As we wrote our list of 99 Essential Restaurants™ in Lower Manhattan, we spoke to many of the chefs, owners, and general managers who run the restaurants. We asked them to tell us about the history of their neighborhoods and eateries, recount good memories, and talk to us about what’s hardest about running a restaurant in New York.
Some of these interviews were too good not to share, like the one that follows with Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina (105 First Avenue; 212-780-0999).
What’s your philosophy?
We believe that Mexican cuisine needs to become a deep part of New York restaurant culture the same way Italian, French, and Japanese cuisine have. It’s important for us to see Mexican restaurants run the gamut.
What was your original vision for this restaurant, and how has that evolved?
We originally set up to be a Mexican restaurant that did not serve tacos. That changed. People want them from us, and we believe in giving them what they want.
What dishes can you not take off the menu?
The melted tetilla cheese with lobster. The squid with black mole. The lamb tartare with guaje seeds.
Where should we look for bargains on the wine list?
Our mezcal and tequila list is far more formidable currently.
What are your favorite memories of the restaurant?
We have an incredible Christmas party every year. My friend DJ Dieselboy turns the place into a full-on rave. I also have fond memories of day one and having Frank Bruni in the kitchen. It was a ton of pressure, but it felt great.
How do you fit in the neighborhood?
I think we are member of an ever-growing team of ambitious East Village restaurants that straddle the interesting and intriguing with the neighborhood driven and the approachable.
What is your distinct place in the NYC dining scene?
We are here to never cease discovering and interpreting Mexican cuisine.
What’s best about being part of the NYC restaurant industry?
Albeit competitive, the camaraderie is remarkable. Being a part of this community of chefs and restaurateurs feels incredible.
What’s the hardest part about having a restaurant in NYC?
The competition. It seems that a new and exciting restaurant is being opened every minute. Its scary sometimes.