Masa y Agave. Under Rosa Mexicano. 41 Murray St. NYC

Tequila/Mezcal passports from the folks at Good Passport brought us here, and once the staff figured out what it was all about, they treated us like kings; before that we were mere coupon-crunchies. So we obviously had an interest in the agave spirit, and we were talked through the combinations used in our cocktails by the mescaliers: the Tamarind (Fidencio Clásico mezcal, tamarind, canela agave and lime) and the Mezcal-isco (Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal, Espolón reposado tequila, lime, agave nectar and orange). Both drinks had definite bite to them, but were well concocted. Even the happy hour specials – the house marg and the frozen pomegranate marg ($8) – were excellent cocktails. Two tacos or a quesadilla can be bought for only $6, and the Alambre de Carne of the former, and Res of the latter, are both sound choices. The bar is packed from 5.30pm for obvious reasons, but it clears out a little when happy hour fades from view. Lighting is low and noise levels can be high, but it’s a great little spot for dates and groups if you get in early and stake your space.

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Subway: Chambers St

Goa Taco. 79 Delancey St. East Village. NYC

Parathas are layered, pan-fried flatbreads, and the sign on the counter says that one of these unleavened discs of dough is equivalent to two tacos in size and substance; with the fusion fillings here though, you’ll want to eat more than just your own. The combinations of imaginative ingredients is magical, with proportions matched well to paratha thickness. The pecado rojo lamb shoulder with eggplant salsa and tzatziki ($9) was exceptional, and the honey-roasted butternut squash with salsa verde and kale ($7) was also perfect for the less carnivorous. We’ll be trying the pork belly with red cabbage next time. Margheritas are served for $7 with friendly service. Only about ten seats in here, so come in small groups or be prepared to take away.

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Subway: Delancey St / Essex St

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Mayahuel. 304 E 6th St, East Village. NYC

The tiny upstairs restaurant above the even smaller bar area is cosy and warm, aglow with red light and decorated with a large ceiling-mounted tarantula. Indeed, Mayahuel is the fertility goddess of agave alcohol and libations should certainly be poured in this sacred space.
The food is merely good, and not too dear at all: most starters are under a tenner while mains are $14-$18, with a creamy saffron paella to share at $28. The Elote (corn-on-the-cob covered with crema agria, cotija cheese and chile de arbol) was great to share and the quinoa and avocado salad looks like a winner for the summer. Flautas, tacos and ceviches are all available, and the Tres Leches for dessert was a firm, muscular piece of coconutty milk-soaked cake. But it’s all about the drinks here: the cocktails list is succinct and impressive, with all the emphasis on agave. It won Best New Cocktail Bar in the World at Tales of the Cocktail in 2010, and we can see why: the Dijahbone (Sotol, duck fat infused Grand Marnier, carrot juice, lime and cumin) was rich and smoky, while I Love Lamp (tequila, rum, banana, pineapple, lime and bitters) was a heady hit of a tropical beach. Cerveza cocktails are tempting too; the Fade to Black (mezcal, rum, ramazzotti, whole egg, xocolatl mole bitters topped with Negra Modelo) was one that everyone wanted to try. They’re all $14 so you’ll need to watch your bill as it’s all too easy to run up a large one. Service is slow but friendly, and bookings are not taken so you’ll have to turn up early.

$$$
Subway: 1/2/3 Av, Astor Place

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Yuca Bar. 111 Avenue A, East Village. NYC

New Year’s Day brunch at 4pm? Not many restaurants in Manhattan would be happy to cater for a group of six, hungover and hungry, but Yuca was there to indulge our cravings. Officious service brought us feasts from the Kitchen of Earthly Delights: Crab Cakes Benedictos were fabulous, Yuca Benedictos remained sturdy and tasty under the pressure, and the grilled skirt steak special was what I actually wished I’d chosen – a quality churrasco cut with chimichurri. All specials come with tea/coffee as well as a choice of Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, frozen Margherita, mimosa or sangria; BMs were peppery perfection. For $17 it’s decent value, and all come with excellent rice and beans or home fries.
The space is bustling and energetic, beautifully lit and even though the servers can be curt, they are quick to respond to special requests. We’ll be here more than just the first day of the year.

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Subway: 1st/2nd Ave

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Zona Rosa. 571 Lorimer St. Brooklyn. NYC

This is a great brunch spot if you can bag an outdoor table on a sunny day; Ivan Garcia’s range of tacos and antojitos is impressive, causing mouth-watering reactions just from some of the descriptions. We had Tacos De Cachete De Res (roasted beef cheek, caramelized onion and cilantro) and Tacos De Pescado Al Pastor (grilled mahi mahi fish marinated in guajillo salsa, grilled pineapple, onion and cilantro). Service is patchy, and we reckon that the general swagger and arrogance of the spot is due to its secure place amongst the neighborhood’s best. Portions are on the slightly smaller size, but the flavours are so bold and ingredients so fresh that it’s easy to forget how much you can spend here.

$$$
Subway: Metropolitan Av, Lorimer St

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Brooklyn Label. 180 Franklin St, Brooklyn. NYC

A well-known and respected bar and brunch spot in Greenpoint, located on the ground floor of the landmark Astral Apartments, BL has an excellent range of food and drink; there really is something for everyone here. The Gaucho Benedict (Argentinean sausage, chimichurri, spinach, poached eggs with saffron sauce in an English muffin) was hearty and filling, and I really didn’t miss the hollandaise at all. Salads come in decent sizes, and they certainly aren’t stingy with the additions of meat.
Our drinks went down a bit too easily for brunch at 11am – which may say more about us than the tasty beverages and whatever they contained.

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El Almacén. 557 Driggs Ave, Brooklyn. NYC

Service here is appallingly slow, waiting times are completely inaccurate – on a busy Saturday night anyway – and it does take itself a tad too seriously, but El Almacén is a pretty little spot for some Argentinian grilled meats, Mexican and Spanish-influenced dishes and a tight New World wine list. The spinach, cheese and corn enchiladas are heavenly and the mussels surprisingly well-flavoured. Paella and short ribs are excellent choices and for dessert the panqueque seemed to be a hit too.

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