Hecho En Dumbo
354 Bowery, New York NY 10012 (b/n Great Jones and East 4th; map); 212-937-4245; hechoendumbo.com
Service: Charming and efficient
Setting: Predictably dim-lit, noisy Bowery restaurant with seating at open kitchen in back
Must-Haves: Tostadas de ceviche, queso fundido, chorizo burritas
Cost: Most small plates under $10; $35 should buy a drink and dinner
First things first: Hecho en Dumbo is not in Dumbo. Not anymore, that is. Back in 2007, Ethan Smith and chef Danny Mena (formerly of The Modern) opened makeshift restaurant Hecho en Dumbo—that's "made in Dumbo"—in the Dumbo General Store. From that unlikely home, they turned out cheffed-up Mexican street food in the style of Mena's native Mexico City—winning over first their Dumbo neighbors, then a wider audience of discerning eaters and critics.
But after years of sharing Dumbo General space, Smith and Mena have jumped the river in search of larger digs of their own, taking the name with them. Though nothing is still, well, hecho en Dumbo, their tortillas and salsas are still made in-house; and though the menu of antojitos (essentially Mexican appetizers) has changed a bit, it's still largely based around small bites such as sopes, tacos, and burritas.
As such, most portions are dainty; and on the ever-expanding Bowery restaurant row, prices aren't cheap. But if you see a $10 price tag on a plate of Mexican food and expect three meals' worth of eating, you're in the wrong place. This is a place of clean, layered flavors, memorable salsas, and beautifully crafted dishes—all evidence of a serious chef in the kitchen.
Whether you order barbacoa, queso fundido, or the burritas, you're likely to encounter Hecho en Dumbo's tortillas, and that's a very good thing. Both flour and corn are made in house; the flour amply salted, nicely plaint, and a little bit bouncy; the corn, toasty and slightly nutty, and as delicate as corn tortillas could be.
The flour tortillas appear wrapped around steak, vegetables, or chorizo in the five-bite burritas, and alongside the queso fundido, a bubbling dish of housemade Oaxacan cheese hiding a layer of chorizo or mushroom or poblano pepper. (In both cases, we'd go with the crumbly Berkshire pork chorizo. But maybe that's just us.)
Several improbable-sounding dishes wowed us, including the Tacos de Gobernador, chunks of firm swordfish with a tomato-onion fricassée and Oaxacan cheese. Others sounded better than they were: picaditas de jaiba promised a drizzle of jalapeño oil atop a mound of Dungeness crab and avocado, but we could barely taste it; the resulting dish tasted simple, bulky, and nearly flat.
Still, there were far more hits than misses—even away from the snackier bits of the menu. The barbacoa's beautifully confited lamb shank was far more tender than I'd dared to hope, in a consommé that managed to be both clean-tasting and intensely lamb-y.
The impressive thing about Hecho en Dumbo back in Brooklyn was its ability to serve imaginative restaurant-quality fare in what was a slapdash, barlike setting. With the move to Manhattan came the move to a full-service restaurant—raising the bar that much higher. Perhaps the allure of the unexpected has gone. But when you're seated with a glass of sangria and a crispy plate of pork, or a steaming bowl of pozole, or every possible incarnation of antojito, there's nothing you feel like you're missing.
Ed Levine is off this week.