Tobalá Serves Up Authentic Artisan Oaxacan Cuisine

By Angelica Niedermeyer, Asst. Sports Editor 

High wooden beam ceilings, woven chairs and clay pots welcome diners into the Mezcal (smoked tequila) filled bar along with a warm hostess and friendly bartenders. The vision- artisan Oaxaca decor and cuisine from southwestern Mexico.

Located on Riverdale Avenue, Tobalá, a Mexican restaurant and bar opened its doors on  Sept. 12, 2022. Tobalá is family owned and operated by Eluisania Lopes, who goes by Eli, along with her husband, Chef Moises Lopes, as well as her sister-in-law and brother-in-law.

“We have been in the business for the past 10 years,” Eli said. ”We always work in Mexican restaurants and after many trips to Oaxaca, we felt like Riverdale needed something different.”

The large restaurant has plenty of open space for parties to dine outside, at the bar, at many tables, or a booth in the back. Open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., the romantic candle lit atmosphere even has DJ Cosmica on some Friday nights. Happy hour is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“We wanted to create something more authentic because we have other Mexican restaurants, but they are like TexMex,” said Lopes. “When you think about Mexico you think about colors, tacos, sombreros, piñatas — it is not all about that. There are a lot of artisanal aspects to Mexico and if you see the decoration it is very simple. Parts of Mexico are like that, it is not only what we know.”

With creative dishes like vegan coconut ceviche and classic dishes dating back to the Mayans, like Pollito De Leche (hen with spicy chocolate sauce), patrons are bound to find something they enjoy. 

Nico Newman, bartender at Tobalá, explains that the flavor packed hen is his favorite dish.

“It’s the cornish hen and it’s because the mole (the sauce) on it is just so good,” said Newman. “There are so many different flavors going on in there- some chocolate, lots of peppers — it is super complex. To me, something super rich like that just makes it for me.”

For curious customers wanting to try the restaurant’s showcased smokey alcoholic beverage, Mezcal (which means “over-cooked agave,”), Newman shares the best way to drink it. 

“If they want the experience of just trying Mezcal, I would say stick to sipping on a pour of one of the many different bottles of Mezcal we have here,” Newman said. “There’s so many variations of it, some that are sweet, some that are spicy, some that are more herbal, some that are more fruity. I think personally it is better to just sip on it, rather than use it on a cocktail, although we do make cocktails with it.” 

Tobalá is already bringing in new customers and visitors to Riverdale, after participating in Riverdale’s Restaurant Week.

“The service was great,” said Manhattan College senior Sydney Garff. “My friend and I got the Elote Tierno and the Pollito de Leche to split. Both were really good and the cocktails were also delicious. The menu has a slim selection and is a little pricey, but not if you split food. The portions are plenty to share. The vibe is very minimalistic and light, which is a change from Tin Marín just down the block that we usually frequent. I would definitely recommend it to people!”

New customers are not only from Riverdale, Lopes explains, but from all over New York.

“We are getting a lot of support from the community and we have people coming from other parts of New York like Brooklyn and Queens, which is great,” said Lopes. “Now, we have people come to Riverdale to explore this area.”

On Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., Tobalá in collaboration with Del Maguey Mezcal, is celebrating Dia De Los Muertos with custom made flower crowns, souvenirs from Del Maguey Mezcal, and an extended happy hour, according to their Instagram, @tobalanyc.

“For us, the Tobalá concept is more than cuisine and cocktails, it’s also an exploration of Mexican culture, its people, and its distinctive traditions,” a caption on one of their Instagram posts reads. “We are excited to share the knowledge culminated from our trips throughout Mexico, stories from friends and family, and from our individual journeys on this path.”