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Gonzalez Y Gonzalez – For Great Mexican in NYC, Go Gonzo!

As the old agage goes, in New York City the idea is not to find the great $60 steak, but to find the great $16 dollar steak. Well did I ever find one of the best values in town for Mexican…yes, in-deedy (or should I say Holy Frijoles?)

Meet Gonzalez y Gonzalez, a corner-of-Broadway-and-Houston restaurant offering the freshest ingredients, the most inventive menu and the best bang for the buck in NYC for Mexican. (By the way, for those of you scoring at home, in NYC its pronounced “HOW-stun.”)

“We’re owned and operated by Ark Restaurant Corp., a large national company operating many restaurants nationwide, including some NYC staples like Canyon Road and Columbus Bakery” explains general manager Ana Harris eagerly. Ark also operates many casino restaurants from Foxwoods to Vegas such as NY, NY’s Gallagher’s and the Venetian’s Seaport Grill. “Because they have enormous purchasing power we benefit from their buying the freshest, high quality ingredients at low prices and can pass the savings to our guests” Harris finishes with a smile that denotes a woman proud of and loyal to her employer.

The quality shows throughout the menu. The restaurant boasts the best chorizo in town, easily rivaling such NYC staples as Blue Ribbon bakery and Rosa Mexicano. Long thin flavorful Spanish sausages are char-grilled and featured in anything from fattening cheese-filled empanadas to quesadillas.

One unique and healthier customer favorite is the Jalapeno kisses, a terrific interpretation of rellanos where fresh jalapenos are stuffed with a blend of three white cheeses and diced shrimp and wrapped in bacon before being baked and served over a healthy salad. (7.95! You pay twice that for an appetizer down the street at most West Broadway places or Midtown joints!) There are also more traditional poblano rellanos stuffed with beef as well. ($9.95)

Another healthy choice is the savory Cebiche Acapulqueno (Bueno! Bueno!) where scallops, shrimp and monkfish are prepared in lime juice and cilantro. In the same line and equally unique is the refreshingly authentic and savory Sopa Yucatan, a traditional, addictive soup of shrimp, spinach, calabazitas (don’t ask me), and coriander ($7.95). Of course there are a whole galaxy of quesadillas from cheese to meat to seafood starting at under $9.

For entrees, the two best steaks are the Chipotle Filet with a creamy mushroom sauce and the Carne Ranchero, a thick grilled skirt steak with ancho-chile sauce. Yes, there are sizzling fajitas and solid tacos, but the menu’s depth shines through with such interesting recipes like Ropa Vieja (braised beef with cactus, onions and cilantro – one of Harris’ faves) and Camarones al Rajas (shrimp in spicy veggie chile sauce). Entrees almost never exceed $20. That’s almost unheard of in NYC runaway restaurant pricing. Heck many appetizers in similar restaurants cost as much as or more than Gonzalez’s entrees.

Of course, for desert try the flan, but go easy. When it comes to fattening, flan (pronounced “flon”) is the Latin world’s rejoinder to cheesecake. Not only will you party like Anna Nicole Smith, you’ll end up with her figure too.

But many come for the festive atmosphere and salsa dancing as well. “People come to have fun too, so we have salsa bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and we offer salsa dance lessons also. We want our guests to think of us as hosting a crazy, wild Latin party every night” Harris adds with a laugh.

“Eat here once and you’ll never go back to [name of NYC chain restaurant deleted] gushed diner Alan Greenberg. “I’ve eaten Tex-Mex from 125th street to Tribeca and now I never need to go anywhere else for lunch, dinner, a date, or a wild Saturday night of raging madly if Mexican is the choice. ‘Gonzalez’ must be Spanish for ‘super food, dude.’”

Gonzo, as she is lovingly called by employees and guests alike, is located at 625 Broadway, at the northwest corner of Houston (HOW-stun!) Street. Open noon to midnight Sun-Th, noon to 4AM Fri and Sat.

Food – Six and a half stars, (all ratings out of seven). I’ve never had a bad meal here. The menu is so varied you can eat for a month and not order the same thing twice. The recipes are unique in the NYC scene, plus the ingredients are fresh and top-quality.

Décor – Four and a half stars – How can you miss the place? From the redonkyulously oversized neon-trimmed sombrero blaring away like a drunk mariachi band out front to the cacti, red Christmas lights and bandoliers of hot peppers everywhere inside, the place screams “raging party.” But if colorful lights and loud music don’t bother you, they hey! Party, carrano, fiesta, forever, Lionel! After all, the drink of choice is tequila, not tea with your pinky out. Whaddya think this is, Le Bernadin?

Service – Seven stars. Talk golf with Jonas, Darren and Joe the bartenders, discuss music with Dre or trade salsa tips with waitress Pam, who has the sweetest smile this side of the Pecos…that side of the Pecos too, come to think of it.

Value – Seven stars. You can get outta Dodge for about $10-15 for lunch, a fraction more for dinner if you don’t have a drink. As my father would say, “you can’t beat that with a stick, it’s a bargain all day long.”

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