Among the cutest (if not exactly authentic) places to hit the UES is Gina Mexicana, a sister to the popular Gina La Fornarina mini-chain. Not exactly Tex or Mex, the restaurant does indeed have a great vibe and terrific Margaritas garnished with paper umbrellas. Ladies who lunch adore this spot which is convenient to the Guggenheim, Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian and the host of private schools in the area. The restaurant is tiny with a miniscule kitchen separated from the eating area by a curtain. The noise level can be pretty intense at peak times but lunch is far less ear-splitting than dinner. Service is friendly. Don't miss (not that you could) the sombreros that adorn the ceiling.
Fun is a key word here as in items listed as "fun to start" that include the Guaca Guaca Mole (ok but no better than what can be bought in a fancy food store); chipotle fried calamari that comes with "hot salsa " (it is) or the salsa trio with homemade chips. Move along to a Taco Boom-Boom (more fun) choosing among the pastor with pork and fresh pineapple; chicken adobo or beef asado or cast your lot with a $17 crab cake taco. Among the Crunchy Tostadas, the red snapper version that includes kale, cherry tomatoes and fresh corn gets nods as do the versions of cerviche, one with shrimp, one with Bay scallops, onion and lime and a third with yellowfin tuna.
The enchilada verde is a soft corn tortilla holding some chicken, a lot of shredded romaine, sour cream, queso and theoretically salsa verde which I didn't taste. Each day brings specials and my companion was enthusiastic about the seafoody item she chose that clearly had lots of nice-sized shrimp and other sea denizens served attractively in a large glass coup.
At lunch and brunch there are offerings like the chicken burrito with "organic" chicken, rice and beans snuggled into a flour tortilla; several dishes with organic eggs including one with crisp bacon on a tostada and French toast.
If you want dessert, there is a fruit salad with lime agave sauce and lime whipped cream; flan, a chili chocolate cake with tequila in the accompanying chocolate sauce and the classic, very sweet, Dulce Tres Leches which boils down to sponge cake bathed in caramel sauce with lime whipped cream and mango.
In addition to Margaritas (frozen or not), there is a full bar for cocktail devotees as well as a limited selection and red and white wines and lots of Mexican bottled beers of the likes of Dos Equis, Tecate, Bohemia and Corona.
This Gina opens at noon; on weekday nights the kitchen closes at ten although the bar stays open until eleven; weekends brings bar service until 11:30 although it usually shuts down about 10:30 on Sunday.
Another GM has just opened at 61 between Lexington and Third Avenues. Although Gina Mexicana isn't going to give any serious Mexican restaurant a run for its pesos, the atmosphere is so festive it's genuinely fun to eat here.