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Toloache: New York Mexican’s Happy Medium

There are a whole bunch of weird things about Toloache (it’s Times Square location and the chintzy neon sign are two), and yet, whether because of the excellent sangria or the crave-worthy guacamole, the laid-back environment or cheap prices, Toloache just works. The sister restaurant to the far more gentile Yerba Buena Perry in the West Village, Toloache is like the black sheep of the family – a little raunchy, a little dirty, flashier and commanding attention.

Just off Times Square, Toloache is a shining neon star in an otherwise epicurean wasteland too popular with T.G.I. Friday’s-seeking tourists. The space is quirky – bi-level, with a crowded bar, and tables crowded into corners, behind the hostess stand, next to the guac-making counter. Design-wise though, the look is spicy and thrilling with warm yellow walls, mustard-colored leather banquettes, traditional blue-and-white tilework embedded into smooth brown adobe bricks, quirky and ornate metal lanterns, and deep red candles flickering on each table. Toloache is elegant yet just raucous enough to entice the young after-work crowd and serious diners alike.

Toloache’s modern Mexican fare is remarkably cheap – especially in comparison to that offered by its sibling Yerba Buena Perry. Mostly everything except for the large entree-size dishes is under $15. And trust me, you can have quite the special meal without spending $27 on a ‘platos principales.’ The trio of guacamole is a must-have to kick off the meal. Each of the three has a completely unique flavor: the ‘mild’ is your guacamole tradicional, served chunky with plenty of thick avocaod, the ‘medium’ is stuffed with pomegranate, mango, peach, apple, and Thai basil and is possibly the most addictive dip ever, and the ‘hot’ is zesty with chipotle peppers and cooling queso fresco. Also wonderful are the tacos – served on perfectly cooked soft tacos and nicely stuffed with filling. The ‘Suadero’ option with Negro Modelo-braised brisket and a tangy horseradish cream is packed with bold and hearty flavors ; the ‘pescado’ with baja tilapia and thick guacamole is a house favorite, recommended by the server, and freshing; the ‘de pastor’ mixes together savory/sweet grilled pineapple (mmm mmm) and juicy pork – just marvelous.

If you’re not in the mood for tacos, the Mexican restaurant’s take on fondue ‘queso fundido’ is decadent and gooey, loaded with all sorts of earthy mushroom bits, and the braised short ribs quesadilla, glued together with creamy Chihuahua cheese, creme fraiche, and a dusting of pico de gallo, is perfect for carnivores looking for a not-too-heavy meal option. Lastly, its no secret that Central and South Americans know how to work with meat – and those in the kitchen at Toloache are no exception. For example, the carne asada skirt steak is tender and cooked to a bright magenta medium rare; served with Toloache’s addictive guacamole and a bonus mole cheese enchilada, it’s flavorful, zesty, and satisfyingly meaty.

Toloache is a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood known for Ruby Tuesday’s, Bubba Gump, and an altogether too large T.G.I. Friday’s. It has the suave and quirky style of a downtown restaurant, the cooking chops to rival the high-end Mexican spots cropping up all over town (it’s certainly better than the inexplicably raved-about Empellon), and the vibrant youthful energy of a tequila bar. Sounds like a winning combination to me!

Perfect For: midtown west after-work drinks, guac and margs, pre- and post- theater dinner

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