El Cartel Tapas Bar and Restaurant is a family owned and operated restaurant rooted in Colombian cuisine and culture run by Bill Arango.
The playfully provocative name that draws connections to perhaps the most infamous Colombian, Pablo Escobar, actually comes from a popular Colombian telenovela, El Cartel de Los Sapos.
From 2009 to 2011, Arango’s mother owned and operated a restaurant by the same name in Queens where she also served as chef.
Seeing relatively few restaurants that fully display Colombian cuisine to Manhattan, Arango decided to open the second iteration of El Cartel on a high foot-traffic stretch of 9th Avenue in Manhattan to introduce the bounty of flavors to as many people as possible. The restaurant’s menu is composed of signature dishes from the diverse regions of Colombia that inform the country’s cuisine and Arango’s mother’s recipes like Cazuela de Mariscos, a seafood casserole made with shrimp, mussels, clams, octopus and calamar served with white rice with Caribbean flavors that she learned how to create while visiting the region of El Choco, as well as her secret recipe for beans.
The menu begins with Tapas: Shrimp Ceviche, a staple of Cali, where Arango’s family is from, made with shrimp dressed in lime juice, cilantro, and purple onions in a homemade pink sauce; Tostones, three fried plantain formed into cups and filled with octopus, chicken, and steak; Chuzos, a Colombian street food comprised of pork and chicken skewers served with arepitas; and Empandas, with chicken, beef, or ham and pineapple—Hawaiian Style—fillings.
Entrees include Bandeja El Cartel, a well-packed dish consisting of steak, a fried egg, rice, red beans, chicharrón, sweet plantain, Colombian chorizo, arepita and avocado that takes especially hungry guests on a culinary expedition of Colombia; Pechuga Buenaventura, juicy chicken breast topped with a fresh creamy seafood sauce made with shrimp, mussels, clams, octopus and calamar, served with white rice; Red Snapper, whole fried red snapper served with fried plantains and a salad of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes; and the El Cartel Burger, topped in popular Colombian fashion with melted mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, pineapple sauce and crumbled rippled potato chips, served with fries.
To end the meal, guests can choose from a selection of Colombian Desserts such as Oblea, wafers filled with Arequipe and homemade blackberry sauce; Figs in Syrup, figs stuffed with cheese and Arequipe drizzled with syrup; and Fried Cheese, fried cheese pieces with homemade sweet guava sauce.
The restaurant will open with a beverage program composed of Frozen Sangria with a white wine or rosé base in such flavors as Blackberry, Passionfruit, Tamarind, and Guava, as well as a selection of imported and domestic beer by the bottle headlined by Aguila, the top selling beer in Colombia. El Cartel will also feature a selection of wine and champagne by the glass and by the bottle.
Staying true to their Colombian roots, El Cartel Tapas Bar and Restaurant will serve popular Colombian soft drinks like Colombiana, Malta, and Postobon in various flavors including Manza, Grape, Red Kola, and Tamarind.
The interior is divided into two dining rooms; The front dining room features a large bar area with low-top tables and comfortable banquet seating leading into a back room that offers high-top tables as well as two lounge areas designed as living rooms reminiscent of a set from El Cartel de Los Sapos complete with sofas.