I'd never eaten at Papatzul before, so when I read the laudatory review on Serious Eats I was excited to meet up with AT at a new place. Yet as soon as I walked in, something felt familiar. It wasn't until I opened the short, curved door to one of their restrooms that I realized why: I'd once had several cocktails on a date at this address, years ago when it had been a bar with pool tables instead of a restaurant. New York City just never stays the same.
The switch to Papatzul was a positive, in my opinion. Not that the bar had been bad, but because the food at Papatzul is worth trying. My order of the budin al pasilla, a layered casserole of corn tortillas, shreds of chicken, melted cheese, and creamy whole beans, with a crosshatch of crema over the top, was uncomplicated comfort food, soupy around the edges at first but then as it cooled, a hearty delight to sink my spoon into. The flavors and spicing were well-balanced, if just a touch on the salty side.
AT's duck enchiladas in mole sauce were also good, judging from the bite I took. Considering that she cleaned her plate I'd say she also gave it a thumbs up.
The prices were neither cheap nor egregious, and the food was solid. With the night frigid and the place nearly empty, AT and I didn't linger for very long after our meal—sitting around in a barely filled restaurant always feels awkward to me. On a busier day with just a few more tables occupied around us, though, we probably would have. After all, I have some fond memories from the place.