The Fiesta’s in the Family

Nothing warms the soul on a chilly February evening like authentic Mexican cuisine, and El Maguey y La Tuna offers diners an especially spicy, tasty respite in these cold times. Named after two desert plants, the agave (known for its use in the production of sweeteners and tequila) and prickly pear (an edible, fruity cactus), El Maguey Y La Tuna has nothing to do with fish and everything to do with the Mexican desert—a world more bountiful than most would imagine.

Portrait of an Agave Plant on the restaurant's wall

Portrait of an Agave Plant on the restaurant’s wall

Located along East Houston, this father-daughter run restaurant has brought an authentic Mexican experience to Manhattan’s Lower East Side for over a decade. Leonides Cortez and his daughter Maria truly know the meaning of a good family meal, and it shows in their cooking, which consists of family recipes handed down through the generations.

Our first course was the cactus salad, a light, fresh palette cleanser with an exceptional cilantro dressing. Zesty and flavorful, I actually asked our server to let me keep it around for the rest of the meal. The cactus came with a firm yet juicy texture that added a refreshing sweetness to the salad.

Cactus Salad with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion. CIlantro dressing not pictured.

Cactus Salad with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion. CIlantro dressing not pictured.

The pancita came for our second course and it was by far one of the most interesting things I’d ever tried—a spicy chili pepper soup with chunks of beef tongue. Our server let us know that pancita is a popular hangover remedy in Mexico and after having a spoonful, I knew exactly what he meant. Between the fiery broth and sinewy, savory beef tongue, the soup made for an intense experience, leaving me alert and awake for the duration of my meal.

Pancita with Cilantro

Pancita with Cilantro

I tried the Enchilada al Maguey for my first entrée and it was easily the highlight of the meal for me. The morsels of tender chicken inside the pleasantly firm and sturdy tortillas were cooked and seasoned flawlessly. Simmered and marinated in one of the restaurant’s specialty mole sauces, I can honestly give it the distinction of the tastiest enchilada I have ever tasted. It’s going to be really hard for me to stomach any Tex-Mex attempts at enchiladas from now on.

Enchiladas Al Maguey

Enchiladas Al Maguey

El Maguey Y La Tuna prides itself on its homemade mole sauces, which are also handmade without the use of a blender or a food processer—something unheard of outside of Mexico. Most Mexican restaurants either import their sauces or take the easy way out with technology. Crafted by the hands of mother and sous-chef, Manuela Cortez, each mole sauce added something extraordinary to the restaurant’s main courses.

The Mole Verde Pork and Chile Relleno in Five Chile Mole proved that El Maguey Y La Tuna deserves the distinction of International House of Mole, a title our server told us the restaurant is in the process of attaining! My bite of boneless pork melted in my mouth, though not before leaving a pleasantly peppery impression from the surrounding mole verde.  The Cortez family has truly mastered the art of crafting these mole sauces as well as pairing them with dishes.

Pork in Mole Verde

Pork in Mole Verde

Another favorite of mine, the Chile Relleno offered another authentic Mexican treat! A roasted chili pepper coated in a light batter and stuffed with fried cheese, El Maguey Y La Tuna’s version comes in a crimson mole sauce made from five different chili peppers. The mild, creamy cheese and red-hot sauce complimented each other well, making for a complex and yummy vegetarian dish.

Chile Relleno with Seven-Chilli Pepper Mole

Chile Relleno with Five-Chilli Pepper Mole

After some decidedly spicy offerings, the restaurant demonstrated an equally satisfying command over sweetness with dessert. I sampled the Mexican Hot Chocolate and Banana Pinata, a fried empanada stuffed with ripe bananas and served with ice cream. El Maguey Y La Tuna uses these adorable mugs for its hot beverages and the rich, dark chocolate made me feel like an Aztec King. Warm and crunchy on the outside but chilled and fruity on the inside, the Banana Pinata rounded out the meal in a big way. El Maguey Y La Tuna really adds an ‘s’ to the desert!

