Monterrey, Mexico, native Julieta Ballesteros has built a Mexican legacy here in New York City. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, she became the executive chef of Mexicana Mama, a West Village restaurant that closed in the middle of last year, and then opened Crema in Chelsea nine years ago. Her cooking career propelled her to a turn on Iron Chef America (she competed against Cat Cora) and a consulting gig for Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and she’s advised other Mexican restaurants in town, too, like Los Feliz in the Lower East Side. And now, she has what she calls a “new baby”: She and partner Jaime Herrera are debuting La Loteria (29 Seventh Avenue South, 212-858-9096) in the West Village.
The restaurant derives its name from La Loteria, a Mexican game similar to American bingo. Each payer gets a card that features pictures of La Sirena (the siren), La Dama (the lady), La Escalera (the stair), and more. A caller calls these figures, and players cover the picture, if they have it, with a bean. The first person to cover the entire card wins.
The team used the game as inspiration for the decor, which features modernized versions of the La Loteria cards plus other artifacts from Mexico. Look, too, for black banquettes and black and white Mexican tile on the floors.
Ballasteros is putting out a menu of what she calls modern Mexican cuisine. For instance, she’s doing a modern version of Mexico City street tacos. “It’s French presentation, modern presentation, but preserves the essential tradition,” she says. “The taco can be very complex.” Each taco is built on house-made tortillas; fillings include beer-battered fish, ribeye, and chicharron. Vegetarians, she says, should check out the taco de fideo, which is filled with bird’s-nest noodles, sauteed mushrooms, avocado, and cotija cheese.
The appetizer list includes tostaditos de atun (mini tostadas topped with seared tuna), a queso flameado studded with homemade buffalo chorizo, and empanadas filled with squash blossom and huitlacoche. The entree board covers cheese enchiladas in mole, a lobster quesadilla, and a ribeye steak served on chilaquiles and topped with a fried egg.
The drinks list includes a number of margaritas and cervezas preparadas, or drinks made with beer, like micheladas. “For the margaritas, we squeeze the lime fresh every day, and we’re doing different kinds of flavors,” says Ballasteros. Look for margaritas infused with jalapeño, tamarind, and hibiscus. The bar is also offering specialty drinks like El Diablito, a blend of vodka, Cointreau, and chamoy, a Mexican condiment made from dried apricot and chiles. “When you’re a kid, you always have fruit covered with chile as a candy,” says the chef. “We make that into a drink. “
At brunch, you’ll find unlimited mimosas, bloody marys, sangria, and margaritas.
Look for an outside cafe during the warm months, too.
La Loteria is open for lunch, brunch, and dinner.