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Those who say there isn’t any great Mexican food in New York City haven’t eaten in one of Ivy Stark’s irresistible restaurants. Having spent years helming the kitchens of upscale cantinas—Dos Caminos, Rosa Mexicano, El Toro Blanco—Stark has helped to pave the way for many of the new-school South of the Border establishments that are heating up NYC. Most recently, she launched a menu at newcomer Casa Bocado, which serves bites like Mexico-inspired sushi and a skirt steak with goat-cheese enchiladas.
But Stark isn’t a one-trick chef: In the mid-1990s, she slung dishes at the sophisticated uptown landmark Sign of the Dove, before moving from New York to Los Angeles to cook pan-Latin cuisine at Ciudad with her soon-to-be mentors Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. But the Big Apple eventually called her back—thankfully for us—placing her on the salsa-drenched path to Time Out Market, where she now heads her namesake rooftop cantina as well as the plant-based BKLYN Wild downstairs.
We caught up with the chef to chat about her NYC go-tos, her favorite band and the golden rule of running a kitchen.
Describe your first apartment in New York.
Oh, my gosh, it was on the Bowery, right across from Phebe’s. It was a second-floor “loft”—a tiny room that I shared with two artists. It was a long time ago and far away, but it was really cool. It had a hand-built bathroom and handmade tiles.
Where were you working then?
I think my first job was at Sign of the Dove, a fine-dining restaurant on 64th Street and Third Avenue. You’re probably too young to remember it. [Laughs] It was sold in the late 1990s, and now it’s a condo tower. But that place was one of the best in NYC.
What cuisine would you cook if not Mexican food?
Mediterranean. I’ve done it before, and although I’m not doing it now, I adore it.
What’s been your biggest mistake in the kitchen?
I learned pretty quickly to tell the chef when my station was out of mise en place and there was no backup in the walk-in. I once ran out in the middle of the busy service—it wasn’t good.
Do you have a golden rule for your kitchen staff?
Always taste the food! Put yourself in the shoes of a diner who is paying $25 for an entrée. If that were me, would I be thrilled with it? Is it seasoned properly and cooked right?
What’s your greatest celebrity sighting?
Julia Roberts was a regular at Dos Caminos. Recently, Bill Murray. You see them all in NYC.
Where would you live if you had to be somewhere other than New York?
London. I love the architecture and the people. My family is nearly all British, so I feel like I’m with my people when I’m there.
What’s your favorite band?
I have many, but I would say Blondie. They’re a New York band. I’ve seen them many times live and have even gone backstage to meet Debbie Harry.
What’s the best borough?
Brooklyn. I’ve lived in Manhattan, but I’ll take Brooklyn by far. It’s endlessly fascinating.
What’s the best NYC subway line?
The F train—I’ve almost always lived on the F. It goes straight from Downtown Brooklyn to the center of Manhattan, as well as to Prospect Park, Coney Island and beyond.
Where do you take out-of-towners?
I always take them to Chinatown for great Vietnamese food. Then, we go to Wu Lim for back massages in those rooms with, like, 10 tables lined up next to each other.
What has been your most memorable night out in New York?
One night right before Christmas. I was with my friend Brian, and we went to Rockefeller Center to see the Rockettes live. Later that night, we went ice-skating at 1am.
What’s your go-to hangover cure?
A giant burrito and lots and lots of Gatorade.
What’s something people should know before they move here?
Just that the diversity of cultures is amazing—there’s no place like it on the planet. And the subways are generally great, no matter what anyone says!
Stark brings years of experience to her elevated take on Mexican cuisine. Head to Time Out Market to order some of the stall’s super-shareable dishes, such as the pepita-chipotle hummus and the carne asada tacos. For complete menus, more information and editors’ picks, head to timeout.com/newyork/market.