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Banana Piñata with Ice Cream

Banana Piñata with Ice Cream

Cozy and colorful, El Maguey Y La Tuna conjures the very essence of a pueblo village. Adorned with terra cotta floors and plates and all manner of desert imagery, one really feels like they have left Manhattan after sitting inside. El Maguey Y La Tuna also offers a wide selection of Mexican beers, wines, margaritas, and other specialty drinks. The Jalapeno Margarita and Maria’s Red Sangria are some customer favorites!

Fresh Cantaloupe Margarita

Fresh Cantaloupe Margarita

The experience is both casual and intimate, a popular dining spot for both families and couples. If you’re looking for some tried and true Mexican cuisine and you want the real deal, then El Maguey Y La Tuna is a budget and family friendly hot spot!

El Maguey Y La Tuna

Address: 321 East Houston Street Between Avenue B and Attorney Street

Phone: (212) 473 3919


Lunch from 10:30 AM to 4:00 PM

Dinner from 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM

6 Awful Foods You Should [Not] Feed To Your Ex

Happy February 15th!  Or, as I like to call it, “The Post Valentine’s Heartbreak!” I’d like to take the time to let you know that I’m still one of you! I might have a food blog and a wonderful, glamorous life, but dating and dining are two very different things in New York. I’ve had my share of horrible breakups and lonely evenings and Valentine’s Day just brings out so many unfortunate feelings… So today, I’m mixing things up!

Happy Valentine's! Nothing says you're single like a paper bouquet.

Happy Valentine’s! Nothing says you’re single like a paper bouquet.

WARNING: THINGS GET ICKY STARTING HERE. If you just want to look at the cute card I made and not read about disgusting foods, you are free to leave now. 

Sure, we’ve all agonized for hours over putting together the perfect, romantic dinner for a loved one, but what about planning a meal for someone you just can’t stand anymore? Food is such a labor of love. Naturally, its use can be corrupted for one’s personal satisfaction and enjoyment at the expense of others.

Just send one of these foods to that special someone and you’re likely to never hear from them again!

SECOND WARNING/ DISCLAIMER: Food For Ott does not endorse the purchase of any of these foods, especially when utilized in the execution of some scornful revenge scheme. Food For Ott is not liable for any damages, injuries, or emotional trauma caused from following any of the ideas in this article.  I have never eaten any of these foods and after researching them probably never will, and would NEVER force their consumption on anybody.

1. The Durian


The Durian is literally a spiky, smelly tropical fruit grenade. Connoisseurs (including some of my relatives) will try to delude you into thinking it tastes like a nutty, creamy custard, but I can assure you I have had no such experience with it. Some nations have actually banned the durian from public transportation—it’s that bad.  Personally, I liken the stench to spoiled cream cheese with a hint of overripe meat jelly—a tamer description compared to other accounts. With a hard, thorny carapace, cutting the durian both feels and smells like murdering an armadillo. It’s a gift that tells someone “You stink!” or “You deserve to stink!”


2. Lamprey Pie

Lamprey Pie

If you’re a fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Book series or its television adaptation Game of Thrones, then you’ve probably heard of lamprey pie which was considered a delicacy in medieval and early times.  King Henry I is believed to have died from Lamprey related food poisoning–the pie was his personal favorite. Warm and flaky on the outside, but spicy and juicy on the inside, lamprey pie oozes class.  All very nice until you consider that the lamprey is something that looks like it should not be put anywhere near a person’s mouth let alone a pie.

Apparently it's not so bad after your remove the head... Sounds like a monster to me!

Apparently it’s not so bad after your remove the head… Sounds like a monster to me!

The sea lamprey is an organism that resembles an eel in several ways except for its rough suckling mouth full of sharp, hideous teeth which both look like they belong to an alien monstrosity.  Seasoned parasites, lamprey make their living by latching onto unsuspecting fish and slurping their blood and other bodily fluids out. Turns out all those juices are what help give lamprey pie filling its gelatinous consistency… Yum! By pie or pond, the lamprey is a threat to most creatures. It has actually devastated the Great Lakes as an invasive alien species that preys on larger, more popular fish. Send a lovely lamprey pie to your ex and let them know exactly what a bloodsucking parasite they really are.

