What to Eat at Lalo, Gerardo Gonzalez’s Mex-American Follow-up to El Rey

Carnitas with corn nuts, white sauce, and housemade flour tortillas. Photo: Melissa Hom

Gerardo Gonzalez is playing with scale at Lalo, the “New Age ’70s Mexican diner” he opens for dinner this Thursday in Chinatown — and that’s not just referring to seating capacity (47, versus the 15 bar stools that occupied his former home, El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette). The menu caters to variously sized appetites (and parties) with dishes that range from a nearly four-ounce dry-aged strip “baby steak” to corn-nut-strewn carnitas portioned for “single,” “lovers,” and “familia.” The chef hopes to escape the tyranny of traditional dining with a mix-and-match, choose-your-own-adventure format. “I’m not a fan of coursed-out meals,” he says. “I think they can be a little boring.”

The same cannot be said of Lalo’s flavor profile: a Mex-American core seasoned with accents from Japan, the Middle East, and even the Ashkenazi-Jewish tradition (see the toasted-kasha salad with caramelized-onion agrodolce and the smoked sable in the coconut clam chowder). But there’s also a very contemporary vegan Caesar with nutritional yeast and seaweed; cannellini transformed into black-bean dip with squid ink and black garlic; and, courtesy of pastry chef Lexie Smith, sweets like braised pumpkin with candied panko and queso fresco.

A luncheonette vibe and a full bar. Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Lalo (Gonzalez’s own nickname, the diminutive of Gerardo) also has a full liquor license, and the bar follows the kitchen’s border-crossing lead: The wine list coins a whimsical new appellation, Calispanya, juxtaposing Old and New World approaches, and cocktails incorporate trendy-healthy ingredients like aquafaba and whey. Gonzalez has a soft spot for the vanishing New York lunch counter, and his eclectic daytime menu pays homage with corned-pork Reubanos, a doner kebab–al pastor mash-up, and a $15 lunch combo.

Check out their menu for dinner, dessert, and beverages.

The façade is a neighborhood landmark. Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev
Chamoy char siu ribs: Chinese-barbecue-inspired baby backs flavored with a Mexican sour-plum sauce with links to Japanese umeboshi. Photo: Melissa Hom
The “Brown Goddess” cucumber salad, with brown-mole vinaigrette, mint, and candied peanuts. Photo: Melissa Hom
Coconut clam chowder with smoked sable and brioche with avocado taramasalata. Photo: Melissa Hom
Sweet braised pumpkin with candied panko and queso fresco. Photo: Melissa Hom
Masienda champurrado: hot-chocolate pudding with heirloom masa and tonka-bean marshmallow. Photo: Melissa Hom
The Coming Soon cocktail: rum, coconut, pineapple, and dragon fruit. Photo: Melissa Hom
The Sumac Sour combines sumac bourbon, lemon, and aquafaba (otherwise known as chickpea-soaking water). Photo: Melissa Hom

104 Bayard St., nr. Baxter St.; 646-998-3408

*A version of this article appears in the November 14, 2016, issue of New York Magazine.

What to Eat at Lalo, Gerardo Gonzalez’s Follow-up to El Rey