad colors, shapes, posters and pictures. Snag a seat at one of the glittering tile and glass booths and be inspired by the brightly-lit trees of empty booze bottles. To that end, they're mixing up lots of margaritas, of course, with infusions like hibiscus, cucumber-mint and red bell pepper. They've also got a boat load of tequilas and mezcals—to the tune of 150—and some lesser-known agave-based spirits like sotol and raicilla. Much like your cousin Sheila's wedding where you drank too much champagne, a photo booth inside the restaurant serves to document your frivolity.
259 Vesey Street, (212) 233-2500; elveznyc.com