photo by Liz Barclay
There were no tacos on the menu at Empellón Cocina when Alex Stupak opened the doors in 2012. The chef is dedicated to preserving the soul of Mexican cuisine while reinterpreting and elevating it, and he hopes to evangelize eaters with the spirit of our southern neighbor in the process — but he already owns a taqueria in the West Village, and with Cocina he hoped to push into deeper territory. He filled his menu with dishes like squid with black mole and lamb tartare with guaje seeds, luring people into his slick space for an experience that would verge on fine dining, were it not for the ebullience of the front-and-center bar (with its well-edited tequila- and mezcal-centric cocktail list and tight service) that spills into the dining room. Once he got comfortable, Stupak implemented the Push Project, a series of one-night-only collaborations with some of the best chefs in the nation, who bring their own philosophies into his kitchen and challenge his ideas, even when they’re not rooted in the same culinary tradition. This prods Stupak forward in his quest to keep blowing out the boundaries of Mexican cuisine. He eventually relented on the tacos, though; his neighbors wouldn’t quit asking for them.