This review is part of a series printed in the Winter 2021 edition of Action Line magazine. You can learn more about Ravi Derossi, who opened three new vegan restaurants in the East Village, and see our review for the restaurant, Cadence, here. You can get also get Action Line magazine delivered to you by becoming a member with us here.

Xila Caudillo

This cozy, convivial restaurant in New York’s “Alphabet City” features a plant-based menu that offers delicious vegan versions of classic Mexican fare, with some inventive dishes designed to appeal to even the most doubting gringo.

Start with the two taco dishes on the short but stellar menu. The aciento uses a savory mushroom, nut and seed blend instead of the traditional pork rind paste, with a mescal habanero sauce for flavorful heat and spiced peanuts for crunch. The zucchini taco is a popular take on pulled pork, with a mescal barbecue sauce added to the veggie slivers for zesty finesse.

Photo Credit: Eric Medsker

Any Mexican restaurant is judged by its guacamole. Topped off with huitlacoche, a Mexican delicacy, Etérea’s version “is not your average guac,” says manager Jhonathan Carmona. Also known as corn smut, huitlacoche is an edible fungus that grows on maize and is used as a filling in quesadillas and soups. “In Mexico City, we call it Mexican truffles, and it adds a delicate creamy texture and flavor,” Carmona says.

The most popular dish on the menu is corn rib elote, and it’s easy to see why. A corn cob is quartered lengthwise and flash fried to give the slivers the curve of a rib. Smoked paprika and pickled red onion add heat, with a buttery cilantro aioli for finger-licking nibbling down to the “bone.”

These tasty offerings are from chef Xila Caudillo, a third-generation Californian who worked at a sanctuary for animals rescued from factory farms before going to culinary school. Caudillo embraced Ravi’s dream of a vegan Mexican restaurant as a “passion project to get back to my roots,” though she adds, “I don’t want to be just a ‘Mexican’ chef, but I’ll always be a vegan chef.”

The small plates are reasonable in price—all below $18—and are designed to complement the environmentally sustainable agave spirits curated by mixologist Sother Teague (all $16). Even the straws are ethically sourced—they are fashioned from the agave used to produce the vegan tequila and mescal.

Use one to savor the yellow pineapple, made with Reposado tequila and Chartreuse jaune with lime and coconut that gives it the sweet refresh of a piña colada. As this Coctelería caters to a “let’s get this party started” hipster crowd, the best-selling drink is the retox. The bartender described it as a riff on the detox trend of her elders—tequila spiked with poblano, with a chef’s kiss of a chili salt rim. The prettiest drink? Panic at hibisco, which features añejo tequila, hibiscus syrup (and its edible flower) and citrus blend with pepita orgeat, a syrup made from pumpkin seeds. – Scott Smith