The quality of the guacamole, I find, can serve as a benchmark for a Mexican restaurant. At Empellon it’s not a dish, it’s a parade. No, the guac is not elaborately pounded into submission tableside. Instead, the waiter brings over the softly folded avocado attended by foot soldiers: ten small bowls of salsas, from cashew to habanero, so that each bite can be customized. It’s a gesture at once dramatic and delicious, an announcement that this won’t be "a business as usual" meal. That’s for sure: tacos filled with octopus and peanut butter (OMG, so good!) or smoky slabs of thick cut bacon; a pile of nachos garnished with creamy sea urchin; masa-free tamales luxuriantly filled with duck and Asian sticky rice. Alex Stupak, formerly a pasty chef at such temples of molecular gastronomy as Alinea in Chicago and New York’s now-closed WD-50, is the mastermind behind this Mexican fusion fare, and he’s been so successful he now helms a mini-empire. Empellon is his fourth Mexican restaurant (the other three are downtown), and undoubtedly the grandest, an art and painted-tile laden two-story room, encircled by a balcony that brings to mind the verandahs on classic Spanish colonial homes.

Two tips: the tacos come two to a serving and are massive, so be sure to share (that will also help with the size of your final tab). And if you want to try the chef's food, but don't feel like Mexican fare, Mischa is also excellent.