Anyone who knows me knows that I was at one point absolutely obsessed with El Rey, a small cafe in LES that used to make my favorite bowl of kale salad in the city. I also loved their baked goods and would order the sweet potato bread any chance I could get. Even the small selection at dinner service was quite impressive. Gerardo Gonzalez was the mastermind chef behind all this, and it was clear that his talent would soon outgrow the tiny coffeeshop. It wasn’t surprising to see that he left to pursue those ambitions, and I also noticed that the quality of the kale salad and sweet potato bread at El Rey dropped after his departure.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting his new venture Lalo, described by Grub Street as a “New Age ’70s Mexican diner”. Pure coincidence led me to search random reservations on the Reserve app and stumble upon the bookings for Lalo, which were open and available. I was able to quickly snag a highly desirable 7 pm Friday night seating for 4.
This is going to be the next big thing. Lalo was packed with all the pretty people who looked like they might be fashion bloggers or employees at a cool startup. The types who wear cutouts and chokers and underwear as outerwear. It also helps that there was pink and neon everywhere, which attract the fashiony crowd like flies to a light. So does interesting sounding vegan food, like brown goddess cucumber salad and vegan chicharrones. I know this all sounds really horrible, like is this a set up for a disgusting raw food vegan restaurant, but it’s not. Not with Gerardo in the kitchen.
First of all, there is real meat on the menu, and it’s fantastic. The carnitas have been slow cooked to perfection so that every piece of meat is tender and saturated with the flavorful juices of the pork fat. Some bits are crispy and caramelized, others are soft and marbled, which makes for a nice variety of texture and flavor. Plus Lalo makes its own killer fresh flour tortillas, which makes all the difference. They say that the “familia” portion serves 4 people, but it was not enough for mi familia. We had room for more, so we ordered the pollo asada with green pineapple hot sauce, which was brimming with flavor and was very satisfying.
Being at a Mexican inspired restaurant puts us in the mood for guac and chips, which they don’t have here. What they do have is even better. The black bean dip and chips was so incredibly addicting, that even my father, who is a stickler for his traditional guac and salsa, was digging every last bit out with his spoon. Again, the portion was a little small for a $13 price tag, but on the flipside, we had room to try more apps, like the tasty squid stuffed with chorizo.
Did we have room for dessert? Did the server even need to ask? Does he know how much I loved El Rey’s sweet potato and banana breads? The plantain cream pie was calling to me, and it didn’t disappoint. I could eat that cookie crust for days. I would say this is another contender for best dessert of the year. Looks like Gerardo has another hit on his hands.
104 Bayard St (between Baxter and Mulberry St)
New York, NY 10013