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Sep 10, 1999 10:24 AM

Zarela Mexican rest.

  • p

Any reports -- good, bad, or indifferent -- re Zarela,
a Mexican restaurant at Second Ave betw. 51 and 52? I'm
taking a group of coworkers to dinner in that nabe, and
would like something that's tasty but won't break the

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  1. Zarela is very good, authentic, Oaxacan cooking. The
    owner and grande doyenne of Mexican cooking (and author
    of two very fine cookbooks) is Zarela Martinez, and
    she's there all the time. The cuisine tends to combine
    fruits and meats rather often. Everything I ever tasted
    there was quite wonderful. Dinner with drinks and tip
    and tax will run you each about $35-40.

    That said, you should know that the place is extremely
    popular, and, thanks to the intensely socko margaritas,
    that means a VERY LOUD PARTY is always going on. But you
    and your buddies may well be up for that.


    10 Replies
    1. re: gourmetguy
      Josh Mittleman

      I concur. Reservations are a must. I've found that
      ordering family style is a good idea at Zarela.
      Vegetables, rice, and other side dishes have to be
      ordered separately, and the portions are pretty big; so
      if you order an assortment, you can share them round
      without problem.

      The desserts are wonderful, too.

      1. re: Josh Mittleman

        I used to go there for lunch regularly - always found
        it a revelation - it was my first exposure to non-
        tacobell type Mexican. My friends and I always found
        the food to be exemplary - I always ordered Caldo de
        Amor (I think it's called) - a crab and corn chowder.
        And yes, at lunch, too, very noisy. One of my
        favorite lunches there was a total indulgence for a
        friend's birthday. We each had our bowl of soup,
        revelled in it's creamy, rich combination of flavors
        and then ordered one of every dessert on the menu
        (yes, that's not generally why we went there, but she
        always seems to have wonderful desserts, too, so that
        time we thought we'd eliminate the horrible choosing
        that came at the end of every meal). The loud
        advertising-types at the table adjoining ours suddenly
        hushed when our table was suddenly covered with
        sweets!! It was great.

        1. re: Barb H.

          Thanks to all for replying...but get this: I called to
          get a reservation for a large group -- in my case, 16
          folks -- only to learn that Zarela wants to fax me an
          actual CONTRACT. I need to sign it, provide a
          credit-card number, and fax it back. Then, if we show
          up with fewer than 16 people (highly possible, given
          the vagaries of group meals), they will still charge me
          $35/person for all 16 people.

          Thanks, but no thanks. I'll try Zarela sometime when
          I'm with a much smaller group.

          1. re: Peter Krass

            Churrascaria Plataforma is fun with a big group. It's
            Brazilian barbecue in the theater district and they
            have a great salad bar.

            1. re: Peter Krass


              Sorry to hear that the party didn't work out. They
              couldn't accommodate a group of 16 without doing some
              major rearranging of tables. I wouldn't want to go
              there with more then 8 or so for the reasons others
              have mentioned. It's best experienced with constant
              tasting and switching of dishes.

              In general, I find the appetizers to be much stronger
              than the entrees, and a great meal can be had by
              ordering just appetizers, some sides, and dessert.
              The two essential dishes, IMO, are the corn and crab
              soup, and the snapper hash, but the queso fundido is
              wonderful, the tamales are usually delicate and

              Have to admit I haven't been to Zarela's in more than
              a year. I used to go very often, and found it to be
              consistent. If you want to avoid the zoo, make sure
              you reserve a table upstairs. It's not necessarily
              quiet up there, but the bar downstairs can be raucous
              at night.

              1. re: Peter Krass

                I can understand if they need to charge you for the
                number of no-shows, but that's outrageous to want to
                charge you $35 per person for all 16.

                1. re: Peter Krass
                  Josh Mittleman

                  A contract? First time I've heard of that. It's
                  getting more common among top restaurants to ask for a
                  credit card to guarantee a reservation, and a few
                  places will charge a penalty for a broken reservation;
                  but I've never of anyone bringing the lawyers into it.

                  1. re: Peter Krass
                    Rachel Perlow

                    My suggestion for anytime you are booking a such a
                    large party (this goes especially for very large
                    parties, too, like weddings at banquet facilities) is
                    to guarantee a slightly smaller number than expected.
                    Unless the size of the room is limited (if they are
                    giving you a private room), most places will be able
                    to accomodate a few more when you call back to confirm
                    the day before (or at least several hours before, or a
                    couple weeks before for the aforementioned large
                    affair) your reservation.

                    For your group of hopefully 16, I would make a
                    reservation for 12-14, and when you let them know it
                    will actually be 16, they should be happy to get the
                    extra customers.

                    This may not work at such a popular place as Zarella
                    unless you have a private room. But most places would
                    be able to deal with this.

                    1. re: Rachel Perlow


                      I don't understand why you'd make a reservation for
                      fewer folks than you know will come. If you made a
                      reservation for 12 at Zarela's, it is unclear whether
                      they could comfortably rearrange tables for 16. I've
                      also never been to Zarela's, at any "prime time" for
                      lunch or dinner, when they haven't been full or near-
                      capacity. How are you assured you'll have room

                      And then there are the ethical problems in
                      misrepresenting the size of your party. I don't want
                      to sound holier than thou, but isn't it this kind of
                      behavior (overbooking, underbooking, double-booking)
                      that leads to the admittedly draconian measures
                      instituted by Zarela's? I doubt if they would have
                      instituted these kinds of policies if they hadn't been
                      burned in the past.

                      The situation is a little different at a big catering
                      hall, perhaps. Competent halls usually cook some

                      1. re: Dave Feldman
                        Rachel Perlow

                        I was probably wrong to say 12, but not 14, as the
                        original poster specifically said they had invited 16,
                        but, knowing their group, did not expect all to show
                        up. It obviously depends on 1)the type of restaurant,
                        2)whether you have a private room or not, and 3)the
                        capacity of that room (i.e. if they are putting you in
                        a room which seats 10-20 and you invited 16, I
                        wouldn't sign a contract for more than 14, feeling
                        assured that the restaurant will be able to accomodate
                        all my guests if they all show up/none cancel).

                        Also, I specifically said to call and confirm your
                        party the day before, or at minimum several hours
                        before, your reservation. Frankly, even if you sign a
                        contract for 16 people, if you apprise the restaurant
                        a day or two before that you will only have 12 or 14
                        people, and you are not in a private room, they
                        shouldn't charge you for all 16 as such popular places
                        would have no trouble filling one or two more tables.

            2. Zarela is excellent. Great, authentic and sometimes
              creative Mexican. Fun, but not cheesy, setting
              (albeit a bit loud). Top notch margaritas. In my
              opinion, it is better than Rosa Mexicana - the food is
              just as good, but it doesn't take itself so seriously.

              1. "but won't break the bank"

                All delicious, but be careful about ordering rice,
                vegs, etc. All that stuff is extra, and it adds up

                1. I was there two weeks ago (for about the third time
                  over a few years) and my friend (who's a real foodie)
                  and I thought it was still excellent.

                  1. wow! so many responses to this post, i didn't read them all!

                    Zarela's is a good time for a group of people, whether entertaining clients or hanging out with friends.

                    the food is reasonably good (one of the highest rated mexican's in NYC - although, i *love* Rosa Mexicano and i think it's "all over" Z's).

                    good fun, good food, and people generally leave with a smile.

                    what more could you ask for!!!!