Chef Justin Bazdarich and Chris Walton were on the verge of launching some big, global projects at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit and squashed their plans. Bazdarich, who also runs Greenpoint's great Oxomoco and Speedy Romeo in Clinton Hill, had been thinking for a while about how he could play an increasingly net-positive role in the healing of the planet; he even went back to college, enrolling in Arizona State's School of Sustainability. When COVID forced them to stay local, he knew it was time to do something completely meat-free here in NYC.
And so, coincidentally, on the day Bazdarich was forced to shutter his Lower East Side outpost of Speedy Romeo, the team signed a lease for this sprawling space on a prime corner along the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, and Xilonen, named after the Aztec goddess of early-summer corn, was born.
The menu, created by Oxomoco's stellar chef Alan Delgado, is almost entirely vegan, and relies on vegetables and legumes for its flavors and textures rather than processed, meat-substitute proteins. It's not an inexpensive restaurant to be sure (neither is Oxomoco), but the food is spectacularly good.
Definitely get the Purple Potato Taco, the headliner smashed, slathered over a crisp tortilla, and topped with a layer of chewy griddled NUMU vegan cheese, some punchy tomatillo salsa, and a slightly-sweet creamy queso. The tortilla here, like all of them at Xilonen, is house-made using corn from Tamoa, a Mexican outfit that connects farmers growing heritage crops with restaurants in both Mexico and America, and it's delicious.
The Carrot Tostada is also excellent, with long slices of the maple-glazed and roasted root vegetable laid atop a chunky navy bean concoction. Ditto the Green Chorizo Quesadilla, a rich and hearty mess of a dish starring a spicy mushroom-and-pecan mix, black beans, avocado, and hoja santa (or pepperleaf) whose taste is sometimes compared to root beer. And I got a taste of Xilonen's Guacamole, too, which is a big winner, just loaded with fire and flavor.
For something sweet, the wonderfully-textured Masa Pancake is perfectly prepared and comes with whipped salted butter and some maple syrup. Finally, there are Churros to be had here, and have them you should. Fried to a light crisp, generously dusted with sugar and cinnamon, dip these beauties in a bit of La Rifa's first-rate Oaxacan chocolate for a lovely treat with your Cafeologia coffee.
For now, Xilonen is only open for breakfast and lunch, with an expanded dinner menu coming whenever we can gather again. There's outdoor seating, both heated and too indoorsy for me, but there are also some comfortably distanced tables set up on the sidewalk. Takeout will play a significant role here, and everything is served in paper boxes from a window looking out onto Nassau Avenue, right across from all the picnic possibilities of McCarren Park.
Xilonen is located at 905 Lorimer Street, at the corner of Nassau Avenue, and is currently open on Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (@xolinen.bk)