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Dinner at Tulcingo del Valle, 4/30/09

  • Cuisine: Authentic Mexican
  • Atmosphere: small, no-frills
  • Attire: casual
  • Ideal for: 1x1/small group dining, kid-friendly, authentic
  • Price: *Cash only* Appetizers, all under $8; Entrees, all under $14
  • Reservations: n/a
  • Phone: (212) 262-5510
  • Website: http://www.tulcingorestaurant.com/
  • Location: 665 10th Ave, (Btwn 46th & 47th St)

*All of my photos from this meal can be viewed on Flickr

Successfully finding an authentic Mexican food restaurant in NYC is the equivalent of stumbling upon a botanical oasis in the desert. By “authentic,” I am referring to:

  • Guacamole that doesn’t cost over $5 (still a steep price, but this is NYC)
  • Chips and salsa that don’t cost over $5 (still a steep price, but this is NYC)
  • Menu must have: Horchata; chilaquiles (if open for breakfast); refried beans (pinto beans); homemade salsa; meals accompanied with tortillas
  • Menu must not have: Chimichangas; black beans; plantains; Buffalo wings; Caesar salad; jalapeno “poppers;” fried calamari; quesadillas made with spinach; seafood enchiladas

Does such a place exist? Is there a Mexican restaurant in NYC that has all of the criteria I listed above, and can be considered a destination for every aspect (appetizer, entrée, dessert) of a meal? Indeed, there is. Allow me to introduce Tulcingo del Valle.

Having previously lived in Hell’s Kitchen for two years, I took pride in the fact that I had ordered Mexican food take-out from every restaurant in my immediate vicinity. Most of the meals fell in to one of two categories: 1) Inedible 2) Partially edible. That was, until I happened upon Tulcingo del Valle. I can still recall my first delivery: Cheese enchiladas with salsa verde accompanied by refried pinto beans, Mexican rice and dollops of guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. My meal was washed down with an ice cold horchata.

It’s been almost three years since I moved out of the Kitchen, and besides my amazing roommates, the thing I miss most is my beloved Tulcingo del Valle. So when Michael (an old roommate and fellow devout Mexican food fanatic) and I decided to get together for dinner, Tulcingo del Valle was the first place that came to mind. Since I’ve only utilized the restaurant for delivery, and Michael had never been/ordered, we were anxiously anticipating our date.

In what has become habitual, I arrived at TdV about 15 minutes shy of schedule. The friendly waitress, who doubled as a hostess, greeted me and said that I could sit wherever I chose. Since there was only one other couple dining in the restaurant, I seized a roomy four-top. The woman at the table behind me kept asking her date, “How did you hear about this place? Oh my, this is so good. I would have never put these two ingredients together! Tell me how you heard about this place again.” The second thing I observed was the blaring voice of a Spanish-speaking newscaster on the 1990-something television. Walls adorned with Mother Mary relics and painted Mexican landscapes gave way to linoleum floors. The restaurant was larger than I had expected, yet intimate enough to where I felt like I could have been dining in someone’s home.

Though Michael didn’t arrive until nearly 35 minutes later, I used my time wisely and ordered a red-wine sangria (per the waitress’ recommendation) and a basket of chips and salsa. Garnished with an orange slice, a daiquiri glass filled to the brim with red wine and chopped fruit arrived before my eyes. The delicately chilled sangria had the perfect balance of not being too sweet or too sour. Fragrant bouquets of alcohol-marinated fruit danced throughout the cocktail. Though I tried to pace myself while eating the chips and salsa in front of me, it quickly became a lost cause. I couldn’t resist the warm, golden, perfectly-salted tostados and the homemade, spicy salsa (imagine a pureed pico de gallo – tomatoes, cilantro, onions, jalapeno). With only 4 chips left in my first basket, Michael arrived.

After a lengthy game of catch-up with one another (and stalling the patient waitress from taking our dinner order on three separate occasions), Michael and I finally chose our entrees. Since the waitress was spot-on about the sangria, I took her suggestion and ordered the chile rellenos, in addition to two of my favorite TdV staples: One carne asada taco and an ice cold glass of horchata.

Nearly overflowing with food, my entrée plate consisted of: A chile relleno (though looking back, I’m still not sure whether I received one humongous chile relleno, or 2 of normal size), refried frijoles, Mexican rice, and dollops of guacamole and pico de gallo. As an accompaniment, my entrée came with a side of warm, foil-wrapped corn tortillas. The carne asada taco arrived on a small separate plate.

Chile relleno(s): Stuffed with white cheese, the roasted poblano pepper was dipped in an egg wash, fried to a golden brown, and topped with ranchero sauce (a thick and chunky tomato-based sauce laced with stewed peppers and onions). Overall, I was quite pleased with the chile relleno, however, I would have preferred: A better melting white cheese used as a filling; much less ranchero sauce. The corn tortillas were an added bonus, used to make “chile relleno burritos.” NYC Mexican food report card grade: A-

Frijoles and Mexican rice: Both sides were excellent by anyone’s standards (NYC, Texas, California and Mexico). The pinto beans used for the frijoles did not come from a can; rather, they were boiled, smashed and refried by hand (as observed by the randomly not-smashed whole and halved pintos that made there way in). I’m not quite sure how to explain the “perfect Mexican rice (which TdV has),” but here goes: Each piece of rice should not be longer than your pinkie nail (bed to neatly clipped tip), meaning that basmati is a no-no. Mexican rice should be orange in color, which is a result of being cooked with saffron. There should be notes of cumin, garlic and tomato. The finished product should be the slightest bit sticky and very easy to serve with a spoon (easily clumps).
NYC Mexican food report card grade: A+

Carne asada taco (beef): Enveloped inside of two corn tortillas (about the size of your palm) were bite-sized pieces of beef steak topped with a dollop of guacamole, finely chopped onion and cilantro and two lime quarters. Finished with an added spoonful of salsa, this tasty treat is easily NYC’s most authentic taco.
NYC Mexican food report card grade: A+

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