Talk about being one’s own tough act to follow: Last year, Bon Appetit named Josef Centeno’s Bäco Mercat one of America’s best new restaurants. Prior to that, the chef’s inventive and flavorful cooking made Lazy Ox Canteen a critical and popular darling, and earned Centeno a James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist spot. Saying expectations for his latest venture, Bar Amá, ride high would be an understatement, but Centeno keeps it casual. The downtown eatery serves up some of Centeno’s favorite family recipes and variations on the Tex-Mex dishes he ate growing up, such as his grandmother’s menudo, lengua chile con carne Frito pie, and that Tex-Mex specialty, the “puffy taco.” The queso may sounds ho-hum but is a house signature not to be missed. And carnivores will delight in the 1/4 Cabrito (young boer goat), which is barbecued to perfection.
The full bar is anchored by tequila and mezcal, but also offers California and Mexican beers, plus Centeno’s signature Bäco Pop soda drinks with curious flavor combinations such as root-beer-and-chocolate. Bar Amá should do Centeno’s fans—and his grandma—proud. (Pictured: branzino ceviche with serrano chile, grapefruit and mango.) 118 W. 4th St., downtown, 213.687.8002. bar-ama.com