Volume 77 / Number 35 Jan. 30 - Feb. 05, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Maria Luisa Cortez is one of the family members who own and operate El Maguey y La Tuna restaurant.

For ‘two cacti’ taqueria, authenticity is the point

By Lisa Lacy

The name may be a little hard for gringos to pronounce, but El Maguey y La Tuna, a Mexican restaurant on the Lower East Side, strives to bring “a taste of Mexico” to Manhattan, regardless of whether or not locals know quite how to say it.

The name refers to two cacti, but the E. Houston St. restaurant is perhaps better known for its mole, a traditional sauce that comes in different varieties depending on ingredients, such as tomatillos or serrano chiles.

According to manager Maria Luisa Cortez, El Maguey y La Tuna caters to a local clientele that want a true taste of Mexico. The family-run establishment’s owners plug the home-style nature of the food from their hometown of Huehuepiaxtla, Puebla. The rural cooking also has some Tex-Mex thrown in for good measure, Cortez said.

“People want the real thing,” she said.

Mole is clearly the big draw here. Options include adobo rojo, a smoky, red mole from their town, and mole poblano, a sauce more common at big celebrations such as Christmas or weddings.

“We season our own meats, salsa and moles,” Cortez noted.

The restaurant is in the process of adding more mole to the menu, but Cortez said they are still working out details.

For the holiday season, a pumpkin mole appeared on the menu along with tamales.

The restaurant’s eponymous burrito, Al Maguey y La Tuna, comes with a generous serving of mole and is available in either chicken ($10.95) or steak ($11.95).

Another signature dish is Enchiladas al Maguey ($11.95). Cortez said this is her mother’s traditional enchilada recipe of homemade corn tortillas filled with chicken.

El Maguey y La Tuna also offers a Mexican brunch for $9.95. Along with huevos rancheros con chorizo and a la Mexicana, the brunch menu includes chilaquiles, or tortilla chips covered with red or green sauce, with chicken, steak or eggs. Brunch also comes with cafe con leche or a drink.

The restaurant was originally located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but relocated after a fire in 2002. Cortez, who was born and raised on the Lower East Side, said the family decided to reopen there in order to give back food and culture to the Lower East Side.

Located at 321 E. Houston St. between Attorney and Ridge Sts., El Maguey y La Tuna is open until 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends. The restaurant, whose phone number is 212-473-3744, is closed Mondays.

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