The place can be easily missed whilst walking down Houston Street, but once you try the food at El Maguey y la Tuna you’ll understand why it’s one of the Lower East Side’s hidden gems. The authentic Mexican restaurant originally opened up in Williamsburg back in 1992, where it stayed until 2001 and reopened in its new location in 2003, where it is still going strong. The family-run establishment serves rustic regional Mexican dishes from family recipes, with a strong emphasis on their outstanding homemade mole sauces.
The small restaurant is typical of what you would find in a small Mexican village, complete with terra cotta floors, white tiled walls, fun streaming lights and pictures of Mexico adorning the walls. While you might think you know the origin of the name of the restaurant, think again. Translated, it refers to the mezcal plant and prickly pear cactus, both of which are indigenous to Mexico. Which makes a lot of sense considering mezcal is used to make tequila, the key ingredient in their awesome margaritas. In addition to plenty of margs, the restaurant serves sangria, Mexican beers, and has a full bar of liquors.
We started our evening off with the Jalapeño Margarita, which fired us up for the meal ahead. The margarita had a kick to it, but was not too overwhelmingly spicy. We began our meal with Cactus Salad, comprised of fresh cactus, lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado with a cilantro dressing. I can’t say that I’ve ever eaten cactus before, so was excited to try it. The salad was great and the cactus had a good texture with a surprising taste, almost as if it had been pickled. The dressing really went well on the salad.
Next up was Pancita, a spicy tripe soup served with handmade tortillas, chopped onions and lime. Also known as a great hangover cure, this soup really perks you up. Following that we enjoyed Enchiladas al Maguey, which was comprised of homemade corn tortillas filled with chicken and rolled in their specialty mole poblano sauce. This dish was delicious and the sauce was incredible.
After that we sampled my personal favorite dish of the evening, Mole Verde Pork. This included tender pieces of pork simmered in green mole sauce. This sauce was just as good as the last and the pork was so tender, making for a real winner of an entree. We also had Chile Relleno with 5 Chile Mole, made with roasted poblano peppers stuffed with cheese and coated in a light batter, simmered in roasted tomato and topped with a mole sauce comprised of five dried aromatic chiles and spices. This was another enjoyable dish that was hard to stop eating. Additionally, each dish was served with a scrumptious plate of rice and beans. Through the course of the evening, we were able to try three of their different mole sauces, all of which were impressive and some of which take days to make! In fact, the restaurant is planning on bottling and selling some of their moles for retail and we can’t wait until they do.
Lastly, no meal is complete without dessert and we loved ours. The Banana Pinata was a banana-filled pastry topped with ice cream that was so gosh darn tasty. I’ve never had another dessert like it and I certainly will be back for more. I also tried another of their drinks called a Michelada. This consists of Mexican beer with lime juice, chile sauce and chile powder. It was fabulous and perfectly complements the entrees on the menu.
To cap off the evening, we were offered a choice of Mexican coffee or hot chocolate and obviously, I went for the cocoa. The drinks were served in the most adorable mugs I’ve ever seen and came out piping hot and was the perfect end to our dinner fiesta.
El Maguey y la Tuna is located at 321 E. Houston Street.
Twisted Talk: Have you been to El Maguey y la Tuna? What’s your favorite mole sauce? Discuss below!