I ate at New York City's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant. For $57, the food will blow you away.
I recently ate at Casa Enrique, New York City's most affordable Michelin-starred restaurant.
The appetizer, entree, and dessert were phenomenal. But I don't see myself returning any time soon.
Instead, I plan to save it for special occasions, like treating my friends or impressing my family.
Casa Enrique, a Mexican restaurant in Queens, is New York City's most affordable Michelin-starred restaurant.
Opened in 2012 under the leadership of chef Cosme Aguilar, Casa Enrique is a Mexican restaurant inspired by Aguilar's upbringing in Chiapas, the country's southernmost state.
Located in Long Island City, Queens, the eatery looks more like a quaint, unassuming cottage than a renowned restaurant. But nearly every year since 2015, Casa Enrique has been honored by the prestigious Michelin guide, placing it among the highest-rated restaurants in New York City.
Unique to Casa Enrique, however, is its price point: According to a search through the Michelin guide, it's the most affordable restaurant in the city to boast a star. While there are 55 restaurants with one Michelin star, only Casa Enrique has a "$$" — or "a moderate spend" — designation, making it perfect for a reporter on a budget.
I made the journey to Queens to see what the hype is about.
Allow me to preface this by saying I am not a food critic. Like anyone, I enjoy a nice meal out, but am equally contented by a quesadilla at home and am known to partake in a Taco Bell feast after a drink or two (or three).
But as a self-proclaimed foodie and someone who had never been to a Michelin-starred restaurant — or Queens, for that matter — I wanted to get a taste of Casa Enrique's renowned food for myself.
Because of the restaurant's distinction as a "moderate spend," I figured I could swing a full meal on a budget of $50. After ordering an appetizer, entree, and dessert, I came out only $7 over budget before tax and tip. Not too bad, when you consider its triple-starred counterparts, where a meal can cost $335.
Upon arrival, I was surprised by the restaurant's bland atmosphere.
On the Tuesday that I visited Casa Enrique, the only reservation left was for 9:30 p.m. Despite it being close to my bedtime, I reserved the last available table.
It was a good thing I did: When I arrived around 8:45 p.m., I was surprised to find a bustling dining room, with only a table or two open.
Even amid the hubbub, I was seated ahead of my reservation time, towards the back of the restaurant. As I sat down and took in my surroundings, I found myself underwhelmed by the no-frills environment. The tables and chairs were stark white, as were the walls, which bore few decorations. Behind me was a room with a bar, which appeared to have a bit more character.
I reminded myself that Michelin stars are awarded based on food, not interior design, and began scanning the menu.
Shortly after I was seated, a waiter dropped off a bowl of chicharrones de harina, and three types of salsa.
I am a simple woman with simple pleasures, one of which is restaurants that bring out a complimentary treat before dinner. I wasn't expecting that a Michelin-starred restaurant would offer anything for free, but to my surprise, Casa Enrique did just that.
Soon after I was seated, I was served what a waiter told me were chicharrones de harina, or little puffs of wheat flour that are a popular Mexican snack. The crispy bites came with three types of sauces: mild, medium, and hot, and left an oily sheen on my fingers as I picked them out of the bowl.
On their own, I thought the chicharrones were hardly more flavorful than the packing peanuts they reminded me of, and I was glad they were complimentary. Dipped in the sauces, though, they created a flavor and texture combination I hadn't yet experienced — and really loved.
For my appetizer, I tried the ensalada de betabel con jícama, a salad made of beets and jicama. It blew me away.
I don't mean to be hyperbolic, but when I die, I want to be buried in this salad.
I've never been a fan of jicama or beets, but for this specific night I decided to relinquish control and trust the Michelin gods. Lo and behold, upon the first bite I was met with one of the freshest and most delightful salads I've had in recent memory.
Comprised of long, thin strips of jicama (a root vegetable whose flavor profile exists somewhere between a potato and an apple) and beets, this salad packed a punch. The jicama and beets were at once crunchy and juicy, and the mint and lemon vinaigrette added a sweet zing.
The salad was topped with queso fresco and candied pumpkin seeds, bringing the whole dish together in a medley of flavors that I haven't stopped thinking about since.
My entree, Casa Enrique's rajas con crema, got better — and more surprising — with every bite.
I was swept off my feet by the rajas con crema at Casa Enrique. The dish consisted of roasted poblano peppers rolled in corn tortillas and doused in tomatillo sauce, crema fresca, queso fresco, and avocado.
I had never had anything like it, and was impressed by how many flavors were packed into the dish: It was spicy enough to keep me reaching for my water, but not hot enough to push me away. As I ate my way through the three stuffed tortillas, I caught subtle hints of sweetness that both surprised and delighted me.
The tortillas, thick and soft, combined with the creamy sauce, were the star of the show. With a bite of the onion and avocado on top, the rajas con crema were enough to bring me back to Casa Enrique alone.
Finally, for dessert, I ordered pastel tres leches.
My stomach was bordering on uncomfortably full at this point, but I am not a quitter, so it was time for the final course: dessert.
My waiter told me his favorite dessert is Casa Enrique's pastel tres leches, and — despite just having gorged myself on rajas con crema — I am not one to turn down a sweet treat. And thank the Michelin gods I didn't.
The tres leches, a spongey, decadent dessert, arrived shortly after I placed my order. Made with three kinds of milk and drizzled with a goat-milk caramel, the treat was as juicy as it can get without being mushy. While the squishy texture may not be for everyone, I thought Casa Enrique's tres leches recipe was nothing short of perfection.
In my experience, fancy restaurants can sometimes skimp on dessert, offering a teeny-tiny portion that's more aesthetically pleasing than sweet-tooth satisfying. I was pleasantly surprised by the portion at Casa Enrique: The tres leches was large enough that I had to box half of it and take it home, saving the rest to enjoy the following day.
Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Casa Enrique — but unfortunately, I can't see myself adding it to my rotation of go-to restaurants due to the price point.
Every restaurant has its purpose: Taco Bell is a boon for late-night bites (sue me, Michelin judges!), and my neighborhood Thai restaurant is the perfect Sunday night comfort food. For me, Casa Enrique is a delicious treat for special occasions, but is too expensive to justify regularly dining there.
That being said, I do see it serving a purpose in my life, like convincing my parents that I'm a high-functioning and sophisticated adult when they come to visit, or impressing potential suitors on a first date — and I can't wait to return one day.
Casa Enrique offers luxury dining that's within financial reach for more of the population than other Michelin-starred restaurants, and while the atmosphere left something to be desired, the experience is less about decor than it is about plate-cleaning meal options. For me, Casa Enrique offered just that.
Location: Long Island City, Queens
Food rating: 4.5/5
Total spent: $57 before tax and tip
Best for: Solo dining; Impressing your friends, parents, or a first date
Don't miss this menu item: Ensalada de betabel con jícama
Parting thoughts: Casa Enrique is only open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday; don't try to go for a midday meal during the week.
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