Sometimes, chain restaurants can be terrible (eg. Olive Garden, Golden Corral). Sometimes, chain restaurants can be satisfying and comforting (eg. McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel). And then, once in a blue moon, a chain can be delicious – somewhere that you actually want to go to. In comes Dos Caminos. Part of B.R. Guest Restaurants, Dos Caminos is an upscale, gourmet Mexican/Southwestern restaurant with 3 locations in New York and 1 in Las Vegas. I have been to two of the New York locations – Park and Third Avenue – and though the design and atmosphere is very different at each of these locations, the quality of the food and the diversity of menu items and prices is superb.
I was first taken to Dos Caminos Park almost 2.5 years ago, long before I lived in New York, and I was instantly in love. I thought to myself “Gosh, if all restaurants in New York are like this, then I’ve GOT to move here!” The restaurant was packed, all of the guests were young and attractive, the decor and dim lighting was sexy and urban, and the menu was interesting and unique (both for food and cocktails). My favorite part about that night was the table-side guacamole preparation and the daily margarita special – a passionfruit margarita served on the rocks. I went to Dos Caminos Park two or three more times over the course of that year, and it was consistently delicious; furthermore, the menu kept changing and there were always inventive daily specials (to this day, I think about a side of souped-up creamed corn they served alongside one of their specials).
The following year, I also spent quite a bit of time in New York, and I decided that I would branch out to other restaurants that were like Dos Caminos so that I could see if it was really “all that” in the world of “high concept Mexican” (to borrow a term from NYMag). I ate at Rosa Mexicano. I had dinner and brunch at Agave. Rosa Mexicano had some great desserts; Agave had terrific margaritas – but, alas, the overall experience at either restaurant couldn’t out-do Dos Caminos. So I kept going back for more.
However, I noticed that some things started to change at Dos Caminos. The restaurants seemed a lot less sexy and a lot more B&T (for those of you who don’t recognize that term, check out Urban Dictionary). There were a lot of bachelorette parties and groups from work. The guacamole wasn’t prepared tableside anymore. There weren’t daily food or margarita specials. Nonetheless, the food was still tasty.
Their guacamole is by far my favorite guacamole ever. Now – I’ve been to Houston, San Antonio, and other cities in the southwest plenty of times, and I’ve eaten a lot of guacamole in my life – and this really is my favorite. It’s super fresh, the avocados are still chunky (I HATE when people blend them into a mush), there are plenty of pieces of tomato, onion, and cilantro, and they allow you to choose how mild or spicy you’d like it. Now, admittedly, this stuff is expensive – $12 for 2 people and $22 for 4 (don’t believe them when they say it can feed 4-6, because it definitely will not). But you know it’s worth it when you have never ordered it and not had it completely disappear in under 15 minutes.
I’m also a huge fan of their Mexico City Street Corn (as you may remember from my review of The Redhead). It’s the perfect size for one (about half a corn cob), it has tons of flavor, and the toppings of mayo, lime, chile, and cotija cheese perfectly replicate what I know Mexican street corn to be. I get it pretty much every time I go, and it’s always the first thing gone from my plate.
I’m also a huge fan of the ribeye steak alambre. If you like steak, this piece of meat is very good – very well seasoned, cooked to perfection, and served with plenty of flavor-boosting additions such as applewood smoked bacon and chimichurri sauce. What’s best about this dish, however, is the arroz con crema. I love risotto, and to me, this rice side is the perfect Mexican interpretation of risotto. It’s very creamy and cheesy without coming across like it’s from a box.
Other consistently enjoyable dishes are their Tacos en Cazuela. I’ve had the Chicken Tinga and the Lamb Barbacoa. Of the two, the lamb is far superior. The chicken was good, but the lamb was succulent and spicy, whereas the chicken was a little dry and a little bland – I had to add salsa to the chicken, whereas the lamb was great as a stand alone item (which reminds me, their chipotle salsa is delicious, though their salsa verde and their habanero salsas I could do without).
Now that I live in New York, I’ve been to Dos Caminos twice – once with my family and once with a group of friends from work. The restaurant is still very good, but it has lost a lot of the excitement and pizzazz it had a few years ago. Service is so-so, the menu is pretty constant, the food is good but teetering toward the hit-or-miss side, and the restaurant tends to be pretty empty on a lot of nights (including during Restaurant Week).
Am I ready to write Dos Caminos off? No. But I don’t feel the way about it that I used to. It’s still very good, especially for a chain, and it’s a great spot for groups – but check out recent reviews like this one and those on Yelp instead of trusting reviews that are outdated before you make a decisions about dining there – because it has definitely changed since opening. However, I still think that it’s a restaurant in NYC that everyone should try – and I think it’ll be better reviewed by people who don’t have such a long history with it and thus no point of comparison.