NYC’s Empellon Cocina: A Push in the Right Direction

Let’s face it…. there are an overwhelming number of restaurants to choose from in New York City.  I keep my wish list of Manhattan restaurants on a virtual notepad in my telephone.  But when the rubber meets the road and it’s time for me to decide where to dine, paralysis often takes over.  Not this time.
The decision to dine at Empellón Cocina is made in a flash.  No second-guessing.  No regrets.  Here’s why.
  • Chef Alex Stupak was named one of the best new chefs in America for 2013 by Food & Wine magazine. Impressive. 
  • Travel & Leisure magazine lists Empellón Cocina as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the U.S.   Hard to resist.
  • Chef Alex Stupak was previously a pastry chef at Alinea in Chicago and WD50 in New York- two restaurants known for modernist cuisine, pushing food boundaries, and mostly for serving fabulous food.  I’m in.

A tweet from Gail Simmons (“Top Chef” judge among other things) clinches it for me:  Only thing better than pastrami short rib tacos @Empellon lst nite was smoked banana mezcal. Or maybe the fried egg Im putting on leftovers.  

The word  “empellón” literally means push in Spanish.  Empellón Cocina doesn’t exactly push the boundaries in the way that I expect.  The food is creative but not over the top.  It’s also not traditional Mexican food.  Chef Stupak is reinventing dishes in new ways and putting his own spin on them.  It’s a good way to push.
As soon as we are seated my friend and I are drawn to a dish at the table next to us.  It’s gorgeous and we’re gawking.  For a moment, I am concerned that we’re being impolite.  But it’s difficult not to drool over such appetizing dishes that are being served just inches away.  My heart starts to race at the possibilities that lie ahead.
We start with guacamole laced with pickled jalapenos and tomatillo-chipotle salsa with roasted tomatillos, roasted garlic, and honey.  These are served with masa crisps, which are fried but not too heavy.  I am no stranger to guacamole.  This one is exceptional for its fresh and layered flavors.  I am careful not to go too crazy with the pickled peppers, but they are hard to resist.
Empellon Cocina guacamole

Empellon Cocina guacamole

 The dish that initially captured our attention is delivered and we gasp all over again.  It is a stunning presentation of mango, lime foam, chile powder, and peeky toe crab salad. Holy moly!  We are blown away by the beauty and the substance of this dish.  We love the mix of sweet and hot flavors and the thinly sliced mango delights at every bite.
Empellon Cocina sliced mango

Empellon Cocina sliced mango

The tacos on the menu entice with clever flavor combinations.   It goes without saying that the short rib pastrami will be one of our choices.  We decide that this will pair perfectly with a duo of sea scallop tacos with caramelized cauliflower and caper-raisin emulsion. They are both winners but I favor the pastrami with its melt-in-the-mouth meat, and mustard seeds that tickle the tongue.
Empellon Cocina short rib pastrami taco

Empellon Cocina short rib pastrami taco

There is nothing  wanting from this meal.  But dessert is not a question, it’s a necessity.  Chef Stupak has handed over the pastry chef duties to his wife Lauren Resler.  Our server steers us to vanilla ice cream with rhubarb and Mexican brown sugar.  I expect a gorgeous dessert and it doesn’t disappoint.  But it’s also playful and fills us with delight with unexpected bursts of deliciousness.
empellon cocina vanilla ice cream with rhubarb.JPG

Empellon Cocina vanilla ice cream with rhubarb


Sometimes I have to push myself to make a dining decision.  At Empellón Cocina it’s a different story.  I need a push out the door because I’m tempted to stay at this East Village gem and start my meal all over again.
Empellón Cocina, 101 1st Avenue, New York, NY
New York Times Review

Empellon Cocina on Urbanspoon



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For more Manhattan reviews see my page of reviews in Around the US.


Exclusive Interview with “Top Chef” Judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons

From the moment Top Chef premiered on Bravo in March 2006, I have been a fan.  I couldn’t help but be drawn in by a reality television show focused on food.  It isn’t enough for me to just watch the drama unfold.  I need to taste the food. This means dining at restaurants or attending events […]

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