17 Ingraham Street, Bushwick
On the surface the menu for El Cortez—an instant industry hotspot with a seedy 70s-motel bar vibe—reads like a haphazard mashup of New York’s latest, most pervasive lowbrow trends, Tiki and Tex-Mex. But El Cortez is more than just ersatz Mexican; diners are in the ultra-capable hands of chefs Stephen Tanner (The Commodore) and Dennis Spina (River Styx), whose abiding love for trash cuisine of all origins, is lovingly perfected.
You can’t go wrong by starting with one of the inexpensive, sugar-forward drinks and some of Spina’s signature nachos, strewn with queso, pintos, and a tapestry of salsas. There’s also a nod to the duo’s shared fondness for riffing on fast food cheeseburgers; this version comes stacked with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayo, and speared with tiny paper parasols.
And while the taco salad—a surprisingly delicate deep-fried tortilla basin, which cradles crumbles of ground beef, shards of sharp cheddar, and yes, inky halos of canned black olives—and the hot oil-submersed chimichangas are a far cry from authentic Mexican food, for those of us who still harbor nostalgia for childhood Taco Tuesdays (featuring hard shells sporting blood red rivers of El Paso, of course) and keep our pantries stocked with cans of pitted black olives, Tanner and Spina’s all-American Mexican eatery hits all the right notes.