Tijuana Picnic (151 Essex Street, 212-219-2000) is the new downtown outpost from Acme vets Jon Neidich, Jean-Marc Houmard, and Huy Chi Le. Alex Lopez, from Kittichai, runs the kitchen, imbuing loungy Mexican-American party food with Asian sparks. There are duck wings cured with Asian spices ($12); skewers of mako shark grilled with green yuzo kosho ($12); silky guacamole freckled with charred corn ($8) — all things to pluck with thumbs and forefingers.
The restaurant has a retro parlor posture that oozes the Essex-street evening vibe, where people get primped to go drink well-made cocktails ($12) like the “Pancho Colada,” made with Ancho Reyes, pineapple, coconut, and rum ($12), or the “Smokin’ Maid,” with mezcal, cucumber, mint, and lime, and loll in vinyl booths, faces illuminated in the dark as they scroll and scroll. Low lamps project a golden glow over boldly colored tiles, and semicircular banquettes, some capable of making picnic tables, run through the middle, looking very stylish.
The roast chicken with pineapple, miso, and chipotle ($24) is perfectly fine; the little gorditas with Chinese sausage ($8) easy to inhale; and the duck empanadas ($8), the size of an orange wedge with a thimbleful of salsa, even better. The tostadas, quivering with diced pickled pig’s feet pata, a bit of fermented black bean sauce, and jalapeño, may be the most daring thing on the menu.