Posted on December 14, 2013 by

Review: Mission Cantina – Come for the Tacos, Come Back for the Rest

DEC 14, 2013 – Danny Bowien’s heavily anticipated follow-up to Mission Chinese Food could not have come at a better time. With his first NY restaurant under renovation until further notice, you can literally walk half a block north to Stanton and get your Mission fill at his new tacqueria. Naturally, it’s not a traditional Mexican restaurant, but that’s precisely the idea.

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I dropped by on a Saturday night around 7:00pm expecting to wait a while for a table for 4. About three hours later, we were summoned back to the cantina to take our seats. Let this be a lesson to you — expect a significant wait for at least the next few months if you choose to come without a reservation. I believe their system is up now, so you’ll want to use that.

(NOTE: Apologies in advance for the instagram-esque photos. The neon lights buggered up a lot of the pics, so this was the best I could do to restore them).

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For the more adventurous eaters among us, scallop and beef heart ceviche with capers, olives and citrus jumps off the menu immediately (helps that it’s listed first). It’s a pretty small portion so each of us took a little bite with varying levels of satisfaction. We universally agreed on its bright and briny flavors, but some bites were more tender than others, leading me to conclude you should expect a bit of chew amid the generally pleasant textures.

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Our next plate was both memorable and familiar: chicken wings with mole spices, chili vinegar, sesame and crema. If you’ve ever ordered the Chongqing chicken wings at Mission Chinese, you know they’re famous for a crispy dry-rubbed exterior, moist meat on the inside and borderline painful level of heat and numbing. Think of these as their milder cousins. Mole is a hard flavor profile to describe, and I’m not sure I found it, but I really didn’t care because these were delicious and addictive.

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Closely after the wings, our assortment of tacos began to hit the table. The first thing I noticed were the very generous portions that arrive on each tortilla – you will probably over-order without some guidance from your server (we should have listened). The crispy panko fish taco that arrived first was perfectly flaky and soft on the inside, and made for a special few bites.

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Another standout was the chicken liver tostada – the only tostada on the menu – with creamed white beans and chipotle. The chicken liver is crusted like a chicken finger, providing a nice textural contrast, and the flavor of the white beans and chipotle were very complementary.

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We also ordered the tacos al pastor with pork belly and fermented pineapples, which were universally applauded around the table for a great mix of fatty pork and pineapple that provided both sweetness and acid.

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We tried to order as many of the tacos as we could, so I’ll just provide a quick list of the rest in order of preference (not necessarily pictured above):

Beet tongue, charred onions, tomato pickle and peanuts: Peanuts is a really unique addition that worked for this balanced taco.

Alambre with brisket, bacon, queso oaxaca, peppers and onion: Kind of like a steak sandwich in taco form, which was a good thing.

Carnitas of confit pork shoulder, jowl and pork crackling: Goodness in the form of much pig.

Chicken wing, braised octopus and onion relish: Table didn’t have much to say about this one…

Shrimp and cripsy beef tripe taco: …or this one.

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Somehow this side was the best bite of the night for me: grilled onions, seaweed, butter and lemon. Grilled onions and butter are undeniably good on their own, but the liberal addition of lemon and unique flavor imparted by the seaweed took this in a really welcome direction. I’m not sure this is even vaguely Mexican, but I’m really not complaining.

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The other side we grabbed was the charred poblanos tossed in crema with golden beets and poppy seeds. They weren’t quite as a big of a hit as the onions, but not altogether unsuccessful and a combination of vegetables I’d not yet had.

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Last to the table came the whole rotisserie chicken stuffed with rice, chorizo and pecans, covered in a brown rice vinaigrette and accompanied by tortillas and assortment of great sauces. This was the point in the meal we regretted ordering so much, both because we were full and because the chicken was so juicy and inviting. We soldiered on for a bit longer just to sample a few more bites, noticing a distinct fattiness imparted by the sausage and welcome freshness from the considerable collection of herbage on top. The rest turned out to be great leftovers for the following day.

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Wrapping Up…

It’s only been open a few weeks, and already things look to be in good shape. The assortment of tacos are unconventional, filling and largely appetizing, while the rest of the menu features some mouthwatering bright spots that encourage me to revisit, re-order, and explore the rest of the menu. Grab a reservation and enjoy!

Sidenote (Dec 17, 2013): You gotta enjoy people in this industry who are so skilled and yet so humble. Danny Bowien’s one of those guys. Wish the team the best of success:


Best Bite(s): 
Chicken wings, grilled onions, chicken liver tostada, fish taco

Website: missioncantinanyc.com

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