Me encanta Órale Mexican Kitchen. The new sit-down restaurant, which opened in late March, offers authentic Mexican dishes with modern twists. It’s conveniently located on the Upper West Side, and although the prices might suggest another stuffy sit-down restaurant, Órale keeps it upbeat with unique décor that fuses traditional and modern Mexican art, including several wall hangings that invoke Mexican imagery.
However, there are two things about the décor that stood out above the rest. Upon entering Órale, it’s impossible not to notice the mural painted along one of the walls. It depicts the Virgin Mary, but it’s also covered with graffiti of Spanish phrases that are clearly inspired by street style. There are also echoes of graffiti elsewhere: The word “ÓRALE” is layered on the back wall of the restaurant, drawing attention to the meaning of the restaurant’s name. There is also a visually arresting wall of backlit Jarritos bottles. Overall, Órale deftly merged traditional elements of Mexican art with contemporary parts of Mexican culture.
The food was just as arresting as the restaurant’s decorations.
Between three of us, we ended up ordering the works: appetizers, drinks, mains, and dessert.
I started off with the guacamole de la casa, and, if you don’t fall on the wrong side of the cilantro debate, I’d encourage you to do the same. The guacamole was served with chips that were pretty much perfect: Hot, not too oily, and small enough to require only one dip in the guacamole. The avocado was fresh and very creamy—nature’s butter indeed—which nicely balanced the spicy bite of the jalapenos. The subtle note of lime tied the whole thing together nicely. I wouldn’t have complained if there was a bit more guac, since there was just enough for the little bucket of chips.
Before the main dishes came out, my table ordered a round of drinks. Órale boasts a wide selection of both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. Apart from the usual wines, Mexican beers, and sangrias, there were also several specialty cocktails, classic margaritas, and house-made sodas. I had a grapefruit Jarritos, a common Mexican agua fresca, and my friend had a michelada—a beer with Cholula and lime juice served in a salt-rimmed glass. The michelada has a strong, spicy aftertaste that’s not thirst-quenching as much as it is bold. Although it’s definitely not for everyone, it’s worth trying once, especially for those looking for an authentic Mexican experience.
The appetizers and drinks were great, and the main also followed suit. I had the Tortada Pollo y Mole, a sandwich with ciabatta bread, shredded chicken, and a black bean spread, among other ingredients. The bread was notably soft and warm, lightly dusted with flour and not so thick that it smothered the chicken. The shredded chicken was cooked well, but the black bean spread was truly the standout element of this main. A healthy coating of the paste covered the bottom slice of bread, and the beans were only slightly mashed, giving the spread a chunkiness that paired well with the chicken.
The sandwich came with mole, a thick sauce that was slightly nutty and very full. I’m usually not a fan of anything with nuts, but this mole really won me over. It brought out the spices of the chicken and complemented the rest of the sandwich’s ingredients. Overall, it was a great use of a traditional garnish, especially in the more modern format of a sandwich. In fact, the mole was so good that my friend stole some of it for his tacos. An eye for an eye, and a michelada for some mole, I guess.
In a YOLO moment that our wallets could barely handle, we ordered dessert. The three of us split a piece of tres leches cake, which is a cake that’s so heavily saturated with milk that the milk leaks out when you dig into it. The cake’s accessories—a bit of strawberry sauce, a dollop of thick whipped cream, and some strawberries fanning out from the cake—added a freshness that made an otherwise dense cake a good palate-cleanser, which is just what we needed after the evening’s expansive range of flavors.
Ultimately, Órale’s vibe is perfect for students, although its prices mean that it’s probably not somewhere that students can frequent. The restaurant’s atmosphere is casual but energetic, with enough background noise to be comfortable without feeling like you’re out clubbing. The food is absolutely delicious, and Órale does an excellent job fusing traditional with modern elements in both its décor and cuisine.
Órale Mexican Kitchen is located at 768 Amsterdam Ave., between 97th and 98th streets.