Cascabel Taqueria

Talk about a Mexican brunch. Despite a full fledged Mexican dinner at Agave the night before, a bunch of us ventured to the Upper East Side for some of Cascabel Taqueria’s award-winning tacos.

Named after the hot chili pepper with seeds that rattle when shaken, this boutique taqueria is almost more like a colorful culinary tribute to the national high-flying, mask-wearing professional wrestling sport called lucha libre. It instantly reminded me of that Jack Black movie – Nacho Libre – except with foods far beyond basic nachos.

Bright lime green walls with color scripts showcased its menu items. Mason jars of mini action figures and metallic lucha libre masks contributed to the playful scene. And the foods were just as bright and lively.

The initial impression was great. The grapefruit agua fresca is exceptionally refreshing – freshly mashed citrus pulp without any extra sugary syrup. Along the same line, the avocado-grapefruit salad was also an invigorating starter for all the cheese and meat to come. In fact, I’d say this salad was my favorite dish – a great balance of sweet grapefruit, buttery avocado, tangy tomato, with a hit of red onions, salt and pepper. Yes, I will be trying this at home.

From there, however, the flavors didn’t quite live up to the colors. The chunks of pork belly sliders, skewered between two crispy plantain chips, while beautifully presented, was surprisingly understated in taste. It was inconveniently messy to eat and unseasoned within the thick slabs of pork.

Jay was also not entirely impressed with his trio of shredded pork tacos. While I personally enjoyed dousing the wide variety of hot sauces onto the tacos, the pork itself was dry and corn tortillas not particularly fresh. His grilled corn con queso was, if you had no comparison, by all means juicy and delicious. But having been loyal Cafe Habana patrons, there is no lime, chili, aioli grilled corn that can top that of the downtown landmark.

Lastly, my baked egg and cheese with chorizo was probably one of the most unique entrees, served in its mini iron-cast pan. The corn tortillas here were great, but unfortunately matched with a very dry egg-chorizo roast. The cheese couldn’t quite salvage the dehydrated eggs and overcooked sausage bits.

Despite these individual pitfalls, the trip is more of an overall experience. The extensive menu gives you access to a wide array of authentic Mexican creations, from Mexican hot chocolate (a thick concoction with a distinct cinnamony kick at the end) to fluffy churro balls. Again, the visual stimulus might outweigh the lack of zest in flavors, but give it a shot. It’s definitely a brunch experience outside of the box.

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