Hat’s tricks fail to impress.

An argument could be made, I think, that there’s no better example of the bizarre style of gentrification in the Lower East Side than the continued existence of the Puerto Rican-run Mexican restaurant called “El Sombrero.”  El Sombrero, at Ludlow and Stanton, is the kind of place you’d think would be replaced in one of the first waves of gringo invasion – prime corner real estate on Ludlow’s hip strip and a large dining area being  two of the biggest factors.  But the Sombrero has endured, somehow, and managed to attract a totally different kind of clientele in the process – the afore-mentioned hip gringos grabbing food before hitting Pianos or Arlene’s.

Their endurance is, unfortunately, not a testament to the quality of the food.  The chips that are planted in front of you upon your arrival seem far from fresh, even though the watery red salsa is appealingly warm in both temperature and spice (not as much fun when it cools, sadly).  The margaritas, while strong and tasty in both frozen and rocked incarnations, seem expensive – $7 buys you a pint of either – though you’re unlikely to need too many.

The entrees are a similarly mixed blessing.  I had noted a chicken mole listed on the entrée, and wondered to our rather surly waitress if I could get the mole sauce poured over some chicken enchiladas (a la the previously reviewed El Huipil).  I was surprised to receive an affirmative answer, but I needn’t have bothered – the mole was nothing special or even really recognizable (save for a brief burst of cocoa).  It, like the salsa, was thin and watery.  The enchiladas themselves would have been better had they utilized better tortillas, and not been drowned in a sea of jack cheese.

The tortillas were similarly disappointing on my girlfriend’s tacos, but the chicken in both places was at least palatable and flavorful.  That’s more than I could say for the rice and canned-seeming refried beans, which certainly weren’t up to any kind of standard.

I’ve also had the chimichangas at El Sombrero, and if you’re a fan of grease, you’ll probably enjoy this Tex-Mex gut bomb.  I wouldn’t say it’s the best I’ve had, by any stretch, though, and the limited range of fillings don’t help any.

I’m willing to declare that El Sombrero is a good place to meet friends for an undiscerning meal of Mexi-sludge and margaritas (carryout available – shh!), and it would seem that LES diners agree – the dining room gets packed on weekend evenings.  I’m not exactly eager to go back again, though.

1 Comment

Filed under NYC

One response to “Hat’s tricks fail to impress.

  1. Anonymous

    I think the margs-to-go are even more spendy…like 6 bucks for a small carry-out cup. That said, there’s nothing better on a hot L.E.S. day. How this place stays in biz come winter, I’m not sure.

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