Have you eaten at Eleven Madison Park? While we agree that it’s the gold standard of fine dining, you aren’t reading Time Out to hear us echo food critics who only ever eat with white tablecloths. We’re here to curate the city for everyone. Let’s dispel the notion that “the best” restaurant needs to be only the most expensive and buttoned-up experiences. That’s why we recently moved Atla—an all-day café by Daniela Soto-Innes and Enrique Olvera (of Cosme)—to our No. 1 slot. Highlighting the nuances of Mexican and Central American cuisine through high-end dishes, the meal remains approachable.
The Noho hot spot is slick but not overly styled: Save for verdant accents and magical-realism decals by artist, Rachel Levit Ruiz, hidden around like a game of I Spy, it’s all minimalist charcoal. On a recent visit, the cast of Modern Family spent the evening milling about and swapping chairs—the atmosphere is convivial.
Similar to the decor, chef Soto-Innes doesn’t need to hide behind maximalist plating or techniques, with each dish featuring 10 or fewer elements. Her cooking is simple but feels radical, showcasing a bounty of fresh Mexican and Central American ingredients prepared expertly and made healthyish.
Dishes like their bright sea-bass aguachile ($26; traditionally a shrimp dish) is a treasure, tucked underneath a cool blanket of cucumber discs. The commingling is light and acidic, with Sour Patch Kids–like lip tingling. Covered with flaxseeds and onion lace, the chilaquiles ($17) exhibit a perfect crunch-to-soft ratio with a hit of verde sauce that tastes like it was cut fresh from the room’s drizzling monsteras. Atla’s al pastor ($14) is perfectly sweet and tangy, cauliflower demonstrating that humble vegetables can be elegant. The mole negro ($26) appears to be a heap of melted chocolate with whipped cream and tastes just as decadent: Toothsome, sweet plantains in goth sauce are topped with fluffy ricotta.
The menu is complemented by expert beverage director Yana Volfson’s transformation of agua frescas ($9) which are just as sophisticated and satisfying than any cocktail.
Atla represents where New York dining is at in 2019. And as relations at the border remain contentious, this gastro-diplomacy will win over everybody.