BY my reckoning, three restaurants founded in Long Island City have received nationwide and global acclaim and fame. The first, in the summer of 2010, was M. Wells. Located off the beaten path in LIC, but right above the second subway stop out of Manhattan, its well-executed unconventional cuisine served in an actual diner setting quickly caught fire with foodies and the culinary literati. By January of 2011 it was listed alongside restaurants from chefs Heston Blumenthal (Fat Duck- London), Ferran Adria (El Bulli – Spain), David Chang (Momofuku – Sydney via NYC), and Thomas Keller (French Laundry – Napa) in a New York Times article entitled “Ten Restaurants Worth A Plane Ride.” Followed three months later with a 2-star review by Sam Sifton in the Times, and media coverage rivaling the Kardashian’s.
Yet in August of that year came the shocking news that it would be closing imminently, due to a landlord playing hardball and looking to jack up the rent on the tenants who only held a short term lease (biggest miscalculation ever, as the place has remained empty ever since). Though the LIC couple that found it would open the first of two M. Wells spin-offs in LIC only a year later, and the second which still exists today – both to highly positive reception, from a publicity perspective things never burned as bright as those tumultuous ~14 months in the diner.
Next up was Casa Enrique, which experienced more of a slow-burn in comparison to its predecessor. Opened in March 2012, it bubbled along on a quiet side street, with no outdoor seating, no fanfare, and for my first visit even without liquor (BYOB), which would be the case for almost a year. Things would perk up a bit in June of 2013, after the NYT “Off-Broadway” restaurant reviewer gave it two stars and made it a Critic’s Pick. The dam would finally burst 2 1/2 years after opening when it received a Michelin star, and lines. The plaudits were enduring, with Pete Wells of the NYT finally giving it an ‘official’ review and two stars, in 2019. As were the crowds, filling both a full sidewalk build-out and an indoor expansion to this day.
The third restaurant in LIC to hit the big time and take the spotlight was Mu Ramen. Begun as a night-time pop-up in Bricktown Bagels in November of 2013, it would jolt to fame four months later when Pete Wells named it the best ramen in NYC while the nation was in the grips of a ramen frenzy. What ensued when the owners opened their own location on Jackson Avenue were 2.5 hour waits (and a formal NYT review giving it 2 stars a year later), which continued until they closed for good during the pandemic.
This Monday, May 22, I believe a fourth restaurant will join the three above in bringing citywide, national, and global culinary acclaim to Long Island city, when Casa Lola opens its doors to the public.
Founded by Valentina Salcedo and located on the prominent northwest corner of Vernon Boulevard and 48th Avenue, the facade of the building has been transformed into a beacon of bright red that passersby cannot ignore. The interior is equally captivating. It was designed by the owner’s friend, Neus Costa, because Valentina believed that only a Spaniard could truly translate the Spanish tradition she desired. From the look of it, I wholeheartedly agree. Since the restaurant is still putting the finishing touches on, I opted not to include a picture of the interior, plus I know many of you have already snuck a peek inside this month – how could you not?
The food? Tapas. In 2023 that shouldn’t need much explanation in NYC. The menu (linked to below) looks both familiar, and less so , which is where things get exciting. It’s in the hands of a master, we’ll all get to try it soon enough.
The beverage program is expansive, and essential. In Spain one cannot conceive of food without wine. Almost 50 will be offered by the glass, all from Spain, with every region represented, and smaller wines that are personal. But I said beverage, so it’s more than just wines. In addition to red, white, orange & sparkling there is a list of sherry’s, and vermouth’s, and digestives, and ciders, and sweet wines, and cocktails, and gin & tonics (very big in Spain, who knew?), and …sangria. Plus a whole slew of beers on tap – Spanish of course. And coffee’s – those are beverages too, and they’ve been given equal billing in terms of curating. Enough said, check it all out at the link below.
What you won’t be able to really grasp in looking at a website, is the vibe. How you’re going to feel upon entering. How you’re going to feel upon exiting. How you’re going to feel between those two. The idea of experiencing tapas the true Spanish way, is one of having life stop. Come Monday, we’re going to get to experience what that really means.
In the opening weeks Casa Lola will be serving dinner-only on weekdays from 3pm – 11pm, and brunch and dinner Saturday/Sunday from 11am to 11pm. The limited menu will be roughly three-quarters of what the full menu will eventually be.
Casa Lola Website – see the menu, feel the history