New Kid on the Block: Pelea Mexicana

Jeremy Casilli (above) was owner of Trigo and Bar Artisanal—both its French and Spanish incarnations—but he stayed in the background. “This is the first time I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting involved,” he says. “I’m only back in the restaurant business as of three months ago.” Before getting into real-estate development, Casilli opened Empire Ballroom in Las Vegas; Booster Juice, a Canadian take on Jamba Juice; and Lobby, an event space on W. 38th St.—and around 2000, he was the food-and-beverage director at the Soho Grand and Tribeca Grand. (And he has a consulting company, Casilli Consultants.)

Casilli says the Spanish revamp of Bar Artisanal was “taking off,” but he and Terrance Brennan mutually agreed to go a different direction. That direction is south of the border: The new restaurant, which Casilli insists is a fresh start, is Pelea Mexicana. “Everything we did before, the area thought was too contrived. Well what could be more about fun—and less contrived—than Mexican?”

Chef Richard Caruso is an alum of Rosa Mexicana and Hill Country, so “he knows smoking and braising meat,” says Casilli. “Some dishes are straight off the streets of Mexico—with his twist, of course.” There’s counter seating where patrons can watch masa tortillas and guacamole being made, and queso fondido is prepared in the woodburning oven. “We have the same corn as at Café Habana, but it’s off the cob—that way you don’t have to worry about getting corn stuck in your teeth.”

Besides frozen margaritas and sangria, Pelea has a 100-bottle “tequila library.” You can buy a flight of tequila, tasting the blanco, reposado, and añejo versions of a given tequila. (You can also start a locker to keep a bottle.) If you’re in more of a Brazilian state of mind, there’s an eight-seat bar called Cachaçaria Boteco next door. It’ll serve caipirinhas, cachaça, and Brazilian beer.

Cachaçaria Boteco

“The point is to have a good time,” says Casilli. “And people have been enjoying themselves. In fact, it’s been hard to get people to leave!” Of course, it’s also been tough to get people to come, or Trigo would still exist. Casilli acknowledges that the location is strangely isolated, and he plans a big PR push. What will also help are the happy-hour specials (5–7 p.m.): $15 all-you-can-eat tacos, $4 appetizers, $8 frozen margaritas, $4 draft beer. “Last Friday, every seat was taken. And we got a lot of people with small kids.”

The room has been warmed up and filled out with green loveseats along one wall, big flower arrangements, more lights at the bar, and Latin American art.

While Pelea Mexicana is also serving breakfast for guests of the Hilton Garden Inn (the restaurant and the hotel share the building), Casilli has no plans to offer lunch. Brunch, however, will be served as of Saturday, Nov. 6; delivery should be available sometime next week. Come spring, when the weather turns more margarita-friendly, he’s planning to have around 50 seats outside on Sixth Ave.

Pelea Mexicana is at 33 Sixth Ave. (at W. Broadway); 212-925-1600,

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