You know a Mexican restaurant is serious when the menu includes pig's ear, tripe and tongue tacos, along with the more gringo-friendly chicken and shrimp. Upping the authenticity quotient at Cinco de Mayo: a chef who goes so far as to make his own soft corn tortillas.
Refugio Iglesias, who worked at such notable Manhattan restaurants as The Harrison and Verbena, cooks the cuisine of his native Mexico with verve and confidence. Does it matter that the catering hall decor of the red, white and green dining room doesn't approach the level of the food?
Not when you're holding a two-ply corn taco stuffed with juicy chunks of tongue crowned with guacamole and cilantro, radish and lime on the side. You might, alternatively, get your tacos filled with spicy shredded pork. Or al pastor style, starring roasted pork with bits of pineapple. Or, if you're adventuresome, even opt for highly seasoned pig's ear, first boiled with garlic and thyme, then chopped into strips and fried to a bony crunch. The shrimp taco features shellfish that's succulent and sweet. Even the moist, tender chicken is worthy. You could spend a week eating your way through that taco list without getting bored -- unless you order the barbacoa, slow-cooked beef that's oddly bland.
A salad special features light fried ringlets of calamari over frisee in a spicy mango dressing. It works. Chicken soup has lots of shredded poultry and chopped vegetables, but it's almost too refined. And black bean soup, while good, doesn't set itself apart from the everyday.
But try Iglesias' fluffy and light chicken enchiladas with piquant green chili sauce and you may forget every other version. His chicken mole poblano stars tender boneless breasts in a velvety sauce that subtly hints at chili peppers and unsweetened chocolate. So very good.
A whole porgy is expertly fried, a crunch of savory skin overlaying mild white fish. From the menu insert of specials comes skirt steak, juicy and delectable, topped with a bright chimichurri sauce.
At meal's end, the sweet tres leches cake pales alongside the rich, custardy flan. As do so many suburban Mexican restaurants when compared to this real-deal original.