When Carey gushed about Cascabel on the Upper East Side a few months ago, I put it at the top of my list of places to check out. I've been a steady fan ever since—in fact, I dream about their steak tacos—but only recently did they add brunch to their lineup. And in keeping with their style, it's not just any Mexican brunch: the central element consists of an elaborate tostada bar stationed by Guadalupe, one of Cascabel's chefs.
The first step is picking a tostada base—a round chip a bit larger than a CD—either smoky seasoned or plain. Then you add your toppings: machados (or spreads, consisting of guacamole, gordo bean puree, and spiced squash), meat (either Amish chicken, wild Alaskan cod, or cecina, which is a cured pork mixed with caramelized onions), chilis in various heat levels, lettuces, cheese (fresco, oaxaca, or cotija) and salsa. It might sound like an overwhelming amount of choices—and it really is a little hard to choose when they all look so good—but Guadalupe gives tastes and flavor notes to help you put together a tostada that suits your preferences. And when I asked nicely, he let me mix up machados and cheese on one tostada (because really, how do you pick between Oaxaca and cotija cheese?).
The end result is intensely satisfying. My choices, in particular, stacked up quite well: the seasoned shell was redolent with smoked chili and paprika, the cecina juicy from the onions, the salsas and chilis adding just enough heat for a breakfast, without overdoing it. For $4, it's a great deal—two will fill you up, though there is the risk of pushing yourself into a food coma by ordering a third. It's hard to stop.
For the record, Cascabel has a number of egg dishes on the menu for people who prefer not to stray as far from their breakfast comfort zone. Though the baked eggs in the Eggs with Chorizo and Oaxaca cheese ($8) were sadly overcooked, the chorizo and cheese lent welcome bursts of moisture and flavor—and at that price, I really can't complain.