La Vida Buena at Tacuba Mexican Cantina in Astoria

When my good pals over at We Heart Astoria broke the news this past spring that Chef Julian Medina had plans to open a restaurant in Astoria, I could barely contain my excitement.  I would recommend Medina’s Yerba Buena Perry and his beautiful, low-key Mexican diner, Coppeila, to anyone out in Manhattan.  And I’m about the only person in New York who hasn’t been to Toloache – though I’ve heard only raves.

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Last night I stopped into Chef Madina’s latest creation, Tacuba Mexican Cantina in Astoria (in the former 5 Napkin space on 36th Avenue) for their grand opening, and had an outstanding time. Below are my first impressions, but I will surely return to delve more into their menu in the weeks and months ahead.

Pulpo, Pulpo, Pulpo

I’d like to start a petition to make octopus the official dish of Astoria, and it is not to be missed in a variety of recipes at Tacuba. Charred, ceviche style, or how I most enjoyed it, in an awesome Pulpo taco mixed with chorizo, Mexican cheese and pickled red onions ($11).

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The Nachos Tacuba – a not so great photo of a great dish

Try Everything, even the Grasshopper

Other favorite dishes included the Nachos Tacuba with black beans ($10), The Elote, charred corn, slathered in mayo, cotija cheese, and tajin seasoning ($5) and the creamy, refreshing tostadas de ceviche with shrimp ($11). I dropped about six unsubtle hints that I hoped to try the tacos Chapulin, featuring Oaxacan grasshoppers, but my girlfriend wasn’t biting. Literally. I’ll be back for that one another time.

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These guys are F-ing awesome

The Vibe

Any architectural hearkening to the old 5 Napkin space was jettisoned as Tacuba filled up to the rafters with excited Astorians last night. Two colossal Día de Muertos calacas hover over the space, their bony bodies and tremendous skulls daring diners not to be swept up in the new vibe of the place. A beautifully refurbished bar stocked with all manner of Tequilas and Mezcales completes the transformation.

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Drink a lot of Micheladas at Tacuba like I did!

The Service and the booze, perfect together

For a thronging opening night, service at the bar was impeccable: attentive, friendly and remarkably fast. Folks who know me know well that given the choice between a table and a bar, I’ll always choose the bar. In this case I am extra glad I did, as it gave me a firsthand look at the dedication of the staff and the making of some remarkable beverages. Personally, I slugged down three Micheladas (your choice of beer, $8) and we tried an extra boozy (in a good way) Chef’s Margarita with Herradura Double Barrel Reposado, agavero, and lime ($15). Every drink that was created looked more beautiful than the next, and I can’t wait to return and try them all.

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