Last week, New York welcomed the return of one of its most beloved neighborhood restaurants. Txikito, the Chelsea restaurant first opened in 2008 by chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero (the same wife-and-husband team behind La Vara and Saint Julivert Fisherie), had been closed for the past two-and-a-half years, but made its triumphant return on Sept. 21.
Here’s everything you need to know about Txikito before you go.
1. Txikito was a pioneer of Basque cuisine when it first opened.
When Raij and her husband, Montero, a native of Basque country, opened Txikito 14 years ago, they saw it as an opportunity to dive deeply into Basque cuisine. The diminutive 28-seat space, aptly named “little” in Basque, impressed critics and New Yorkers alike with their thoughtful and inventive takes on dishes like creamy salt cod kroketas, crab meat gratin, squid ribbons, and suckling pig.
2. … And it still is.
Raij and Montero are still as committed as ever to exploring the depths of Basque cuisine, but they don’t want the food at Txikito to become a time capsule or remain exactly the same as it was before; they want it to be as fluid and evolving as food is in the Basque country today, drawing on the foundations while making it their own, too.
“Basque food,” says Raij, “is quietly persuasive. They have the base ingredients, and they enhance them in ways that have a strong identity but aren’t overly decorated … you can really see the brushstrokes because there are a lot of them.”
She adds, “People always talk about Basque food as this one thing, but it’s a living culture and we wanted to express how we see them and how they see themselves and to be a current expression of that.”
3. If you’ve been before, it’ll feel familiar, but also different.
To that end, faithful regulars of Txikito will be happy to know that many of their favorite dishes have returned, namely the octopus, the pig, whole turbot, squid ribbons, pil pil, and Russian salad. But, like the restaurant space itself, these dishes have also been updated a bit, albeit slightly.
“So many of them read like our old menu, but we just constantly revise,” says Raij. “That, to me, is what I love about Txikito. It’s fun for me to do that. It’s always evolving but there’s an illusion that’s part of it that people perceive it as the same dish, or maybe it’s just a riff on something else. It’s very self referential.”
She adds, “When you look at these dishes, they are so current still, and it’s not because they are traditional — two of them are — but they still speak directly to the Basque landscape and the quality of ingredients required for base cooking. The personal details that make that food are very much our own.”
Perhaps the most noticeable change to Txikito is the look and feel of the restaurant — and that was always the intention, even before the pandemic hit.
“We had just signed a new lease right before COVID, so we were always planning on redoing the bar a bit,” says Raij. “We wanted to make the bar a little more exciting.” That meant sourcing new marble for the bar, and adding brass to its corners, as well as releveling the floors.
Txikito’s tree mural is still there, too. “It was dedicated to us by a friend who understood what we were doing — he just got it,” Raij notes.
Expect to see some new and familiar faces, too, but overall, rest assured that nothing major has changed. “I think for us the priority is that the footprint of the restaurant hasn’t changed,” Raij says. “We will always prioritize bar seating, single diners, walk-ins, and we’ll always have amazing cocktails.”
4. About those cocktails …
You definitely don’t want to sleep on any of the gin-and-tonic variations at Txikito. “We’ve always been the gin-and-tonic people and we have strong criteria for that,” says Raij.
Options include the classic Gintonic ZTX 2008, made with Plymouth gin and Fever Tree tonic and a lemon twist; the Nehi Tonic 2016, with Concord grape cordial and Sancho pepper; and the new Gernika 2022, inspired by San Pellegrino’s oak tonic (“Everything in Basque country happens under a tree,” says Raij) that’s made with hinoki (cherry blossom) gin and ume (salted plum) and lemon.
5. The reopening took some time because they wanted to get it right.
Raij and Montero waited two-and-a-half years to reopen Txikito because they wanted to make sure they got every element just right.
“We wanted to do it in a way that we thought we could,” says Raij. “We wanted to survive. We tried to be tactical and also emotional about it. We have kids and we have team members we care deeply about … we had to take a step-by-step approach, but we never questioned that we would reopen it.”
For Raij and Montero, Txikito holds a special place among their restaurants. “[Txikito] is our lab of sorts,” she says. “That’s where we would create everything or dream about stuff, and then we’d decide which restaurant would get these ideas and then we would groom them for each restaurant. Txikito is that through line, and it’s also a love story between Eder and I.”
6. And they can’t wait to welcome back regulars … and welcome new ones.
“What I want is for people who know Txikito to remember what it’s like — it’s casual and friendly but the standards are high,” says Raij. “It can be a place that you can come to for special occasions but also a very everyday kind of spot. Those are the kinds of restaurants that are compelling; you don’t need a reason to go there. You can go by yourself and have a cocktail, or you can invite as many people as you would want to dine with; everything is designed for sharing.”
In other words, she hopes Txikito remains that beloved neighborhood classic that it’s always been.
“Restaurants don’t exist in a vacuum; we’re such neighborhood places,” she adds. “Fundamentally, what we want is just for you to love the restaurant on your own terms as a restaurant. That’s what the best restaurants do.”
Txikito is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m.