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Toloache (Upper East Side)

Chef Julian Medina’s mini-empire of Latino/Mexican restaurants is now six strong with the third outpost of Toloache, which opened on the Upper East Side in October.

In 2007, when I visited the original Toloache, in the theater district, the service was annoying, and not all the dishes quite worked. But the place was a hit. I wandered in without a reservation one evening last winter, and even at the bar they couldn’t accommodate me.

The new location, on East 82nd Street, couldn’t be more different. Here, there is no steady stream of tourists and theater-goers. The restaurant will need to develop a neighborhood following, which is certainly possible: Flex Mussels is successful on the very same block, as is Luke’s Lobster a couple of blocks away.

Toloache 82 is a smaller, more intimate space than its predecessor, with a series of connected rooms that aren’t as overwhelming as the bi-level cavern on 50th Street. The staff are friendlier, more polished, and they aren’t in as much of a rush.

The menu hasn’t changed much in four years: you can still get tacos filled with dried grasshoppers. I didn’t try them then, and I still won’t. I imagine serve about three orders per week. But Foie Gras tacos, which seemed gimmicky back then, are no longer on offer.

Prices have gone up by just a dollar or two per dish, which really isn’t bad over four years.

There are three preparations of guacamole. We ordered the traditional ($13; above left), an unremarkable version of this classic dish, not prepared at the table, as some of the better Mexican restaurants do.

There are ten varieties of tacos ($10–17 for two). We had the Suadero ($12; above left), with braised brisket, tomatillo salsa and horseradish crema. It’s not a huge portion, but they’re bursting with flavor.

We also liked the avocado fries ($9; above right), basically the consistency of french fries, made with avocado.

The Carnitas de Lechon ($26; above left), an entrée-sized order of shredded suckling pig, was more ordinary. It could have been shredded chicken or (non-suckling) pork, and it would have tasted the same. A carrot cake dessert called Red Velvet ($9; above right) was just fine. [Sorry about the blurry photo: pilot error.]

There’s a fifty-bottle wine list, with plenty of choices well below $50 per bottle, plus almost a hundred tequilas and fifteen cocktails, most of them margaritas, which is all we drank.

At 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, there were hardly any customers at all, but by 8:00 it was packed—the exact opposite of an evening in the theater district. Service was fine. A drink purchased at the bar did not transfer to the table, but at this type of restaurant it seldom does.

Fried grasshoppers aside, this is not authentic Mexican cuisine, but Mexican interpreted through an American lens. But it’s a solid, reliable choice if you’re in the area, and certainly more interesting than the garden-variety Mexican found in most Manhattan neighborhoods.

Toloache 82 (251 W. 50th St. between Eighth Avenue & Broadway, Theater District)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

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