Three years ago, Daniela Soto Innes and Enrique Olvera, two of the world’s most prominent Mexican chefs, opened Cosme, one of the city’s most expensive a la carte restaurants. One year ago, they opened a more affordable spot called Atla, a vegetable-heavy hangout where patrons in designer sweatpants could enjoy $16 coconut yogurt and chill on the bottom floor of a Noho apartment building where rentals cost like $12,000/month.
It’s easy to gripe about Atla. The avocado toast and chia seed-slinging restaurant doesn’t publish its menu prices online. Getting a coffee at lunchtime can easily take 10 minutes. And there’s just one restroom for the 60-plus-seat space. But I keep going back. In fact, I’ve probably been back to Atla more than any other restaurant I’ve reviewed in the past year.
I return to Atla for the same reasons I return to Cosme: The high-spice, high-acid food is better than ever and the tortillas are still some of the best in the city. And guess what? Atla is now serving tacos. Soto-Innes and Olvera have always served their composed plates with a side of tortillas, but this is the first time the chefs are building the tacos themselves in the kitchen.
A single taco is $12. That’s a lot of money for a four bite snack. (For comparison’s sake, Alex Stupak’s Empellon Taqueria’s most expensive taco is the pastrami one, which costs $22 for two — not too far off, but also pricey.)
Here, the kitchen takes slow-cooked, achiote-rubbed pork belly, wraps it in hoja santa leave, and tops it with pickled onions, habanero salsa, and cilantro. The flavor is intensely herbal and tongue searing at first, and then a wallop of anise and coriander is paired with a drop kick of fruitiness from the salsa. The fatty belly kicks in next, packed with a maxed-out porcine funk, a heady flavor that’s tamed by the sweet corn tortilla. A single flavor never dominates here. This is an act of high-wire balance. And although the price stings as much as the hot sauce, it is difficult to think of a better restaurant taco being served in the city right now.
Those looking for a bit more bang for their buck might instead consider the new chicken cutlet, a pounded breast doused in soy and paired with searing hot mashed potatoes laced with tarragon and butter. The gut punch of a dish costs $22 and comes with hot tortillas — in case you want to make chicken breast and mashed potato tacos, which I highly recommend. Even on its most obnoxious days, Atla always does something like this to make you think, “Yeah, this place for pretty people really gets New York.” I’m calling the $12 tacos and $22 chicken cutlet a BUY. I’ll be back to Atla, often.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).