A Hidden Taco Spot Sees the Light Of Day on Avenue A
Just a few nights ago, while eating at La Contenta on Norfolk Street, I noticed a staircase leading to a basement with a sign that read “Lower East Side Toy Company,” and recalled a hazy night of my mid-20s. “Isn’t there a hidden bar down there?” I asked my friend who I was dining with. He knew what I was talking about, but couldn’t remember if it was the staircase near where we were sitting or further down the street. Maybe we had aged out of going to such a place (called The Back Room) or maybe it wasn’t there anymore. In these times, you never know.
The Lower East Side has a long history of making the speakeasy a thing, many of them coming and going under the cloak of darkness. How then, does a hidden space survive in a pandemic, where bringing people outdoors and into plain sight (and losing the cache of secretiveness) is the only way to responsibly gather?
Borrachito, a speakeasy-style taco spot tucked in a secret room inside the Garret East at 206 Avenue A was in this very quandary. A plan to bring Borrachito out of the shadows was slated for 2020, before mandated shutdowns, according to the team at the Den Hospitality Group. After months of Borrachito going complete dark—without delivery or takeout—and months of planning to rebound, the team finally unveiled the fresh new outdoor space in late August.
“When recreating Borrachito, we didn’t know if people would be allowed inside or when, and that played into how we were going to design the space,” said Adam Fulton, Cofounder of Den Hospitality Group, via email. “The moving target of indoor dining has been tough on everybody.”
The space, it turns out, is breezy and modern, with plenty of shade and 20 seats on a strip of Avenue A that’s relatively quiet. It’s the perfect place to grab a taco and a paleta (a popsicle, alcoholic or non) unbothered by traffic or crowds. The revamped menu includes elevated favorites that celebrate the regional fare Executive Chef Yuval Ochoa grew up with in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The new menu is well worth the visit. Pescatarians should order the shrimp gobernador (juicy shrimp, melted cheese and roasted peppers) or the wild mushroom (with chipotle and queso fresco). Meaty favorites are the short-rib and oxtail, with traditional preparation but elevated cuts of meat or the carnitas, which is prepared fresh every morning in a 4-hour process. Also of note: all corn tortillas are hand-made and gluten-free and the esquitas (corn off the cob in ancho mayonnaise and queso fresco) might be the most sublime version of Mexican street corn I’ve ever put in my mouth. Everything is affordable for the quality, with tacos starting at $4.50 and most sides at $5 or $6.
With a new era of dining out and a new menu also comes a new way of working. Ochoa expressed a sense of responsibility to get his staff back on payroll but also doing things differently than before. “Everyone is eager to go back to work but I don’t know. We need to take it slow because, with your immune system, you need to rest,” he said. “It’s not like before where we used to work 75 hours, 80 hours a week in a kitchen…we didn’t think about any of it,” he continued. “It’s a new way to think.”
In the current tenuous landscape of New York’s dinings scene, here’s hoping Borrachito is here to stay.
Borrachito is open 2pm-11pm daily.