I was utterly surprised to find Lalito, a Cali-inspired Mexican restaurant, nestled somewhere in Chinatown. The location wasn’t the only surprising factor. As you walk in, there’s an immediate step, which draws attention to the problematic floors. The outdated floors were reminiscent of what I would envision a West Coast dive bar to look like in the 70s. Despite the outdated floors and lack of sunlight, the restaurant did have bright golden booths and cute mint tables.
The menu has more vegetarian-friendly items than anything else which was appealing for me. We were intrigued by the tahini banana loaf but were out of luck as it was no longer available. Instead we went with another enticing option, olive oil cake.
We placed an order to share a few starters. The olive oil cake was stunning upon arrival. I’ve had olive oil cake before but this was unique. Whipped ricotta is drizzled with honey and garnished with fresh blackberries and thyme. It was incredible. At this point, we noticed the restaurant was barren, filled with just a handful of other patrons. I wasn’t sure if Lalito was still under the radar or if all of NYC was too hungover for brunch this morning.
Next we tried the papas bravas, also beautifully topped with a white sauce and scallions. I typically love patatas bravas and thought these would be similar. I was dead wrong. While the potatoes themselves were cooked well, this was more of a sweet than spicy side. Pickled pineapple was a surprising addition but one that was not appreciated.
For my main entree, I was curious to try a dish appropriately titled “This is not avocado toast” to see what the deal was. Indeed, it was not avocado toast, though the presentation could have fooled us. The Mexican-inspired dish comes with masa corn toast topped with mashed green chickpeas and served with pickled onions and spiced cauliflower. I decided to have the poached eggs on the side, which was served oh-so-stylishly in a porcelain lady bowl. To say this was incredible would be an understatement. Everything tasted so fresh and flavorful. It was a welcome change from avocado toast and executed flawlessly.
We also tried the plato tipico which consists of a gorgeous fried egg, plantain mash, fried halloumi, and pickled veggies. The fried halloumi was mind-blowing as was the plantain mash. We were satisfied with this as our choice.
While Lalito may be a rather random restaurant located in Chinatown, it’s not to be missed. The interior could look more contemporary, but the food is on point, which is the most important factor.
The Bitches say: four Champagne flutes for great service and fresh Cali-inspired Mexican fare in the heart of Chinatown. We knock this down a grade based on the lackluster vibe and displeasure for one of the items.
Lalito serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.