First Impressions: Los Americanos

Macao Trading Co. feels like a soundstage where an adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham or Graham Greene novel is being shot. Los Americanos, Macao’s new half-sibling two doors to the north south—in what was most recently Pane Panelle—has made a similar commitment to interior design, although it seems more likely to be the set for a Spanish-language version of the sitcom “Alice.” All the kitsch (aggressive colors, thrift-shop finds, wood paneling, rec-room light fixtures) and diner motifs (Formica tables, linoleum floor, pinkish polyester napkins) speak less of Latin America, to me, than to the 80s and early 90s, when you scavenged thrift shops for cool shit—er, “come ups”—and your favorite band was from Athens, Ga.

Of course, the other place that Los Americanos brings to mind is Super Linda. The two restaurants certainly share a lot in common—not just the Latin focus, but the cultural-frappé decor, the blinds in the windows, and the takeout nook at the northern end. Los Americanos pushes the aesthetic somewhere grittier; I’d be tempted to call it Sorta Linda but that implies that Super Linda is more successful, which is not what I mean. They’re different sides of the same peso: I think Super Linda wants to be a South American Indochine, while Los Americanos recalls somewhere less flashy. I’ve spent the past few days trying to think of the right bygone restaurant to compare Los Americanos to—and I finally landed on Marion’s Continental, with a dash of Benny’s Burritos.

I’ve overthought it, but that’s what I do when I sit alone at a bar. I first went to Los Americanos on the evening it opened, and I had a nice time drinking my delicious Under the Volcano (left; mezcal, jalapeño/rosemary, aromatic bitters, fresh lime, sal de gusano), chatting a bit with Moses the mohawked bartender and hoping I wouldn’t regret a cocktail named after a book about an alcoholic writer. The spirits are Latin-focused (rum, tequila, mezcal, pisco, cachaça), and the cocktail menu features 18 new inventions as well as the classics you’d expect—margaritas, mojitos, daiquiris, caipirinhas, pisco sours. The bartenders will make a gin and tonic if that’s what you crave, but they draw the line at cranberry juice. (“I muddled some raspberries for someone who wanted a cranberry and soda,” said Moses.) The drink menu is ambitious in the contemporary way—infusions, herb syrups, funky bitters, et al, with the most eye-popping ingredient being coca leaf tea, available in cocktails or not. The beers are all from Latin America, which is one thing, but so are the wines.

On Sunday, I went back for dinner, and the place was busy. The menu draws from all over Latin America. I ordered a pupusa, or Salvadoran griddle cake, with beans and cheese; the chile relleno, filled with quinoa; and a salad of avocado and an edible flower called loroco. They were out of loroco, however, so I substituted the shrimp ceviche. And I decided to try the Sandinista cocktail, made with rum, almond/coconut, pineapple, lime.

I found the Sandinista undrinkable, a word I may have never uttered in my life—I’ll attribute my reaction to the almond, although the blanket of coconut flakes didn’t help—but the pupusa and chile relleno (right) were tasty. As for the ceviche, let’s just say there’s no room for doubt when it comes to ceviche; once the spell is broken, it’s over. So I ordered the guacamole, which comes with decadently greasy plantain chips. It was too much food, but I suspect the menu will trend Mexican in coming years, so I wanted to try the guacamole. The outdoor seating—when the season arrives—will be a lovely place to sip and dip, especially now that Centrico is gone.

The crowd was a mix of old, young, black, white, Hispanic, straight, and gay. The vibe likely gets friskier as the night goes on, for Los Americanos is open till 4 a.m. It could turn into a really fun spot, unpretentious and cool, and that casualness—that looseness—is welcome in a neighborhood growing stiffer by the day. I do hope, however, that Los Americanos remembers that patrons who haven’t been drinking for hours will be much less forgiving of ambivalent service.

Lunch should start any day, followed by breakfast and brunch. The takeout window will sell empanadas, coffee, and pastries.

Los Americanos is at 305 Church (at Walker), 212-680-0101;

Los Americanos facadeLos Americanos banquette cornerLos Americanos roomLos Americanos bar shelvesLos Americanos from side roomLos Americanos SandinistaLos Americanos pupusaLos Americanos guacamoleRecent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
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  1. Adam, how was the guacamole?

  2. @Sheila: Adam was out of town, alas. The guacamole was very good. It was the chunky, unblended kind—like a pico de gallo with hunks of avocado.

  3. I thought that the food was really good and the service was as well. We had empanadas, tacos, an arepa and the Argentinian steak sandwich. I think it’s a great addition to the ‘hood.

    (note – I have no affiliation with the place- completely objective)

  4. OOPS Erik, dont know where that came from..and that sounds like the good kind of guacamole

  5. Had dinner there this evening. Everything we ordered (tacos, guac, Peruvian fish ceviche, and pork + fish entrees) was very good. Great service, reasonable prices, so def a welcome addition to the neighborhood – owner also lives in TriBeCa.

  6. Can’t wait to try it. The comparison to Marion’s pushed me over the edge!

  7. “Macao’s new half-sibling two doors to the north”…wouldn’t that be to the south?

  8. @Robert: Indeed, thanks. I have a weird tendency to say the opposite of what I mean.

  9. Can someone explain to me why the “community” was in such an uproar against a high-end restaurant by the chef of Pujol, one of the best and most inventive restaurants in the whole world, yet embraces this more-of-the-same with a huge bar???

    It just makes no sense that greatness is fought while mediocrity is embraced. Well, I guess it does in the Tribeca of today.

  10. @Suzanne: The opposition to the restaurant on N. Moore had nothing to do with the food and everything to do with it being a residential building on a mostly residential block. Los Americanos, in contrast, has far fewer residential neighbors (and the space above is commercial).