Macondo: Bringing Latin Street Food Off The Street
Macondo’s shtick is pan-Latin street food – arepas from Venezuela, tacos from Mexico, churros from Spain, and so on and so forth. Yet, as you would expect from the sister restaurant to Rayuela, Macondo is no grimy street cart. Tucked into a surprisingly large railroad space on E. Houston Street, Macondo seems inspired by a hot and sticky summer night somewhere anonymous in Latin America.
The 6-seat communal high-top tables in the front are simple and rustic, flanked by distressed exposed brick, shelves of Spanish foodstuffs, and rope baskets; a long row of low stools along the open kitchen let diners peer into the culinary fray; a large faux blackboard listing every popular Spanish ingredient, from pequillo to jicama to mole, looms over the bar area. In the back, the ‘Green Room’ evokes a secret garden with ivy-laced lattice, pale wood tables, and twinkling candlelight. Lush and sultry, the Green Room is perfect for birthday parties, work events, after-hours drinks, and perhaps even a bachelorette bash.
Whether or not this is street food or gourmet cuisine, Macondo’s Latin American fare is refreshing, satisfying, hearty, and completely un-cliche! Most Latin spots in the city offer the same sort of stuff with the same sort of taste and the same sort of ingredients. Macondo manages to offer something new, something fresh and surprising. The menu is extensive, offering upwards of 35 items, all for under $20. Dishes range in size from small bites (patatas bravas) to slider-size sandwiches (chimichurri chico) to full-on large plates (arroz con pollo). For the best deal, opt for the $30 prix-fixe which offers 2 small plates, 1 bocadillo or large plate, and 1 dessert; it’s the best way to sample the best Macondo has to offer.
Out of the 8 dishes sampled, the 4 starters were by far the best. The ‘Almondegas’ or Brazilian meatballs were punchy and surprising; the size of golfballs and soaked in guava sauce, they proved to be immensely flavorful for such a simple dish. The salmon ceviche was just too sophisticated to be considered street food, layered in complex flavor, presented beautifully (as at Rayuela also) in a martini glass, and fresh as fresh can be; the soy ginger citrus sauce brought out the flavor and the texture of the bright pink and silky salmon, cut into large strips. The cheekily-named Chorishrimp should win the award for Best Latin American Comfort Food Dish; served in a piping hot pot, this stew-like mixture of chunky Colombian chorizo, shrimp, Albarino white wine, chili sauce, and tomato is served with thick wheat crackers for dipping and scooping; the result? A hefty, savory, and soul-satisfying dish you want all year-round. Lastly, the mushroom croquettas; bite-size and served with a creamy truffle dipping sauce, they were a well-balanced and refreshingly earthy accompaniment to the otherwise spicy and zesty Latin cuisine.
The rest of the meal suffered in the shadow of the crave-worthy starters, yet this by no means meant that the entrees and desserts should be written off. The short rib bocadillo was almost there, served on golden crisy slider buns and with a cone of fries; however, unfortunately, the short ribs themselves fell flat with not enough flavor to be memorable. The arroz con pollo was similarly bland when compared to the powerful starters; slightly gummy but with a nice crispy bottom, the chicken was over-cooked and the rice flavorless. Skip it in favor of juicy grilled skirt steak or mofongo. The desserts were hit or miss with a surprisingly tasty Latin American twist on creme brulee, made addictive with vanilla bean custard and caramelized sugar and a rather lame chocolate cake served too dry and crusty to enjoy.
Macondo walks the fine line between cheesy, sleazy and fun and is saved by its remarkably well-prepared ‘street food’. While it’s clear the grub is more meant for sceney Lower East Siders than those seeking authentic Latin cuisine, the vast majority of dishes served surprised and wowed with complex flavor patterns, excellent presentation, and an addictive blend of salty, savory, and sweet. Looking for a hoppin’ place for both great dinner and great drinks? Macondo’s your spot.
Perfect For: boozy pregames, ladies night out, quick bites at the bar, schmoozing with Latin men, bachelorette bonanzas, after-work cocktails, high-brow cuisine at low-brow prices, ceviche lovers, scenesters