Tio Pepe Restaurant, New York, NY
Last night I met up with a couple friends at Tio Pepe, a Mexican/Spanish restaurant located in the West Village on West 4th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues). For those of you who do not know the area, this is one of the more popular streets in the village filled with students and funky people. Think fun little gadget and card shops nestled between crazy sex shops like the Pink Pussy Cat Boutique and the Birthday Suit.
Tio Pepe’s restaurant facade is all floor to ceiling windows that allow the festive atmosphere of the street to enter into the restaurant. I would have expected more people in the restaurant to further add to this festive feeling, but I’d say only about a third of the tables were filled on this Wednesday night. But nonetheless, we had West 4th Street to dine with us so we didn’t really pay attention to the rest of the restaurant (we were also sitting right next to the windows).
Before we ordered our food, we of course ordered some drinks—it is a Mexican/Spanish restaurant after all! I was pleased to hear that they serve pitchers (some places I’ve found do not in order to make more money on the individual glasses), but we each wanted something different so we did not opt for this option.
I ordered sangria, and Nicky and Anthony both ordered frozen strawberry margaritas. I liked my sangria. It was a red wine based drink, but they also had the option of white wine sangria. Nicky and Anthony’s drinks were both frozen and you could see that the icy slush came from a machine and not a blender. The restaurant then just adds syrup to make the drink. Personally I like my frozen margaritas made freshly, so I didn’t feel left out for not ordering this.
Not feeling terribly hungry, the three of us each only ordered an entrée. I had their Camarones al Diablo dish ($17) dish, which is shrimp sautéed with garlic in hot spicy criolla sauce. As expected, the shrimp was not large, but does size really matter? Not in this case but perhaps it was trying to compensate nonetheless because the sauce was very spicy—almost too spicy and I can handle hot spices very well. Unfortunately, because of the heat I had a hard time tasting the actual flavors. To be fair though, the dish came with rice that I did not eat. So it is possible that if I had eaten the two together the rice would have mellowed the heat and helped the distinctive flavors come out.
Anthony ordered the chicken fajitas ($15) and they were your basic fajitas. He liked them but did point out the chicken pieces were too big. The strips were each about four inches long and about an inch in diameter! I suppose that can show you that the meat is decent meat, probably breast meat, but it made it harder for him to eat. He ended up cutting all the pieces into smaller strips.
Nicky had a chicken enchilada ($12), and again it was just your basic enchilada but she loved it. Since I have only hung out with Nicky and Anthony a few times, we have not reached that can-I-have-a-bite-of-your-food stage. Plus they are British (well, Nicky is Canadian but lived in London for a long time), so you never know how Brits will react to such an informal suggestion! So I did not taste either of their meals myself to comment.
We skipped dessert but did see another table being served an interesting desert drink, which required igniting it—as in fiery flames!—at the table. It smelled really good and looked interesting so I would try that if you go. Our only concern was that by igniting the drink, doesn’t the good stuff (aka, alcohol) burn off?
Overall, I liked Tio Pepe for its location, and what is there not to like about a Mexican restaurant? I would not go here expecting an amazing culinary experience, and if you want more of a crowd I’d try going on the weekend instead; but if you are looking for some Mexican/Spanish food in the area before heading out to the neighboring bars, I do think this is a viable option.