Lucky Pie owner Brendan McManus and director of operations James Samara just opened El Jefe last night at the corner of West 44th Avenue and Alcott Street in Sunnyside. The Mexican restaurant joins Bacon Social House and Cheese + Provisions to complete a culinary trifecta at the Cobbler's Corner development from Paul Tamburello's Generator real-estate group.
MacManus and Samara landed the space last summer and began the buildout of the restaurant in the fall, adding 100 new seats (more once patio weather sets in) to the neighborhood. The menu draws from Oaxaca, the Yucatán and Veracruz, offering such coastal dishes as grilled octopus, market fish served in aguachile or a la Veracruzana, and scallops in almond mole. Tacos are also part of the menu, as well as shareable entrees like a half-roasted chicken with fried plantains or a platter of carnitas with fingerling papas bravas.
The design of the space is open and industrial, with large art pieces as focal points and elements of Mexican-food culture, from a tamale cart repurposed as a host stand up front to wooden crates filled with plantains and avocados in front of the kitchen. Banquette seating near the kitchen offers a view into a glass walk-in cooler, which McManus says was built to give guests a sense of connection to the fresh produce being utilized by the kitchen crew. Bucking the trend of long bars that take up an entire wall in many new restaurants, El Jefe sports a compact corner bar facing big windows that look out onto the neighborhood.
For now, El Jefe is running a limited menu before the kitchen kicks into full gear. The restaurant is open from 4 p.m. daily; Samara notes that brunch and lunch will be added at a later point. Keep reading for more photos.