Meet Órale, the Upper West Side's New Mexican Hotspot
All photos by Susannah Skiver Barton
While Mexican food is having a moment here in New York City, it's still hard to find restaurants that offer colorful takes on traditional favorites without breaking the bank. Órale (468 Amsterdam Avenue), which opened in March in the old Café Frida space but just hosted its grand opening, provides Upper West Side residents with a hip spot to nosh on tacos, guac, and other Mexican bites. Even better, it boasts a well-tended bar brimming with tequila and a host of specialty margaritas and other cocktails.
Executive Chef James Muir, an Alain Ducasse alum and native of Argentina, has crafted Órale's menu to reflect the restaurant's theme of vibrancy and innovation. Diners can work their way up from snacks to mains, but to make the most of the menu, you may want to mix and match smaller dishes with the restaurant's extensive tacos, tortas, and enchiladas. Refreshing and flavorful ceviche will make you feel virtuous enough to indulge in queso fresco-covered flautas de res, crunchy and juicy with braised beef. Choose from six different kinds of guacamole, including versions featuring shrimp, crispy pork belly, or seasonal fruit. Those who can't pick just one can create a custom trio -- or just stick with the classic, which is creamy and chunky with a nice balance of tomato, onion, and lime. Tacos come five to an order, making them easy to share -- try the excellent beef tinga or Carolina pork, which puts a Southern twist on typical barbacoa flavors.
Tequila fans will find much to admire in Órale's extensive list, which boasts a solid two dozen añejo varieties along with reposado and silver options and a smattering of mezcals. Flights of three start at $12 for those who want a side-by-side comparison of a particular brand or age level. If you aren't up for straight sipping, Órale offers ten different margaritas, including one made with Luxardo cherries and another particularly refreshing watermelon rendition. There's also a solid house margarita and a frozen flavor that rotates daily.
Other cocktails go heavy on the agave but will please those who claim they "can't drink tequila" -- try the piña colada "mojito" made with coconut tequila and pineapples, or the Mexican Old Fashioned featuring Herradura Añejo. Three sangrias, two choices of michelada, wines, beers, and house-made sodas round out the list.
Órale fits right in to the neighborhood -- a safe but tasty dining space with enough clever twists to keep things interesting. The décor -- you might call it Día de los Muertos chic -- and inviting back patio give the space a hip vibe, and the beautiful hand-crafted bar puts the focus on Órale's excellent drinks. Prices are on par for similar places nearby, and you'll also find numerous daily happy hour specials. The restaurant also offers weekend brunch starting at noon.
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