After a meat-obsessed decade of dining, Pete Wells is happy to find that New Yorkers are starting to gravitate toward lighter, more vegetable-forward cuisine. Case in point: El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheontte, the very hip Lower East Side restaurant from Nick Morgenstern and chef Gerardo Gonzalez that specializes in quasi-healthy food. Wells is a big fan of the vegan chicharrones, in particular:
The dish turns a Mexican street snack, chicharrones de harina, into a salad, and turns salad into an event. These mock pork skins are tossed with mint and sticks of raw jicama in a bowl, the vessel of choice for return-of-the-repressed dishes across the country. They are dusted with smoldering Aleppo pepper and lemony ground sumac, strafed by a terrific hot sauce of chiles and pickled pineapple and mellowed with a nondairy cashew cream.
Wells also likes the chorizo, the octopus, and the tostada with carrots and sardines. Some textures and flavors repeat themselves on the menu, but overall, the critic digs the food and vibe of the restaurant enough to give it one star.