Lucky Luna: New Mexican-Taiwanese Restaurant Brings Dreamy Steamed Buns to Nassau Ave
One of our readers recently used the acronym ‘OSOM’ (pronounced a bit like awesome) to describe the area on “the Other Side Of McGuinness.” Now that another restaurant has opened up over there, hot on the heels of Raizes, it seems a particularly apt time to start bringing OSOM into the everyday Greenpoint lexicon.
Lucky Luna (167 Nassau Ave) had its soft opening on Thursday night. The restaurant aims to bring together the best of Mexican and Taiwanese street food and serve up good-quality versions in a casual restaurant setting.
The trio at the helm all met independently in San Francisco. Chef Howard Jang met beverage-master Ken Ho at Michelin-starred Boulevard, whilst general manager Marisa Cadena met Ken at Palomino. When they all found themselves in New York some years later, they realized it was time to pool their skills and embark on a venture of their own.
They chose this particular spot in Greenpoint, Marisa tells me, as they wanted to stand out from the crowd and not dissolve into the already thronging strip of eateries on Manhattan Avenue. Whilst searching for a venue they learned that the owner of Basia (the Polish restaurant previously at the Lucky Luna location) had just decided to pack things in, so the the timing was perfect.
The restaurant is fairly small, with nine tables and additional seating along the bar. With Mexican-style lanterns and a smattering of local art on the red and white walls it feels like the kind of place you might end up when on vacation.
The menu is concisely divided into ‘Cold’, ‘Hot’ and ‘Sides’ and, because it’s so short, I’m going to list it in its entirety:
‘Cold’ is a choice of chips and salsa or cucumber salad (see what I mean about short?!).
‘Hot’ is a Taco plate, Peking Duck Bao (steamed buns), Quesadillas, Congee, Niu Rou Mien (Beef Noodle Soup), and a Pork or Vegan Pozole (a Mexican stew).
‘Sides’ are rice, heirloom beans, Mexican pickled vegetables, or sweet ginger cucumbers.
The widest choice was in the cocktail menu, from which I had a People’s Revolt (rye, dry vermouth, apple brandy, yellow chartreuse, aperol) whilst my date had a Choked Monkey (scotch, cynar, sweet vermouth).
We started with ‘Mom’s Cucumber Salad’ with garlic, ginger, sesame and soy vinagrette. I wanted to love it but the flavors didn’t pack the zingy punch I’d hoped for (no offense to Mom, it was still perfectly nice!)
Then came a Peking Duck Confit Bao: A steamed bun with slow-cooked duck confit, scallions, hoisin mayo, crispy chicharrónes and pickled ginger cucumbers. THIS was the dish to come back for. The smooth white bun was like a little warm floaty cloud. The flavors inside loved each other and will no doubt be loved by many.
All the meat on the menu is top-grade, the animals are humanely raised on a vegetarian diet, and it’s local wherever possible. Apparently the pigs they use are so happy that there’s even a YouTube video proving as much.
After the dream-bun experience came a ‘taco plato’. You can either opt for heritage pork-shoulder braised in beer, or shiitake mushroom. We had mushroom which gets you two sautéed mushroom tacos with cilantro, pickled red onions and salsa. These came on a single corn taco and felt quite slight but they were tasty and substantial enough when combined with the rice and beans that come with the platter. My bet here is that the braised pork taco would have been a sturdier choice.
Next up was a bowl of Vegan Pozole: hominy, tomato, cabbage, radish, cilantro, lime and jalapeños in a rich dashi broth. The soft little nuggets of hominy (maize kernels) sitting just below the surface gave welcome substance to the stew and the slight spiciness would make it a comforting dish if you were feeling a bit under the weather.
Their only dessert is ‘arroz con dulce de leche’. Being a mega rice pudding fan I would have selected this no matter how long the dessert list, although it may have been nice to see an Asian-influenced option here, just to keep things fair. The rice pudding was really good though: not overly sweet, nicely spiced with cinnamon, and fat little chunks of Fuji apple studded throughout.
Lucky Luna are still only softly opened and already have some elements working really well, but with so much decent Mexican food around they’re going to need to carve out their Mexican-Taiwanese niche good and strong so that it becomes a place that people specifically seek out.
Their logo combines the Chinese symbol ‘shou’ which represents longevity and fortune, and ‘luna’ which guides the tides and maintains an equilibrium of forces. We welcome the team to the neighborhood and wish them all the best fortune in creating the perfect equilibrium of Mexican and Taiwanese street food that people from OSOM and beyond will seek out for years to come!