The moment you walked in, you knew you were in for a good time - Mariachi music blasted through the speakers, tissue-thin papeles picados waved through the air in a rainbow of bright colors, and delicious smells came wafting through the kitchen doors every time they swing open.
This was the place you came when you wanted real, regional Mexican cuisine. I'm not talking about tacos, burritos enchiladas, and the like - I'm talking the most authentic, delicious chile rellenos, cochinita pibil, salpicon de huachinongo, and the like that you can find this side of the Mexican border! Not to mention delicious margaritas! Zarela Martinez, one of, if not the foremost authority on Mexican cuisine served her last meal at Zarela yesterday evening. The restaurant was jam-packed, wall-to-wall with Zarela's loyal followers who have been coming anywhere for the past 23 years to even just a year, like myself, to have one last taste of her amazing food. The simple salsa cruda de tomatillo and pico de gallo nortena were just what anyone needed to whet their appetite. From there, you could have the most delicious flautas with guacamole, and epic tostadas de jaiba - small tortilla rounds topped with a light, fresh and spicy crab salad that had been tossed in a lime vinaigrette. And these are just appetizers! The options were endless, and most certainly nobody left hungry.
And you didn't only go to Zarela for a meal - you went to meet people. There were always the most interesting people there - the types who you form instant bonds with that last forever. I can't tell you the amount of time that I spent befriending new people and spending hours talking about cooking, exchanging recipes, and making plans for future culinary adventures.
Last night was one to remember - the stories told by everyone about their amazing experiences at the restaurant and the memories they had, along with the rounds of applause and standing ovations that Zarela got any time she stood up from her table - a truly bittersweet end to an era. Buenas noches Zarela, you'll always be in the heart of Midtown!