Coppelia, as critic Robert Sietsema observed in the Village Voice, is what the average New York City diner might have been, if the tradition had been founded by Latinos instead of Greeks. Or the Walt Disney version, at any rate. It could transfer to the Cuban pavilian at Epcot (if there was one), and chef Julian Medina wouldn’t need to change a thing.
Medina is in his moment now, with three outposts of his Mexican place Toloache, two of his pan-Latin restaurant Yerba Buena, and now Coppelia, which is billed as Cuban, but isn’t really anchored to any national cuisine.
Coppelia is the least ambitious of the three, but as diners go, you’ll be happy it exists. Located strategically at the midpoint between Chelsea’s clubland and the Meatpacking District, it’s open 24/7, serving the perfect food for soaking up alcohol after night on the town. At 8:00 p.m. on a rainy Saturday evening, it was nearly deserted. My son wondered how it could stay in business. “The crowds come later,” I explained.
If you come in sober, what you’ll find is decent, inexpensive (for Chelsea), pan-Latin cuisine. Entrées are $13.95–17.95; burgers and sandwiches $6.95–7.95; starters and salads $2.95–10.95; breakfast dishes, served all day, $4.95–9.95. The food is slightly better than you are entitled to expect at those prices.
Fish tacos ($9.95; above left) offered crispy flounder and guacamole, topped with a rich chipotle cole slaw. Arroz con pollo ($15.95; above right) could feed a family. The chicken was tender, the rice sweet and sticky, and there was an abundance of peas, peppers, and scrambled egg.
But Ropa Vieja ($15.95; above left) was dull. The shredded beef both looked and tasted like traditional diner food, and a side of beans (above right) was too watery.
There is no liquor license yet (the staff says it’s a week away). A lime soda imported from Mexico wasn’t bad at all, though at $4.50 is a bit expensive in relation to the menu. Service was attentive, as it ought to be when the ratio of staff to customers is nearly one to one. I’ve no doubt they get a lot busier later on.
I wouldn’t want to over-hype Coppelia, but it’s the kind of restaurant you’re glad to have around.
Coppelia (206 W. 14th St., west of Seventh Avenue, Chelsea)