Food & Drink

El Rey

When Xerxes set out to expand the Persian empire, he encountered numerous problems, not least of which were dudes in capes kicking messengers into pits. Having a much better time expanding his own empire, Stephen Starr, with his new joint El Rey

Storming the former Midtown IV, El Rey's a Mexican resto keeping some familiar Midtown pieces (dark wood booths, ceiling tiles) while refabbing the booths' upholstery, going with dark wood and tile table tops, and surrounding the place with pieces designed to mimic an old cantina like the one in From Dusk Til Dawn including stuff like vintage movie posters, old instruments, and penis revolvers prison art. Keeping the menu simple and traditional, apps include equites (corn soup with habanero butter, cherry tomatoes, and epazote leaf), albondigas (meatballs in a spicy salsa), and queso fundido, a fondue-ish dish with chorizo, poblano peppers, and Chihuahua cheese, made from the tiniest, yappiest cows ever. Main plates're designed with sharing in mind (read: sharpen your fork), and include chiles en nogada (roasted poblanos stuffed with beef, almonds, and a walnut sauce), pescado ala talla (red snapper roasted whole with chipotles, limes, and morita mayonnaise), and a bevy of tacos, gorditas, and chalupas, although precious few Mexican pizzas and packets of magically penny-cleaning Fire sauce

Drinks keep the traditional cantina feel going, with a list of South American, Spanish, and Californian wines joining choice tequilas and mezcals, a grip of domestic and import bottled brews, Mexican sodas, virgin agua frescas like tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata, all of which you can savor when the joint opens on Sunday -- so while the Spartans may dine in hell, hell, you've got horchata