3. Gorgona Wine

Gorgona Wine

This delicious white wine comes with a red-handed twist! Gorgona Wine is special–not only because it’s expensive and it’s from Italy, but also because it’s been expertly crafted by some of Italy’s most notorious murderers and criminals.  When getting someone a gift, it’s the thought that counts, right? I can’t think of a more spiteful thought than gifting someone the best Italy’s penitentiary system has to offer. Reputations aside, Gorgona is apparently a light, delicious pleasure.  Leave it to a maximum security prison to export the finest luxury products this side of the Mediterranean! I hear the prison also does cheese.

This wine will transport you to an island paradise with a sapphire blue vista, fragrant, fruit-filled orchards, alabaster sand beaches, and BARS. METAL BARS!

This dreamy, effervescent white wine will transport you to an island paradise with a sapphire blue vista, fragrant, fruit-filled orchards, alabaster sand beaches, and BARS. COLD METAL BARS THAT WILL HOLD YOU FOREVER! THERE’S NO ESCAPE!

Think of all the good that could’ve been done if Martha Stewart had served her prison sentence on this island. Be sure to gift a bottle of Gorgona to an ex you think deserves to drink something delicate that was also probably prepared by murderers.

4. Hákarl (Greenland Shark) 


This traditional Icelandic dish of decayed, fermented shark meat confers strength and vigor upon those who eat it because it’s actually horrific in every sense of the word. The Greenland shark that composes the “delicacy” is too toxic to eat fresh, so it is left to ferment in gravel and sand until it reeks of ammonia. It won’t kill you, but you’ll wish it did. Rumor has it that not even Gordon Ramsey can stomach this treat.  It’s the stuff of Anthony Bourdain’s nightmares. Ever seen the cult classic Sharknado? Well, Hákarl is like the aftermath of that movie: rotting chunks of butchered shark. It comes in two variants for you to gift your ex: chewy or soft and both of them say “You’re bad—like Sharknado bad!”



5. Huitlacoche (Cornsmut) 


Dubbed “The Mexican Truffle” Huitalacoche is a pathogenic fungus known to grow on corn crops. Spores infect the kernels of the corn, bloating into grey and black tumors that burst through the plant. Despite a gruesome appearance and origin, Huitlacoche is prized for a strong, earthy flavor and a wealth of nutrients that regular corn could never provide. Still, it has yet to find a thriving market in America and thousands of farmers work to eradicate the fungus from their crops. I understand that appearances can be deceiving, but I am still hesitant to eat something that looks like it could be one of the Infected from The Last Of Us.

And you thought regular smut was a dirty indulgence!

And you thought regular smut was a dirty indulgence!

Words commonly used to describe the experience of dining on this treat include  gunky, muddy, sooty, tarry, funky, pungent, and musky. Did I mention that you can also get it in a can? Have some delivered to an ex that could use a little black in their teeth and be sure to tell them about the essential amino acids it carries–they’ll need those to live a long and healthy life without you. Huitalacoche will send your ex the message, “You might be good for me, but you’re also like really nasty!”

6. Fugu (Blowfish) Sashimi


Doesn’t love bring out a magical, tingly feeling in you? Well, so does the flesh of the Fugu right before it kills you! A popular delicacy in Japan, the potent neurotoxins of the deadly Fugu Fish are only about a thousand times more deadly than cyanide (an honorable if not too obvious mention for this list). Specially trained chefs expertly remove the venomous liver, ovaries, and intestines among other organs before serving. Becoming a licensed preparer of Fugu requires years of apprenticing, an intensive written exam, and a hands-on final test where the prospective chef must eat their own potentially poisonous cooking. Even after the bad bits are extracted, many diners report an odd numbing sensation on their lips from residual poison–a worthwhile risk when one considers how bland the overall fish apparently tastes. It’s mostly the thrill of one gram of poison being enough to kill 500 people and no known antidote that seems to keep people interested. Just remember, feeding someone Fugu is the perfect way to let them know that you’re totally ok with whatever happens to them no matter how horrible it might turn out. There’s only a small chance that it will kill you… because you’re worth it 🙂


He’s smiling because if he makes a mistake, you probably won’t be able to yell at him…

Honorable mentions included the Jamaican Ackee Fruit which induces hypoglycemia, dehydration, and severe vomiting, Haribo’s Sugarless Gummy Bears, and anything that Paula Deen made ever purely based on nutritional concerns.

