New York City is witnessing a major Mexican food moment: Horchata (470 Sixth Avenue), which opened last night in the former BLT Burger space, makes a fourth new concept touting glamorized south-of-the-border fare this spring, and it comes on the heels of El Vez, Gato, and Cafe El Presidente.
The BLT space has been given a festive makeover, and the ceiling is bedecked with twinkling lights, the seats are upholstered with colorful Mexican patterns, and murals adorn the walls. Horchata pays homage to cuisine from across Mexico, but, says chef Manuel Trevino, “with nods to classic New York fare and to Tex Mex. I’m from a border town in Texas, but I’ve spent the last 16 years in NYC, and I’m putting my whole Mexican portfolio into one menu.”
While the chef’s training is classical — he put in years at Babbo and Le Cirque — he’s recently been on board with Mexican concepts in the city: He manned the burners at Dos Caminos before converting the Dream Downtown’s pool area into a somewhat secret Mexican food hideaway. On board as ESquared Hospitality’s corporate chef, he says his “eyes lit up” when he heard they were plotting a Mexican restaurant.
You’ll find familiar dishes on the menu at Horchata, though they’ve been given twists: Guacamole comes a number of different ways; one sports cucumber and green apples, while another is topped with queso, cheddar, chorizo, tomatoes, and scallions and comes sided with potato chips. For that rendition, says Trevino, “we tried to imagine what a baked potato and guacamole would be if they met.”
He’s also reimagined the Tex Mex special queso fundido, normally a vat of melted cheese: “I wanted to take that and go interior Mexico, like what you’d get in Mexico City,” he says. “We take chile guajillo broth and infuse it with with avocado leaf and hoja santa. Then we take queso fresco — which doesn’t melt — and poach it in that really flavorful broth, and we put chorizo in it. So we serve you a warm wedge of queso fresco, and it has this light, spongy, airy texture. It’s a really unexpected twist.”
Two of the salsas on the board are classics — made with roasted tomato and jalapeño or tomatillo and chipotle peppers — another is less traditional: a blend of pumpkin seeds, chile de arbol, and cider vinegar. And you’ll also find nachos, made from freshly fried Tortilla Nixtamal tortillas and topped with chipotle queso.
Still other dishes deviate from the Mexican canon entirely in their inspiration. See, for example, the nod to a bagel and lox: Trevino is making a tostada topped with everything cream cheese and mezcal-cured salmon that he’s making in house.
The bar follows in a similar vein, drawing inspiration from our southern neighbor as well as American cocktail culture. Pair your meal to a Mexican soda or agua fresca, tequila or mezcal, or a cocktail like the funky monkey signature horchata made with horchata, rum, vanilla vodka, and kahlua, or the meyer lemon and yuzu margarita, a blend of tequila, triple sec, meyer lemon, yuzu, and agave.
The restaurant is opening daily for dinner, weekdays for lunch, and weekends for brunch.