By CONNOR RYAN
The dilapidating façade of El Tequilazo (43 W. 46th St.), stuffed helplessly in the middle of an airtight block of washed-up restaurants and stores, will not catch your eye from the sidewalk.
To compensate, three neon signs hang off the front of the cluttered building (but the biggest of the three has almost completely failed, making it ironically difficult to identify the place upon first glance).
Having said that, the clichéd concept of a transformative threshold absolutely rings true in the case of this cozy Mexican and Colombian restaurant.
It is almost seven o’clock, the front door opens and you walk into a large, single room that seems to be almost darker than the night sky you were just standing under. In fact, most of the light seems to be coming from green glow stick-type devices, which are scattered throughout the room.
The bar unabashedly takes up the lion’s share of the space, and patrons quickly flock to empty stools for the tail end of happy hour. Smooth Mexican music blasts in the background and some couples are up dancing and singing along. There is no doubt: it is a party.
Thankfully (for me, anyway), there is more to the story. A well-lit staircase across from the front of the bar leads you to El Tequilazo’s second-floor dining room.
The dining area, which houses 11 tables and a small bar, immediately strikes the winning combination of party atmosphere and family dining experience. The serendipitous ambiance adds a lot to El Tequilazo’s respectability.
Small green plants elegantly hang from the ceiling beside multi-colored lights and fake stained-glass windows; authentic pieces of Mexican art adorn the brick walls, and Pitbull’s thumping bass is felt through the floorboards and in your shoes. (The sound level just nips at the point of strained conversation.)
The wait service is consistently diligent, and the food is a leap above average. Warm homemade tortilla chips are certainly one of the dinner’s high points.
The menu items cost anywhere from $7-$26. Based on the quality of the food, the service of the staff and the ambiance of the place, the price is well worth the experience.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the menu is its sprawling range. Mexican food connoisseurs, picky eaters (like me) and everyone in between should be able to find something to eat — and enjoy — at El Tequilazo.
In particular, the chicken quesadilla ($9.95) is made with a rare level of attention, skill and authenticity. The tri-color enchilada (three tortillas: one with cheese, one with chicken and one with steak, topped with green, red and mole sauce, with rice and beans on the side; $17) is also excellent, despite the steak’s lagging flavor punch.
After dinner, the homemade flan sadly falls short of its beautiful presentation and left a certain something to be desired. But by the time I stepped back on the sidewalk and made my way home, all I could think of was the vibrant energy of El Tequilazo.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (although I could not imagine walking in before 7 p.m.) every day from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. Take-out and delivery are both available. The second-floor dining room is not wheelchair accessible. All major credit cards are accepted. For a full menu listing: eltequilazonyc.com.
I am happy I peeked inside the dilapidating façade. I look forward to returning soon.
Overall: 3 stars
Location: 2 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Hospitality: 3 stars
(out of stars)