Have a Happy Post-Valentine’s Day! And be sure to treat yourself to something nice when you’re not planning your revenge. Really the best vengeance of all is a life well-lived.

You Jamaica me sick!

You Jamaica me sick!

 When questioned about the health of her foods as well as her recent scandals, Paula Deen melted into a pool of butter and escaped down a storm drain.


Yuji Ramen: The Little Test Kitchen That Could

A Little Rant

Ramen, like sushi, is a Japanese dish that has nestled itself into America’s eating consciousness, though this isn’t always a positive thing. Ask a typical American college student what they think of ramen and you might get a groan or a chuckle and maybe a story about “that one week I couldn’t leave my dorm” or an anecdote about the dangers of a high sodium diet. Like several actors’ careers (I’m looking at you Adam Sandler), ramen appears to get by due to its ease of preparation, availability, and overall infamy–people are willing to overlook just how cheap and terrible for their life it might because it’s a familiar, reliable poison. However, I digress. Most of these grievances are reserved for the microwave and instant variants of ramen. Put simply, there is good, gourmet ramen out there, just not at most grocery stores. . . Whole Foods on the Bowery, however, is a game changer!

Revolutionary Ramen

Located in the form of a counter on the second floor of an ordinary-looking Whole Foods, Yuji Ramen is an extraordinary eatery that takes one’s assumptions about ramen and flambes them into sweet, delicious oblivion. Starting off as a Smorgasburg vendor then a Whole Foods-sponsored pop up shop, Yuji’s popularity has earned it a permanent placement upstairs and a large, loyal following. After eating countless bowl upon bowl of noodle-filled Nirvana, I have to say this positive reception is completely deserved.

Most people might doubt that a ramen-based restaurant could succeed in catering to different clients and tastes, but Yuji offers customers two radically different types of ramen.

The “Daily Shoyu” is your typical meat broth-based ramen but comes with the added twist of being different just about every day. Using fresh cuts of meat from the Whole Foods butcher, Yuji ensures a uniquely delicious experience every day of the week. From blue fish to tuna to mussels to pork to turkey, the shoyu is a favorite for carnivores and a delight on a cold winter day.

Daily Shoyu with Blue and Lamb

Daily Shoyu with Bluefish and Lamb

The second type of ramen is the “mazeman” a newer variant that is made without broth and cooked by an open flame. Using a profusion of savory oils, fresh ingredients that alternate between crunchy and gooey, and perfectly firm and textured noodles, Yuji’s mazeman is a refined kind of ramen that one might liken to an al-dente pasta dish. Instead of your standard pork or chicken, Yuji brings customers original and dazzling concoctions like Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg with Kale or Salmon and Cheese. Spicy Tuna and Uni Miso (Sea Urchin) also have their own mazeman on the menu. For vegetarians, there’s also a Miso Roasted Vegetable mazeman, though I admit I have never sampled it because of my love for the meat and seafood selections.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

At roughly $9 a pop, Yuji’s prices are reasonable for an up and coming business, and certainly for the quality of the ramen you get. I typically find that one Shoyu leaves me stuffed. However, when it comes to the mazeman, I usually try to make room for two–they’re just THAT yummy. For $12 you can get the combo with cold barley tea and pickled vegetables on the side. Starting this year, Yuji is offering a small selection of desserts.  Additionally, every month, Yuji offers a full seven-course Omakase (Chef’s Choice) Dinner. I plan on sampling it and presenting my findings later this year.

If you like creamy things, meat or fish, or noodles of any kind, then I highly recommend you give Yuji a visit soon–you’ll probably run into me sometime!

Yuji Ramen

Address: 95 E. Houston Street, 2nd floor. 

Phone Number: 212-420-1320, extension. 281


Open all week from 11 AM to 9:30 PM.

Artistic Rendering of Yuji's Mazeman Selection

Artistic Rendering of Yuji’s Mazeman Selection