One of the major trends of the dining scene in New York City (or the entire country, for that matter) has been the rise of all-day restaurants serving breakfast and lunch. Enrique Olvera, one of the most acclaimed Mexican chefs with Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York, has joined the movement, recently opening a casual restaurant in the NoHo neighborhood that opens in the morning. The restaurant has a breakfast menu they serve until 4 p.m., and then transitions to other more normal dinner options. Even for the dinner menus, what particularly distinguishes Atla from other Mexican restaurants is the focus on the “healthy” in the use of ingredients and flavor. For those who are used to rich and heavy flavors of nachos and enchiladas, Atla could be a major culture shock and/or disappointment. That doesn’t mean my wife Jun and I didn’t enjoy the pleasant dinner we’ve had a on recent Sunday. There were a lot of dishes that we liked and the somewhat novel departure from how we typically conceive of Mexican food was quite well-executed.
Jun has always been a huge guacamole fan so we obviously had to start our meal with herb guacamole on the table, which Jun appreciated quite a lot for its moderate level of seasoning (jalapeno sprinkled throughout the guacamole was the only thing that added flavor) and the way the avocado was cut in rather large chunks to give a nice textural effect. Who would’ve thought a simple maitake mushroom quesadilla could have such a nice balance of clean flavor? Once I opened up the quesadilla, all I saw was cheese and mushroom but I was a huge fan of this dish and felt I could eat this for my lunch every day at the office. It was that delicious!
Fish Milanese with cucumber sauce on the side looked promising but turned out to be underwhelming as it didn’t quite have the wow factor we were hoping to find. On the other hand, the chicken enchiladas was very good, with rich but not overpowering red chili pepper sauce really giving a nice spicy kick to soft tortilla with chicken inside. For dessert, definitely try to corn tamal that was delightful but not overly sweet just the way I liked. It is not quite the showstopper that is the corn husk meringue at Cosme, but has an understated charm to it.
The restaurant recently started taking reservations and as long as you book a few days in advance, you won’t have much issue getting a seat. It also helps that the bar area is on the spacious side so you can always have your meal there on a walk-in basis. I liked the modern, ecofriendly vibe of the dining space similar to Cosme, filled with mostly younger crowds hanging out in downtown Manhattan. We were both expecting to get some nice tequila or mescal based cocktails during our meal, but none of the drinks we had ordered were good. I understand the direction that the kitchen was taking to bring Mexican cuisine to the healthier side, but the same experiment with drinks didn’t work quite the way we had hoped. Either way, Atla has the potential to be a paradigm setting Mexican restaurant and I look forward to seeing how it evolves over time. I certainly would come back for brunch and try some breakfast options.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 372 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012