El Bocadito 

79 Orchard St, LES, 212-343-3331
Price Range: $10-$15

Flanked by construction sites, El Bocadito casts a welcoming glow over its neighboring dumpsters, blue scaffolding, and trash bag pyramids. Inside the restaurant, glass pendant lamps drip soft light over the slim space and couples perch on tall chairs at tables crowded with small plates of Mexican-inspired fare. 
My friend Katy, born and raised on the West Coast, is explaining the virtues of Bay Area tacos. “The best ones are just cheap and simple and tasty. Dressing them up and making them really expensive is a very New York thing to do.” 

Taco truck fondness aside, we can’t help but admire El Bocadito’s chic LES look. A couple of cooks work behind a curvy bar, as martini glasses are poised on shelves, patiently awaiting a liquor license. For now, our friendly server is happy to crack open a couple of the Negra Modelos Katy picked up at a nearby bodega and store the rest of our six-pack in the fridge as we dine.

We’re ready to pair our beers with a big bowl of chips, so we’re bummed when the Nacho Plate ($7) includes only four tortilla wedges, topped with beans, mild salsa, and warmed cheese that’s neither stringy nor melted. The Equites, roasted corn on the cob topped with lime, mayo, cheese, and chili powder ($6), make for a messier and more traditional Mexican snack, but they too could use an extra kick of spice.

Katy enjoys the Jamon Torta ($7), a ham sandwich with cheese, tomatoes, onions, black beans, and guacamole, but I prefer the pair of Taquitos Dorados ($6). A filling of mushy, under-seasoned potatoes put a damper on these crispy rolled tacos, but their salsa verde accompaniment, bright with jalapenos, saves this dish. Neither of us get too jazzed over the Chorizo Taco ($6), but perhaps dry chunks of pork sausage folded into a flour tortilla just isn’t our thing.

Nevertheless, the menu fulfills two out of three of Katy’s taco truck requirements — the food here is pretty cheap and certainly simple. We left feeling full on a meal that cost $34 and change, and Katy still has two chilled beers left in her six-pack to take home. On the way out, she reads the tagline off the restaurant’s menu: “El Bocadito: A Tiny Taste of Mexico.” Wrapping herself up in a thick scarf and grumbling about the New York winter, Katy quips, “A tiny taste indeed — just 10 percent of the original flavor.”

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