Where can you find the best vegetarian restaurant in New York? In one sense, it’s not surprising that Mexican restaurant is vegetarian-friendly — you can get pretty much anything with beans instead of meat. But Toloache, which got one star from the New York Times‘s Sam Sifton, is a step above the rest. This theater district outpost of Chef Julian Medina has some great vegetarian food, and it’s not the same tortilla-beans-cheese formula that is all-too-common at other restaurants.
If you’re going to come to Toloache, you have to try the guacamole. But which to get? Toloache offers the classic guacamole, but also a fruit version (with mango, thai basil, vidalia onion, and pomegranate) and a spicy version (with chipotle and quesco fresco). This time, my friend and I settled on the “frutas”, although in the past I’ve been indecisive and gotten a sampler. The frutas was good, with the mango adding sweetness and the pomegranate seeds giving a little crunch. But I would have liked the sweetness to be offset, at least a little, by the spice. I didn’t taste the habanero at all, and in fact mixed the guacamole with a little bit of salsa to give it a little kick.
I ordered my main course from the vegetarian menu. This is something I didn’t know the first couple of times I came here: the restaurant has a separate vegetarian menu, which they’ll give you if you ask for it (but only if you ask for it). Several items on the vegetarian menu are on the regular menu, but several items are not.
My entree was the “enchiladas vegetarianas” — vegetarian enchiladas. But these aren’t your usual cheese and onion enchiladas that look like a heart attack on a plate. These were filled with spinach, asparagus and chayote. The chayote gave the enchiladas a nice texture, and the fig salsa gave it a nice sweetness. Here, I thought the sweetness was nicely balanced by the sauce, which was just spicy enough, and not so heavy that it weighed down the enchiladas. (I’d also recommend the “quesadilla de huitlacoche y trufas”, smoky and tasty, though small and not terribly filling; and the tortilla soup, which is vegetarian, unlike at most restaurants.)
Dessert was “pastel de zanahoria” — described as carrot cake, jalapeño-lime cream and sweet corn sauce. I think the sauce on the plate was supposed to be the sweet corn sauce, and the jalapeño-lime cream is what is on the carrot cake itself. But I didn’t really see those flavors come through. I did enjoy the carrot cake, which tasted like it had a pretty standard cream-cheese frosting (no jalapeño or lime, or sweet corn). I just felt like it didn’t quite match up to the description. My friend had the “red velvet tres leches”, which actually looked pretty good.
All in all, I would rank Toloache as among the best Mexican restaurants in New York — one of the top two or three, in my opinion. It is also very vegetarian-friendly, demonstrating that vegetarian Mexican food doesn’t just have to be a bean burrito or taco. Toloache uses some interesting flavors (mango-avocado guacamole; chayote and fig in the enchiladas), although the dishes sometimes look better in theory than in execution. That said, it’s still a huge step up from most Mexican restaurants and can certainly hold its own among the very good restaurants in New York. Three stars.
As usual, here are the menus:
[Photo at the top of this post by Kristen Luce for the New York Times.]