Located next to the NYU campus on University Place, Tortaria embodies everything we love abut a college restaurant. A simple, seemingly hole-in-the-wall spot that serves up chronic, locally sourced Mexican food without the glitz and glam or fast food extremities of the New York City food scene. They know their product is awesome, and stick to it.
While Tortaria clearly attracts a college crowd, there’s also a mass appeal to the restaurant, transcending their niche audience. The young, casual, working crowd filled the restaurant around 9:30pm on a Wednesday. From the moment I entered inside, I felt transformed back to the simplicity of eating out in college, the days of split second food decisions, over-ordering and genuine excitement for the dish.
You order at the counter, looking up at a chalkboard with scribbled items and prices written in a variety of bright colors. Descriptions are limited on the boards. For the inexperienced customer, paper menus in metal buckets sit on an adjacent ledge, giving a more details about the contents of each item on the menu.
After asking the helpful man at the check-out counter about the sizes of dishes and margarita flavors, I chose an Eggplant Torta (a Mexican sandwich), Raspberry Margarita and Fried Plaintains. I was shocked when the bill was under $20. I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears, solidifying my feeling of being on a college campus. I had forgotten places like this could exist and survive in the city.
My friend Mike ordered the special Suckling Pig Torta, Guacamole (which they make fresh behind the counter) and a Camparina (Mexico’s answer to a mojito).
We sat down, slightly unaware of where we get our drinks and/or food. We heard names shouted out and conveniently half the restaurant patrons were also named Gena or Mike/Michael as we went up far too many times to be disappointed. A few moments later, we grabbed our freshly prepared drinks.
There’s nothing I love more than the crunch of raspberry seeds in my teeth. To many this may be weird, but the fresh pulp and flavor of tart, but sweet raspberries brings a smile to my face. Mixed with tequila and fresh lime, I would not have expected to find one of the best, freshest margaritas I’ve ever had at Tortaria. If the drinks were this good, I couldn’t wait for the food.
Finally the right “Mike” was called. Followed shortly after by “Dana,” (ugh Homeland). But despite the poor name calling, I picked up the red, plastic cafeteria-like tray holding my wonderful meal. Beautiful, crisp thick cut pieces of fried plantains seemed irresistible. I could hardly stop to take a picture or unwrap my lovely Torta. I was memorized by my favorite South/Latin American treat.
And it tasted even better then it looked. Silky pieces of deep, golden brown plantain were surrounded by a crispy exterior. The sweet sauce, added a wonderful burst of sugary, sticky flavor. It reminded me of condensed milk combined with powder sugar, something ordinarily so mundane. The combination of the sauce with the plantains transformed the dish into something rich, crunchy and downright divine. We loved these so much a second serving was ordered shortly thereafter (most were taken home, we’re not that crazy).
Next, I tried my Eggplant torta, a Mexican Sandwich.t
Crispy eggplants and heaps of cilantro, bound together by melted, gooey pieces of cheese made this a sandwich for the books. I already have a weakness for eggplant, and this sandwich was no exception. It felt like a messy, decadent burger, made with all vegetables. The pieces of eggplant were sliced thick, and crispy from the fried, panko crusted exterior. Then the sweet, creaminess of the avocado cuts through the pickled jalapeño, which I was able to handle, despite its usual heat. Chipotle BBQ sauce tied everything together, giving a sweet, spicy element of flavor to the entire torta. The bread tasted sweet, and fluffy, almost like a potato bun. This was an ideal sandwich in my book.
Mike ordered the special of the day, a suckling pig torta, which had its own special qualities and elements.
No matter what you order at Tortaria, you will absolutely love everything about this Union Square spot. It will fill any craving for Mexican staples, especially the plantains, which I can’t help but dream about. I know if I went to NYU, this would be a regular spot to pick up a quick bite in between class or late night after the library. But it’s not just for that young, student, it’s also for the young at heart, who love fresh, great ingredients, prepared in wonderful, unique ways.
Tortaria – 94 University Place – New York, NY
Location: Union Square
Perfect For: Big Groups, Authentic Dining, Take Out
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Fried Plantains, Eggplant Torta, Suckling Pig Torta, Guacamole