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[Photographs: Scarlett Lindeman]

Angelo Sosa, an audiences favorite who had a win pulled out from under him in the 7th season of Top Chef, has embraced the tequilas and mezcals of Mexico at his Anejo Tequileria, a dark and noisy cantina in Hell's Kitchen. You can drink well here. The crafty cocktails, Negro Modelo on tap, and flights of spirits show off the wide range of flavors in tequila, proving that it isn't just for margaritas (though those are quite good here as well). Unfortunately, the kitchen seems to be using more simple syrup in the cuisine than in the cocktails.

The menu looks good on paper: Mexican-inspired small plates to nibble while drinking. The guacamole ($10-$12) comes as a strangely beige mash embedded with pomegranate seeds and raw tomatillo. Tamales ($10-$13) are ersatz creations, corn masa piped into banana husks, with fillings piled on top like loaded baked potatoes bulging from their skins. There's a fine dusting of queso anejo over every dish, and they're all just too sweet.

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The tortillas, made in house, are moist, thin and flaky specimens that should be inhaled: first the aroma, then the corn patty itself. Queso fundido ($11), a bubbling cast iron of melted cheese, onion, and diced pepper spooned on top of one of the tortillas, is one of the better bites on the menu.

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One of the pitfalls of contemporary elevated Mexican food, one that the kitchen at Anejo Tequileria trips over again and again, is that reliance on sugar. The salsas are laced with it, the braised meats taste as if they've been mopped with syrup, and the tamales are as sweet as a Paula Deen cornbread. An undetectable pinch or two to round out spiciness or acid is dexterous, but cloying levels of sweetness like this is a ploy, engaging palates where it shouldn't.

To best enjoy Anejo Tequileria: have a cocktail at the bar, then go to Guelaguetza down the street for food.

Anejo Tequileria

668 Tenth Ave. New York, NY 10036 (map)
(212) 780-9204
anejonyc.com

About the author: Scarlett Lindeman is a cook, food-writer, and recipe editor of Diner Journal, a food/arts quarterly. E-mail her at scarlett.lindeman@gmail.com.

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