Why Is Javelina Tex-Mex NYC’s Hottest Restaurant Right Now?

The bar prepares cocktails at Javelina restaurant in NYC.

Just when you think you might have at least a tiny understanding of New York City's restaurant scene, WHAMMO, along comes a spot like Javelina. Let me explain. Javelina opened last week in a modest space just east of Union Square (an area not hurting for places to eat and drink), with fairly attractive decor, and a deliberately un-revolutionary menu of Tex-Mex standards, like Nachos and Enchiladas, Quesadilla and Fajitas, all priced kind of high. Sounds ok, maybe worth checking out, but nothing really quickening your pulse, right? And yet from day one until right this second, Javelina has been seriously mobbed, the bar up front turning people away because they literally are out of room, the tables in the back commanding hours-long waits.   

The crowds enjoy the food and drinks at Javelina Tex-Mex restaurant.

Welcome To Javelina

It's got to be the oddest obsession of 2015 (so far!), not because there's anything wrong with any of it, but c'mon, there's a margarita-and-chile-relleno spot in every neighborhood in town! What's the story with Javelina? In an effort to make some sense of the madness, I showed up right as the place was opening the other night, and snagged a table before the throngs of after-work revelers arrived. Note: this was not simply a journalistic exercise. I've also been craving this sort of gloppy fare–the ONLY kind of Mexican you could buy anywhere in Manhattan not so long ago, before the new, more "authentic" wave of taco spots took our collective palates by storm–since I first saw pictures of Javelina's dishes a few weeks back.  
Enchiladas at Javelina, Manhattan's Tex-Mex restaurant.

What To Expect At Javelina

At the entrance of Javelina you're greeted by a row of cacti towers, obscuring your view of what surely must be the party of the year in the subterranean space beyond; and by the well-staffed hostess dais, adding further to the air of exclusivity. If you've made a reservation, or don't mind eating at 6:00, you'll be led through the potentially three- and four-deep drinkers in the front bar area to your table in the lively, comfortable, and admirably bereft-of-kitsch dining room. Service at insta-hits like Javelina can be annoyingly smug, but even with some obvious up-sells and barely-concealed table-turning tactics, for the most part the vibe here is pleasant and welcoming.    
White Mag Mud Queso dip with guacamole, chips and beans at Javelina restaurant.

What To Eat At Javelina

Most important, though, and why I'd recommend Tex-Mex fans check this place out AFTER the hype dies down a bit, the food is actually really good at Javelina. Or, at least, the two things I ate off the Javelina menu were good. The Chicken Enchiladas, while appropriately cheesy and gooey, were also surprisingly balanced and complex, with hints of sweetness and plenty of smoke as well. And since there's no way I'm turning down a bowl of cheese–Javelina serves several varieties of warm Queso dip–I got the Mag Mud, which is the white queso with a bit of guacamole, black beans, and pico de gallo semi-submerged into mix, and gleefully scooped my way to the bottom. Again, the flavors here are more complicated than probably necessary at a trendy restaurant where many people are eating tipsy, which bodes well for Javelina sticking around after the crowds scamper off to the next hot-spot.    

Javelina Tex-Mex restaurant on East 18th Street in Manhattan.

For Menu and More Information on Javelina

Javelina is located at 119 East 18th Street, between Park Avenue and Irving Place, and is open daily at 5:00 (dinner service starts at 6:00) until 12:00 midnight on Monday through Wednesday, 1:00 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday, at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday. More info and the complete Javelina menu can be found here.   

Javelina on Urbanspoon

Posted in Downtown, manhattan living, NYC Dining, Other Neighborhoods | Tagged