El Toro Blanco (257 Avenue of the Americas, 212-645-0193), a swank Mexican cantina from the owners of Lure Fishbar and Burger & Barrel, opened in the fall of last year on a prosaic stretch of Sixth Avenue. Dressed in orange, black, and red with leather banquettes and ochre wooden beams, it channels a certain 1960s California zeitgeist. Even the poster of chilies in the bathroom are like something your great aunt from Carmel hung in her kitchen for decades.
The bar is a nice place to be on the early side, before the scene hits and the prices elevate. A long roster of tequilas keep the cocktail list from being too sedate. The happy hour menu (Monday through Friday, 3 to 7 p.m.) menu has made-to-order guacamole ($8), a mild green chile queso fundido ($8), empanadas, and tacos like the iceberg lettuce-showered ground beef escuela vieja hard shells and chicken tinga overwhelmed with sweet chipotle sauce (two for $5).
The best choice is the platter of nachos ($7, $8 with meat), mindfully assembled into a cylindrical stack. The chips are thick-cut and crackingly crisp; the cheese sauce is silky and orange. Loaded with squiggles of sour cream and a timid pico de gallo, a smooth puree of beans is sandwiched beneath the lower level. For those who came of age in the 90s, it’s a Proustian ride through the Taco Bell drive-thru, an uncanny resemblance to the Mexican Pizza.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city’s best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.