Horchata. A milky rice-based drink sweet spiced with cinnamon and chilled over ice. Horchata is also the name of one of New York City’s newest Mexican Restaurants, opened in Greenwich Village in May 2014 and serving a number of innovative horchata-based cocktails, among other interesting drinks and bites.
Explains Manuel Trevino, executive chef at Horchata NYC, “We really loved the idea of naming the restaurant after a drink that has been around for ages that has a lot of meaning to those who grew up drinking horchata. Recipes for horchata are usually passed down generation to generation and are often regarded as a family treasure. The idea behind the traditional horchata beverage was always super intriguing to us due to the its long and cross-continental history.”
While the exact origins of this drink are unclear, one thing is for certain: it’s a hit with almost everyone who tries it. Say the name “horchata” to any of your friends who have tried it and you’ll almost definitely receive an enthusiastic reaction.
Horchata offers the chance to enjoy Mexican dining with festive food in an equally festive atmosphere. You’ll find authentic Mexican cuisine at the heart of the menu — with Tex-Mex and New York influences throughout — served in a shareable fashion to encourage conversation.
Make your way through the dimly-lit restaurant, with exposed brick adorned with book shelves and colorful woven artwork, Mexican baubles and Day of the Dead statues littering the space. Reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda, the restaurant makes the atmosphere even more authentic by sourcing almost all of their decor from Mexico and having tables custom designed to replicate the traditional Mexican Otomi pattern, which you can also see on an enormous round tapestry on the back wall.
Speaking of art, several walls feature one-of-a-kind murals by New York-based artist RJ Raizke, known for his pattern work in downtown hot spots. A custom entryway created by CONFETTISYSTEM is the first U.S. restaurant installation for the celebrated artist-design firm, who have also worked with Beyoncé, Opening Ceremony and MoMA PS1.
At Horchata you’ll also find a bit of New York downtown flare, with bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling, exposed brick walls and a reclaimed wood bar lined with cacti, fresh squeeze juices and skull bottles. You can choose to sit at this bar or one of the candle-lit tables where you’ll be greeted with a shooter of mezcal mixed with one of their homemade agua frescas, fruits, seeds and spices blended with sugar and water.
While it’s traditional to pair your food with a drink, this is one place where you may want to consider your beverage first. We recommend going straight for the horchata. Each cocktail begins with a base of classic horchata, a mixture of almonds, rice & cinnamon. From there, additions like cactus flower, espresso and rum create atypical but delicious options. Their most interesting offering is a “Funky Monkey Signature Horchata,” made with horchata, Malibu Rum, Stoli Vanilla and Kahlua, served in a monkey cup.
Says Trevino, “We look at the profile of the horchata itself and complement it by sending the flavor in different directions. For example, horchata with espresso is reminiscent of a Mexican coffee with the cinnamon and coffee flavors, add rum and you’re taken to a Mexican beach . The “Funky Monkey” is our version of a tropical “White Russian,” by adding the horchata instead of milk and adding Malibu Rum we give a more tropical feel.”
It’s a Mexican restaurant, so of course you’ll also find tequila-based cocktails and quality mezcals. Margaritas come in flavors like Blood Orange, Hibiscus and Jalapeno-Cucumber — spicy and refreshing — and are made sans-sour mix, an unfortunate rarity in New York City.
Once you’ve navigated the extensive drink menu it’s time for some grub. While at first glance it seems like you’re typical Mexican fare: tacos, quesadillas, guacamoles, toastadas, enchiladas. Look closer, however, and you’ll see Chef Treviño — who was born in the border town of Laredo Texas and grew up with Mexican food and culture — puts his own unique spin on the classics. Start with a guacamole trio so you can sample the classic version, a garden-style guac with apples, cucumbers and tomatillo, and a spicy kind with chipotle and habanero chile, before moving on to tuna “quesadillas.” These quesadillas are unlike any you’ve ever seen, tortilla-crusted tuna rolled up in a wrap sushi-style sitting in spicy Sriracha aioli that pays homeage to easy-to-hold street foods. Braised pork belly with pineapple and chipotle aioli works well as a taco, as does the braised short rib with red pickled onion and tomato jalapeno salsa. Mezcal-cured or tamarind-glazed salmon, house-made chorizo, grapefruit salad with chocolate vinaigrette and citrus-roasted chicken with cilantro chimichurri are just a few of the many other tastes to be had at Horchata.
The whole Horchata concept is a pretty sweet idea.
Speaking of sweet, at Horchata dessert is a must, especially the “Pastel de Chocolate,” a moist slice of chocolate cake infused with ancho chile and topped with spiced whipped crema. There’s also a dreamy “Capas de Crepes Tres Leches” featuring multiple layers of crepe sliced between Mexican vanilla cream with tres leches poured on top.
*Photos courtesy of Noah Feck.
*This post originally appeared on General Motors’ Drive the District, and was written by Jessie Festa.