In a city like New York, there’s comfort in ritual. Here, FOOD & WINE Best New Chef Alex Stupak of Empellón Taqueria, Cocina and Al Pastor reveals the places he just can’t quit.
St. Mark’s Place was a very different street in 1983, when this Mediterranean restaurant first opened. Mogador was a refuge amid the punk rock squalor that defined the East Village at the time—a place where the steamy tagines and spicy links of merguez sausage were made according to recipes imported from owner Rivka Orlin’s home city of Essaouira in Morocco. Empellón Al Pastor now shares the block with Mogador, and Alex comes here on the regular for the restaurant’s Middle Eastern eggs. “It’s the perfect plate of nourishing food,” he says. “Slightly greasy zaatar-dusted pita, hummus, eggs, salad, tabbouleh and harrisa.” Cafe Mogador: 101 St Marks Pl, New York, NY; 212-677-2226; cafemogador.com
Time was, New York City was full of places like Joe Jr.—unpretentious, everyman diners where the coffee was always burnt, the stools were always vinyl on chrome and the short order cooks were as handy with an omelette as they were with a grilled cheese. Diner culture is rapidly disappearing in Manhattan, but the east side location of Joe Jr. is a rare holdout. “Joe Jr. is a classic luncheonette, and emblematic of the kind of business that is fading away in New York,” says Alex. “I get the cheeseburger every time. It reminds me of a burger that your dad would make for you at home in a cast-iron skillet. It fries on the griddle in its own rendered fat, they take the time to melt American cheese on both sides of the bun, and it’s just $6.” Joe Jr.: 167 3rd Ave, New York, NY; 212-473-5150
A standard supermarket to the naked eye, this Williamsburg shop is a great example of how a business can adapt to the wide range of ethnicities represented in a neighborhood. “This is my local grocery store, but it just so happens to have a massive inventory of Latin American pantry items,” says Alex. “There’s an entire Dominican aisle, and a huge selection of Mexican ingredients, including gauje seeds, greens like pápalo and verdolagas and hard-to-find herbs such as pipicha and epazote.” Food Bazaar Supermarket: 21 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY; 718-532-0530; myfoodbazaar.com
Those that think babies and bars don’t mix should steer clear of this Greenpoint beer hall on Sunday afternoons. “Lauren and I come here on the weekends, mostly because there’s enough space between the tables for our baby carriage,” says Alex, who calls his one-year-old Jaxon the “taco prince.” “On a Sunday you’ll find nothing but kids and worn-out parents drinking beer.” But there’s plenty to recommend here for the childless too: a roaring fireplace, pillowy soft pretzels and sausages, and an exceptional list of craft beers ranging from crisp refreshing pilsners to intense chocolatey stouts, sourced from celebrated German, Belgian and American breweries. Spritzenhaus: 33 Nassau Ave, Brooklyn, NY; 347-987-4632; spritzenhaus33.com
Los Tacos No. 1
You’d think Alex would like to eat something other than tacos when he’s off the Empellón clock, but his obsession with the Mexican street food extends to this excellent counter inside Chelsea Market. The menu at Los Tacos No. 1 is tight, featuring just tacos and quesadillas stuffed with a choice of grilled steak, chicken and nopales (cactus), or the signature adobada—marinated pork sliced off a rotating spit. “This is the closest thing to a true Mexican taqueria I’ve found in New York City,” says Alex. “They have a very small menu and they are okay with that—they do just a few things and they execute those things flawlessly.” Los Tacos No.1: Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave, New York, NY; 212-256-0343; lostacos1.com