Editor's note: Eating out with kids can be a challenge—especially in New York. Here to show you around NY's kid-friendly spots is Aya Tanaka. Enjoy!
372 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211 (map); 718-782-8171
Kids' menu: No
Kids' Amenities: High chairs
Best Dishes for Kids: Tamales, quesadillas, tacos
Cost: Appetizers $4.50-$11, Entrées $12-$18, Desserts $4.50-6
Just as interior warm touches—incandescent light fixtures, candles, colorful tiles, red banquettes and photo frames—break the starkness of Mesa Coyoacán's modern glass exterior on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, chef and owner Ivan Garcia works the classic flavors and textures of family recipes and Mexico City street favorites—imposing exuberant taste over the cleaned-up presentation favored by many fashionable Mexican restaurants in New York.
I called Mesa Coyoacán to make a reservation (they don't take them for groups of less than 6) and to ask whether they had high chairs. I was given an enthusiastic "Yes!" as a reply, adding "We look forward to having you and your family here this weekend." Once we arrived, the highchair materialized right away. The waiting staff was courteous, even if they failed to bring my daughter her own glass of water and individual plate when setting up the table. Most importantly, they seemed genuinely knowledgeable and interested in the food they were serving.
Mexican restaurants might pose problems for children because of the chilies used in the preparation of many dishes. However, not every dish is spicy, and many can be adjusted for unaccustomed palates. For example, the ubiquitous quesadillas ($9), made of handmade tortillas, Oaxacan cheese and a choice of fillings, are mild and the elote asado (corn on the cob, $4.50), may be served plain.
The guacamole ($7) and trio of tamales ($8) appetizers we ordered arrived promptly, always a good thing when dining with children. My daughter's nonplussed attitude toward the guacamole was likely due to the strong lime flavor, which nevertheless delighted the adults. She was content with the accompanying totopos (thick tortilla chips).
The tamales were better received. Although the tamal veracruzano (tilapia and guajillo salsa) was somewhat underwhelming to everyone, the tamal oaxaqueno (chicken and mole) and the tamal chiapaneco (pork picadillo, fruit, raisins and almonds) were delicious. My daughter especially liked the pork tamal, which was sweet, with just a faint hint of spice.
The tacos de pescado (fish tacos, $9) and tacos al pastor (pork and pineapple tacos, $9) we ordered came with a quartet of salsas, from a mild salsa borracha (made with Guinness) to a fiery habanero salsa. Neither set of tacos was particularly spicy, but the salsas provided everyone with the opportunity to enhance their taco experience.
The fish tacos came with a pickled cabbage salad that added crunch and acidity. We removed the cabbage from one taco and my daughter contently ate the fish, a mild tasting tilapia, in the fresh tortilla. The tacos al pastor were milder than expected. Pineapples and guajillo chiles usually fiercely compete for attention in tacos al pastor, but at Mesa Coyoacán, they just struck a low profile balance. The restaurant offers other kinds of tacos—beef, more pork tacos, calamari, chicken and vegetable—that might also please children and parents alike.
The entrees were the best part of the meal. The chiles en nogada ($15), for instance, featured a large roasted poblano chile stuffed with shredded pork, peaches, apples, pears and almonds, each contributing to a variety of flavors and textures. The walnut sauce was light and sweet, and the pomegranate seeds added the final touch of color, acidity and texture to the dish. My daughter loved the pomegranate seeds and the sweet pork filling.
The enchiladas de mole ($12) boast a "secret" recipe from Chef Garcia's own family and strike a perfect balance between the spice of the chiles and the sweetness and textures of ground nuts. This was perhaps the spiciest of the dishes we had at Mesa Coyoacán. The adults loved it; my daughter doesn't seem ready for it yet.
Mesa Coyoacán's entrée selection is probably too spicy for milder children's palates, but it offers variety and boasts great execution of a classic selection of Mexican dishes. Children will be happy with appetizers and tacos, and sides such as Mexican rice, refried beans, and fried plantain will round up their meals.
For dessert, we were tempted by the pastel de tres leches (three-milk cake, $6) and flan de cajeta (goat milk caramel flan, $5) but opted for the friendly churros—long pieces of fried dough coated with sugar, and accompanied by dipping cajeta and chocolate sauces. The churros were stellar: light, not too sweet, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The chocolate sauce packed a strong dark chocolate punch. My daughter used her fingers to consume every last bit of the cajeta.