Mexican Kitchen, the beloved New Paltz restaurant that burned down on Sep. 29, 2022, is set to re-open sometime this fall. At 6:21 a.m. almost exactly a year ago, the attic of Mexican Kitchen caught fire. Firefighters quickly arrived on the scene and were able to prevent the fire from spreading to other buildings, but Mexican Kitchen itself could not be saved. The cause of the fire was never discovered and Mexican Kitchen was demolished shortly after. Residents of New Paltz who had already witnessed two Mexican Restaurants, Mexicali Blue and Taco Shack, be replaced that past year worried that another beloved New Paltz staple would disappear from the streets.
Aside from vague news about future reconstruction, little information was given about the return of Mexican Kitchen and the situation for the brand continued to get more complex. The owners at the time, couple Erin Hennessy and Juan Gonzalez, who had owned the restaurant for less than a month when it burned down, publicly expressed commitment to the Mexican Kitchen brand. They started a GoFundMe and attempted to rebuild the restaurant. However, the restaurant was sold back to the previous owner who the couple had purchased the restaurant from, local businessman and former politician Nick Woerner. This was the third change in ownership since 2021.
After re-purchasing the restaurant, Woerner took quick action. By February of 2023, Woerner had his plans for the new building finished and had gotten them approved by the Village’s Design Review Board and Historic Preservation Commission, a necessary requirement in getting a building permit in the Village of New Paltz. At this same time, Woerner did an interview with “Hudson Valley One,” discussing the return of Mexican Kitchen in the fall. However, plans would quickly change.
In March, it was announced that the physical building of Mexican Kitchen was returning but the iconic brand, a staple of New Paltz since 2015, was not. Instead, Woerner was abandoning the brand to start a French restaurant titled “Petite Maison”. This restaurant would be opening up when the building finished construction, and would bring with it an entirely new cuisine. The change received pushback from members of the community and with few updates from ownership, the future of Mexican Kitchen was in limbo.
“I didn’t know if it was the same owner or if it’s going to be Mexican or called Mexican Kitchen at all. You know, I had no idea,” said Phil Jones, long time New Paltz resident and frequent diner at Mexican Kitchen. “I don’t know much about the new place.”
Despite attempting to pivot the business of the physical location, Woerner refused to let the Mexican Kitchen brand rest idly. While the plans for the reconstruction of 15 ½ North Front St. went through the slow approval process, Woerner adopted as much of the menu of Mexican Kitchen as he could to the kitchen of his other restaurant in town, Smash Shack. Smash Shack, now known as “Melted,” which was a ghost kitchen that served fast food such as burgers, chicken sandwiches, and even Mr. Beast Burgers for a period of time, served an additional menu “Cocina Mexicana.”
Woerner hired some of those who were previously employed at Mexican Kitchen, such as Oaxacan-born chef Marco García, the previous cook, who had been involved with Mexican Kitchen since its inception and who was responsible for cooking much of the brand’s iconic food and the delicious mole sauce.
However, the ghost kitchen’s limited equipment, tailored towards fast food like burgers and fries, prevented Garcia from cooking many of the dishes that the restaurant is known for. Some of Mexican Kitchen’s classic specials, such as Garcia’s enchiladas verde and tostados have been absent from the streets of New Paltz over this past year and fans of those meals had been left with little indication of when, if ever, they would get to enjoy them again.
Now, a year after the demolition, the plans for the restaurant are more solid. Woerner and his company, Acero Rosso LLC, are preparing to bring Mexican Kitchen back to a physical New Paltz location. According to Woerner, the goal was to open in either “September or October” but with October already half over and the interior still not finished, it seems likely that it will be later than that.
The new restaurant is located in the same spot that New Paltz residents are familiar with, 15 ½ North Front St., is built within the same footprint and keeps much of the old building’s charm. However, there are some stark differences from the old one. Diners who are familiar with how small the past interior of Mexican Kitchen was will be thrilled at the news of a major change to the indoor dining experience.
Although the building is no bigger than the previous one, it has an accessible upstairs that allows for a second level of additional seating. This is much more accommodating for larger crowds. Previously, the small interior limited many residents from dining in and often made the restaurant operate more as a take-out restaurant rather than a sit-down place to eat. This was especially true on cold or rainy nights when diners did not want to sit outside. In addition to the improved seating, the new building has an additional bathroom and extra storage area, something that is sure to make residents of the town excited.
Clare Roberson, a New Paltz resident, gave their thoughts on the new seating arrangements. “I mean Mexican food, it’s just always going to be a good time, but it always felt kind of cramped. “They continued, “I’m excited because every time I’ve been there I’ve had to find a table at the last second because they are usually all full. I’m excited to sit back and enjoy.”
Although an official date of the re-opening has yet to be announced, the goal for the past year has consistently been to get the business up and running by this fall. Knowing this, the re-opening could be announced any day now, so stay tuned to the Mexican Kitchen Facebook @Mexican Kitchen and Instagram @mexicankitchennp for upcoming announcements for the return of one of New Paltz favorites.