Across the street from Astoria’s American Museum of the Moving Image, Toloache and Yerba Buena chef Julian Medina’s transformed an expansive former corner outpost of Five Napkin Burger into Tacuba (35-01 36th Street, Astoria; 718-786-2727), the chef’s first outerborough eatery. Here, he serves hungry neighborhood cinephiles abundant portions of modern Mexican comforts under a pair of clashing Day of the Dead calaveras hanging from the ceiling.
Look for dishes like tequila-glazed garlic shrimp, huitlacoche empanadas, and tacos overloaded with crunchy grasshoppers, which Medina brings back from Oaxaca and sautees with peppers and onions.
Tacuba lives up to its cantina status before showtime, too. Already adjusting its hours to accommodate a proper happy hour beginning at 4 p.m., the bar offers discounted fruity frozen margaritas and sangria, but the real draw is the list of cocktails served in fruit husks. Jalapeño and cucumber temper two drinks worth of pineapple-infused mezcal before it’s poured into the hollowed fruit; twice that much still goes into a similar watermelon concoction — which then goes into a watermelon — while another drink wields a coconut shell’s worth of milky coconut-infused tequila, gin, and vermouth.
Almost every dish on the menu is shareable, like a serrano-blended guacamole, chorizo nachos topped with pickled jalapeños, and a $25 trio of ceviches that can easily pass as dinner for two, served on a table-sized platter piled high with crushed ice. It includes plates of raw fluke in sweet potato puree, octopus and oysters awash in tomato sauce and touched by orange soda, and lobster and shrimp in a light and fruity cucumber and yuzu soak.