A Yellow Rose For A Tex-Mex Eatery
A Modelo, barbacoa taco, and tons of queso.
Jayson Eats is a monthly dining column that rates and recounts the food at New York's little-known spots.
I’ve only been to Texas — a state that would be considered its own country if it had the gumption to print its own money — one time but I find their culture, both racially and otherwise, very compelling. It’s a state of nefarious Republicans and gigantically charismatic rappers; high school football and baseball pitchers who throw heat; historic 21st century basketball franchises and oil men who stole land and made their fortunes; short ribs and tortillas. One of the more popular cuisines in Texas, especially Southwestern Texas, comes from the Tejano (Spanish for Texan) people of Texas. Tex/Mex, a version of Mexican food but with generally more cheese in the platter, has just surpassed Italian food as the most popular cuisine in America — a fact that makes Yellow Rose, a Tex/Mex place in New York’s East Village, a sight for a glaucoma patient.
This is my second time there. My first time, I lacked the money that I currently have. It was during a different time in my life, where the demands of a life of freelance make way for a grueling lack of funds. I couldn’t go all out the way I want to. For a cuisine like Tex-Mex, you want to be able to get multiple things, plus as much queso as humanly possible. If Gael Garcia Bernal’s quote about Mexican food being “far more varied than people think” is true, then Yellow Rose is the exact personification, or epitome, of that quote. You aren’t getting a steak burrito then going back to your cubicle. This is a meal fit for a Texas king, done by Texans who have had to show resolve in a state built by its oppressors.
Second servings reward food like this; otherwise, it feels like a regular fast food spot. Tex-Mex is slightly different than something from Chipotle. No disrespect to the fast food chain of a white girl’s dream, but the chips at Yellow Rose are sent with queso made from Lonestar beers not green tabasco sauce. There is no standardized burrito. Instead, it is purely Southwestern — a place for a desperado to rest after being pursued by Texas sheriffs who are just as crooked. This isn’t the suburbs; this is Texas.
For one, you have the beef barbacoa taco, a tasty and juicy helping. Right about this time, as we were eating the barbacoa that seemingly dissolves in your mouth so easily, Megan and I began talking about how far we’ve come in the world. (It helps that I was eating Tex-Mex in front of a Texan. Life is funny). That, to me, is the best part about Yellow Rose: it is also a place for conversation. It is quaint, and not loud; the music is at a decent volume level. Enough sound for you to mentioned that you like this song (as Megan did multiple times) but low enough for you to hear your friend. Conversation over fajitas and Modelo’s feel like a natural state of happening.
There’s a bar here, but I recommend the tables. Because of the medium-sized space, it’s good for a date of two. After the beef barbacoa comes the papas ranchera (fried potatoes) that is simmered in the chile gravy. I got mine with cheddar cheese. It pairs well with the potatoes, giving you a taco that is easier to take handle than the beef that carnivores love — just in case you’re a sentimental vegan from Brooklyn.
If the taco has gained some notoriety, then the beer battered broccoli di ciccio sandwich is what makes this place notorious. I wasn’t prepared for how good this was going to be. Not even the chips with the Lonestar beer queso was as much as surprise as this sandwich was. (The Lonestar queso was very good). I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, and this is a challenge of enormity.
As big as a Reuben sandwich from Katz’s, the broccoli di ciccio sandwich is to Yellow Rose what a Bushwick Bill verse is to the Geto Boys: it is the grotesque and brilliant main event in a sea of quality dishes. Grabbing the sandwich and eating it was an event in and of itself. The broccoli is hard but sautéed to a crisp and unrelenting taste. This is not the greens that your mom wanted you to eat. You can get behind veggies like this with no hesitation at all.
One thing I didn’t get is cocktails, although they seemed quite tasty. My focus was on Modelo, a trashy but classic Mexican beer that I try to get every time it is available to me. A cold beer is how you want to enjoy this meal. But at Yellow Rose, it is the understanding of why Tex-Mex cuisine is so authentic and ubiquitous that make it a premiere destination for anyone who missing the food of El Paso or San Antonio.
For those who spent more times watching high school football than the Dallas Cowboys, Yellow Rose is a welcome sight in New York — a place with shiveringly mediocre Mexican food. Call your Texas outlaws, tell the San Antonio Spurs’s Victor Wembyana, and make sure his overseer, Gregg Popovich knows this too: Yellow Rose is the place to be. Don’t come to Manhattan without having the broccoli di ciccio — drape the Lone Star Flag over your book too, and enjoy this cosmic Texas cooking.