No matter how hard restaurateurs try, Mexican food in NYC is in a perpetual state of emergency. It is devastating–no matter how promising a restaurant may look, how authentic the menu may appear, or how many celebrities are dining there (Jonah Hill was at the adjacent table during this visit), New York restaurants continue to do it wrong, and Tortaria is no exception.
Expectations for Tortaria have been high for quite some time. The idea was original–a purposefully rustic little shop that specialized in tortas, a staple of Mexican cuisine. Essentially, a torta is a sandwich that blends the savory with the acidic–roasted pulled pork with pickled onions and avocado, for example. Akin to the cuban sandwich, tortas are a lunchtime basic, therefore a restaurant that paid homage to this oft-neglected item seemed to be the white knight in a city so saturated with painfully mediocre Mexican food. Plus, it offered a glimmer of hope for a place to get a good, cheap lunch close to campus. Unfortunately, after today’s visit, it seems Tortaria just adds to the slew of overpriced restaurants that line University Place, while adding nothing in terms of value.
One enters the eatery by way of a façade of stylishly chipped exterior, with simple paint reminiscent of the shops that line the pueblos in Mexico that the restaurant is named after. The interior reminds one of a bodega, with little cultural artifacts like jaritos and canned foods placed on shelves against the walls. However, once one steps in and stops admiring the attention to detail, like the tile floors and beautiful menus, this dolled-up swine exposes itself for the pig it really is.
First and foremost, the menu is terribly misleading. An order of guacamole sounded like a deal at $4.50, and the fact that they made it fresh in the front with a molcajete is exciting. Finally, a bargain! But when they finally call your order (approximately 15-20 minutes after ordering), you get a comically small cup with just a half-spoonful of guacamole. There are a billion things you could have done for those five bucks. Hell, it’s half a burrito at Dos Toros.
Microscopic portions seems to be a thematic problem to this restaurant. The beauty of Mexican food is that it is cheap to make. The ingredients are easy to find and appealing because of the price/deliciousness ratio. Tortaria abuses this, dishing out portions that would make the snootiest of restaurants revel in the fact that they can get away with such little food. This would be permissible if these were meant to be little snacks, that is if they were akin to things like the arepa or a hot dog, but they are not–tortas were, and currently are, the dish of choice for the lunches of manual laborers in México. For a restaurant that hales itself to be a bastion of authenticity, this seems out of character. Although given the fact that the pedigree of one of the owners includes that of Caliente Cab Co. in the West Village, one shouldn’t be all that surprised.
As for the drinks, that was a disaster in its own right–ordering a “fresh fruit margarita” elicited a befuddled look from the cashier and a instructions to order at the bar. This was highly annoying, killing any desire to drop $8.50 for it. One would be correct to suspect most people lose interest in buying their drinks once they find out that the ten minute line that they just waited in was only one of multiple lines they would be subjected to that meal.
Ultimately, a torta, margarita, and Dixie cup of guacamole set me back $20. Crap. And as for that fresh fruit margarita? It was a cup full of ice with fruit juice, maybe half a shot of tequila, and five pomegranate seeds on top, cause you know, they needed to integrate fresh fruit somewhere in that drink. I’ve had more of a buzz from the wine at church than I did after sucking down this “cocktail.” Do yourself a favor: Take those $20, get three frozen Long Island Iced Teas at BBQ on 8th Street, and have a happy Thursday.