If you’ve ever wandered around one of the fancy downtown neighborhoods - Noho, the West Village, Tribeca - in the middle of a weekday, you may find yourself asking one very particular question.
Who are all these people out to lunch on a Tuesday?
Sure, you’ll see Soho business types doing lunches at Balthazar and Lure Fishbar, but we’re talking about a different breed: the people at The Smile and Joseph Leonard, the ones wearing skinny jeans and expensive sneakers. If it’s a Friday afternoon, they might even be drinking white wine. There are sunglasses on the table.
Beyond assuming the word “consultant” is somehow involved, we can’t tell you exactly what it is these people do for a living. But we can tell you that they have convened at their quarterly meeting and decided on a new hangout. That place is Atla.
Atla is a casual Mexican restaurant on Lafayette, run by the well-known chef who also owns Cosme, an excellent restaurant and Place The Obamas Once Ate. It’s a small, skinny place, in the ground floor of a high-end condo building, with big windows, muted colors, and a few green plants scattered around. Like Cosme, it’s cool and simple-looking, but the menus at the two restaurants are very different. Where Cosme does an uni tostada with bone marrow salsa, duck carnitas, and corn tempura softshell crab, Atla does enchiladas and chilaquiles. So don’t come in here thinking this will be “casual Cosme.”
Also don’t expect that the food will be as good as Cosme’s. At Atla, a few things are great, and most others are simply pleasant. The greats include a crispy fish milanese served with a tangy cucumber sauce, the pambazo sandwich which is mostly bread soaked in chorizo juice, and surprisingly, the avocado toast. The pleasants include an avocado stuffed with arctic char and a guacamole dish that comes with one massive chip. There are also a few things you can pretty much skip: an arctic char tostada that seems like some kind of riff on a bagel and cream cheese, a forgettable quinoa salad, and a coconut yogurt that feels more like a dessert.
On multiple visits, we’ve left Atla unsure of whether we love this place or not. A few dishes are really good, but not on the level that you’re thinking about them days later. We’ve been back at every time of day, and have found when you come makes a big impact. It’s nice at breakfast, but you’ll be missing out on most of the best dishes. Dinner, inconveniently, is our least favorite time to be at Atla - it can feel small and tight in here during peak times. It’s best at weekday lunch, when the light shines in and makes the place super bright, and when you can order the huevos rancheros as well as the whole dinner menu. And yes, we became the kind of people who skip out of work at lunchtime to figure this out.
Someone at our table described this as “the most orderly piece of fried fish” in existence. It’s a simple dish, served with a side of tangy cucumber dressing. It’s one of the best things here.
If it surprises you to hear that the avocado toast with goat cheese is one of the best things you can eat at this restaurant, know that it surprised us too.
A chorizo sandwich that’s mostly chorizo-soaked bread. This is excellent, and you should add avocado to it.
Perfectly solid, but not life-changing chicken enchiladas. You can get them with green sauce, red sauce, or both. We prefer the green.
The guacamole here comes with one huge chip, and that’s the most notable thing about it. It won’t disappoint, but the toast is better.
The arctic char comes on top of a tostada coated in what we think is goat cheese, in what feels sort of like a riff on a bagel and cream cheese. It’s not great.
If you’re interested in arctic char, go this way instead. Here, it comes stuffed into an avocado with a spicy sauce. Not amazing, but very pleasant.
A kind of boring quinoa salad. There’s no reason to eat this here.
The best thing on the breakfast menu, and they’re available until 4pm.
Pretty good, but remember this a plate of chips covered in sauce. Get them to share, but you probably won’t want a whole order to yourself.
This cup of very thick yogurt seems to be a popular breakfast item, but it feels more like a take-it-or-leave-it dessert. You can pass.