One of the best Mexican restaurants East Village has to offer
New York is one of the largest epicenters of food in the world, where famous restaurateurs and local chefs all set up shop to feed the hungry masses. But, what makes New York City dining special isn’t the upscale and extravagant, but rather the little-known secrets and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. And Amigo by Nai, located in the East Village, is a restaurant that proves that statement right.
Amigo by Nai is a contemporary taqueria from Native Galician Chef Ruben Rodriguez and features a combination of small plates, appertivos, tacos, and some of the most creative and delicious cocktails around. And we were lucky enough to try some of the food and drinks from Amigo by Nai.
One glance at the cocktail menu at Amigo by Nai’s and you will see that this menu features some of the most interesting and unique ingredients such as wasabi, shiso, and others. The first drink we tried was called Flower Power and was made with hibiscus-infused Herradura tequila, Vida mezcal, lime, and agave. This seemingly simple drink packed a good amount of flavor, having the smokiness from the mezcal hit your palette immediately and smoothes out with the sweetness coming from the hibiscus-infused tequila. We also had a chance to try one of their signature drinks called What Happened to 8th St. This cocktail was made with some of the most interesting ingredients like wasabi-induced dewars white label scotch, sea salt + sesame seaweed, green chartreuse, matcha, coconut, and Aztec chocolate. Reading all the ingredients in this cocktail threw us for a loop and we had no idea what to expect seeing as there were so many ingredients that had very sharp and expressive flavors to it. The presentation itself reminded us of a simple green tea you would find in a traditional Asian restaurant. We first tried a bit of the seaweed that was placed on top of the drink, getting the sea salt first. With that flavor coming through, we tried the drink and got incredible notes of coconut and matcha first which played well with the saltiness of the seaweed. And as you kept drinking, you eventually got the notes of the Aztec chocolate which added a nice bitterness to the drink which was then finished off with a subtle sweetness. The scotch was smooth and didn’t have that typical earthiness that you would expect when having any other scotch drink. The texture of the drink was incredibly creamy and smooth which added a great mouthfeel as well. Another amazing cocktail we got to try was the Love Potion which was made with yuzushu, mezcal, raspberry, lime, ginger, and cava. Visually, this drink reminded me of something you would order on Valentine’s Day. The drink had a beautiful pink color to it, covered with a bubbling foam on top from the champagne. The drink itself was smokey from the mezcal but had a tart sweetness from the raspberry. And the champagne finished the drink off nicely leaving a great crisp fruity taste in your mouth.
Moving onto the food, Amigo does an amazing job of taking familiar Mexcian dishes and revamping them. First up we got to try the churrasco which was made with skirt steak skewer, garlic, chimichurri, and lime. As simple as this dish sounds, the flavors in this dish were bold and impactful. The skirt steak was cooked perfectly and as soon as it hits your palette, it feels as though it is melting in your mouth. The rock salt on top of the steak accentuates the savory, umami flavor from the steak and paired with the chimichurri adds a beautiful acidity and brightness to the dish.
Another favorite of ours was the maiz gratinado which is made with corn, queso fresco, manchego, cilantro, and serrano pepper. This dish almost reminded us of grits with the presentation. The texture of it was creamy with the bits of corn adding in a nice crunch needed to keep wanting more. With the first bite, you are met with a burst of sweetness that is mellowed out by the manchego and queso fresco in the dish. But what sells this dish is the serrano pepper which adds a subtle heat to the end which reinvigorates your palette and lets you keep having more. This dish is perfect on its own but can even be paired with tortilla chips which would add on to the crunchy texture and would serve as a great vessel for the dish.
The Salpicon was another dish we loved. This is made with octopus, shrimp, sherry, and pico de gallo. This dish is basically a seafood ceviche for the ceviche fans out there. What we loved was that the natural sweetness from the octopus and shrimp were very present and the acidity that went with it accentuated the flavors. The pico de gallo paired with it added another layer of sweetness and brightness to the dish making it a very well rounded ceviche.
Up next we were able to try some of Amigo’s famous tacos, some of which have been marinating and cooking for over 24 hours. Up first was the gambas taco which is made with shrimp, garlic sauce, aioli, and red cabbage. The shrimp was plump and juicy, almost bursting with flavor upon first bite. The purple cabbage paired with it gave a nice contrast in texture and added a nice earthiness to the dish. But what sent the dish over the top was the garlic sauce and the aioli. The garlic sauce in itself had this subtle heat to it while maintaining the natural garlic flavor and the aioli offered a rich creaminess that both balanced the sweetness of the shrimp perfectly.
The Amigo is also definitely worth trying. Made with pork belly, citrus gastrique, and red salsa brava, the pork belly is marinated for 2 days and is slow cooked after for hours on end. With your first bite you are hit with a huge burst of sweetness that you would never have expected from a pork belly. This marries beautifully with the red salsa that brings a warm heat over your palette which is then mellowed out with the residing fatiness from the pork belly.
And last up we have the Rabo taco made with ox-tail, red mojo, shishito pepper, and consomme on the side. First, you should break the pepper on top of the taco to immerse all components with the heat and sourness from the pepper. The oxtail itself was cooked beautifully, extremely juicy, and melts in your mouth. But the star of the dish was actually the consomme which is made with the leftovers of the cooked oxtail. The idea is to dip the taco into the consomme to marry the cooked oxtail with the broth made out of the leftovers, almost like you would with birria. Dipping the taco in adds an extra layer of juiciness but also brings a nice warmth and beautiful umami flavor to the dish.
And to round out our amazing dinner, we finished off with their churros which was filled with chocolate and hazelnut. The churros were doughy and tender, easily ripping to show the chocolate center. The outside of the churro was crisp and perfectly fried while the inside was still the right amount of doughy. The chocolate inside was subtly sweet and had a beautiful bitterness to it which balanced out the other sweet components of the dish well.
Overall, Amigo by Nai was an amazing dining experience. It is so rare for a restaurant to not only have wonderfully thought out cocktails but to also have dishes that packed so much flavor to it. Amigo is a place for any occasion be it celebrations, a casual hangout, or a date you want to impress. A hidden gem in the ever-growing East Village, Amigo by Nai is definitely one place you have to check out.