There’s a scene in the brilliant Netflix comedy series “Master of None” where main character Dev (Aziz Ansari) spends an entire afternoon searching for the best taco truck in Manhattan from his smartphone, only to show up at "the best" just minutes too late to be served. Ever since I saw him play Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, I’ve like to think that Aziz and I would get along – I know he’s acting, but we do seem to have a lot in common: mannerisms, love of style, comedy as a reflex, the works.
After this past Saturday, I can add one more synchronicity: a restaurant near-miss caused by neuroses but enabled by Yelp. I woke up at 10:30am, and proceeded to spend the better part of the next hour doing a grad degree’s worth of research on where to eat. My tummy grumbled; my internet reset; my phone battery ticked 80% before noon.
But still, I persevered.
For 45 minutes. All in search of a nebulous “best” brunch.
Three days later, even typing that out still feels pathetic.
Unlike Dev, however, my mad dash to Google result “best cheap brunch near NYU” didn’t end in starvation – it ended in delicious food at a charming, neighborhood café-meets-beer-garden called Mudspot.
Mud NYC started as a beloved coffee truck parked in the heart of Astor Place. The truck operated from 2000-2015, serving up fresh coffee and pastries to an ever-present line of happy customers. Thanks to the truck’s success, Mud expanded into a permanent snack bar location at LES’ First Park as well as a bonafide restaurant on E 9th Street, just off 2nd Ave in the East Village. While Mudpark is certainly worth a visit, when it comes to weekend plates, Mudspot is the place to be. You can probably guess which is which.
And judging by the line outside, that “place to be” title was no secret. Even for a single seat at the bar, I waited a solid 15 minutes. Not that a sunny East Village Saturday made for a bad wait – after a few bored Snapchats and some Vitamin D, I was welcomed inside. Instantly, the volume jumped tenfold. Espresso steamed, glasses clinked, and old friends shouted their stories all within a space no wider than a studio apartment. Behind the bar, a staff of five moved with chaotic choreography through a constant barrage of brunch orders and take-out pastries. From the moment I crossed the door, I knew I was in for something good.
I sat down for brunch at 11:40am on a Saturday and right away ordered an orange ceramic mug full of Mud’s famous coffee. My waitress/barista/server told me about the weekend brunch special ($18.50 for an entrée + coffee + your choice of OJ, draft beer, or a mimosa), and I probably just nodded in polite shock. Even in Ann Arbor, there are brunch spots where that Mimosa alone runs you $20. I quickly scanned the menu, hunger and pride combining into a rapid search for the perfect entrée.
“Pride”? Let me explain. Ordering at 11:50, I was coming dangerously close to noon, the generally-understood start of “lunch.” I probably still could’ve ordered breakfast food as long my dollar was green, but for me, pre-noon is an honor thing: the food is fresher, the coffee is warmer, and the “I wasted my day” self-loathing hits merely half as hard.
With minutes to spare before my I became my own “Master of None”, I ordered the Huevos Rancheros with pickled jalapenos. Watching my order go from waitress to bar to kitchen and back was yet another choreographed chaos dance that took surprisingly short given the tight quarters. In the mere 10 minutes it took for my food to arrive, I drank in the atmosphere (and more of that deep, flavorful Mud coffee).
Yes, Mudspot is crowded and tight – but what neighborhood place isn’t slim on space? The interior is chic, bohemian, and vaguely Southwestern. If you’ve ever been to Sedona, you’ll recognize the blend of desert hues and psychedelic imagery: orange tiles, groovy fonts, and an emphasis on natural materials. With open-air windows that face East 9th, the energy and smells flowing out of Mudspot seemed to singlehandedly revive the neighborhood. I felt like I was sitting inside an antique alarm clock: beautifully adorned, loud, and for many, the true start of their morning. The line outside grew as testament.
Suddenly, it was my waitress: the next step in the dance was a plate of Heuvos Rancheros sliding towards me down the bar. The smell got there first: it was fresh, crispy, brunching euphoria. Before that plate even stopped, I was ready to tear in.
Mudspot’s Huevos comes piled high on a bed of white rice and beans, crispy tortillas the only levy between the eggy-veggie top and the fundación below. Sliced avocado crowns the dish, surrounded by garnish and salsa alike. My pickled jalapenos were nicely distributed throughout, so my first bite was just as pleasantly spicy as my last.
And what a bite it was! Slicing through crispy tortillas required a surgical touch to avoid scattering the eggs and veggies stacked above – but my sister’s the surgeon, not me. I broke the yolk, crunched through the tortilla border, and let runny yolk, piquant peppers, crisp baked tortilla, and pillowy rice form a mosaic of flavors/textures I can only describe as “gratifying.” As in, “I’m grateful I didn’t die before I tried this.”
The avocado on top made a nice addition, but the real winner here is the tortilla. The magic of the dish comes from textural contrasts, between the expected Huevos fillings (rice, refried beans, salsa) and the bread it’s served with. The avocado flesh is an odd middle-ground between the crunch of the tortilla and the slurp of the beans/salsa, but it photographed well and was delicious in isolation. My recommendation: eat some of the avo slices raw first, lest you overload your palette and miss out on the dialectical deliciousness waiting just below your fork. It's better for both tastes, and who doesn't like straight-up avocado?
One final note: the Mud blend coffee that turned a truck into a park into a restaurant is every bit as good as the legend suggests. I was on cup #3 by the end of my meal just because I loved the taste. If you’re easily wired (one cup = jitters, two cups = oscillation), sorry in advance.
If you’re looking for the “best cheap brunch near NYU”, don’t pull an Aziz – your phone battery is better used elsewhere. Instead, head to Mudspot, a lively, neighborhood brunch place with one of the most phenomenal menus I’ve ever sampled and a charming atmosphere that’s sure to please. Then, use all that better you saved to ‘Gram your Huevos. Go ahead – they’re as good as the look.