>> Eat the World NYC

09 December 2019

Hot Space 麻辣空间


As with most things happening in the various Chinese communities in New York City and elsewhere in the United States, trends from back home take a few years to travel across the Pacific. Waves of younger people coming to the city loaded with decent amounts of money have led to the proliferation of regional Chinese restaurants that are popular in the major urban centers like Shanghai, Beijing, and beyond.

While spicy Sichuan favorites like tabletop pan-grilled whole fish are hardly new, restaurants focusing on the dish are, about five or six years past when they started becoming massive in China. Sunset Park has seen a few places with the dish front and center on the menu, even in more general Sichuan restaurants.

It certainly does not hurt to dine here with your friends who can read Chinese, but the menu is fairly simple enough to get through without much help despite being designed oddly. You would probably not come here without ordering one of the fish, all large and in the $45-60 range, so gather a group of at least four and come hungry.

They do their side dishes relatively well, so don't hesitate to order a good range to munch on and provide lots of alternative bites from the spicy fish. Along with cold Sichuan vegetables like cold shredded potato in special sauce ($5.95, above front) and fresh pepper with okra ($8.95, above back), the chicken in chilli sauce ($9.95, below) was well-liked by the table. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I missed how and why this happened, but this last dish arrived free for the group. Thank you Hot Space!]

Also worth your time is the dry pot cauliflower ($15.95, above), a dish that never seems to fail at Sichuan restaurants.

But back to the fish. The menu is not in the most efficient order for first-time customers to the restaurant, but basically you check the box for the type of fish you want, then choose a "flavor" and finally the vegetables you would like to be cooked along with the fish when it arrives at your table. Once you finish those three steps, you can start adding the appetizers spoke of, or other items and drinks.

The fish that ended up on the table this night was a big mouth bass ($59.95, above and below), the most expensive of the offerings. Some sauces can add more to the bill, but most come with the price of the fish as this spicy tofu pudding did.

For the first round here, the restaurant did the work of picking the vegetables. The golden combination ($9) includes enoki mushrooms, potato, lotus root, and kelp, and does a great job adding texture and flavor to the meal without taking away the focus from the fish.

In addition, there is a fairly large barbecue section of the menu that adds a different flair. While none of it will knock your socks off, a group can share a few of these like roasted beef ($3.95, above) and roasted eggplant ($4.95, below).

After the meal, a complimentary bowl of dessert arrives for each patron, a creamy mix of grass jelly, lychee, and milk. This is not overly sweet but gives just the right note to end the meal. All five bowls were emptied on this night.

Hot Space Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

05 December 2019

Taqueria Los Güeros


Spanning Northern New Jersey from Perth Amboy to Englewood, Taqueria Los Güeros has become something of an empire with a full ten locations. Their logo features a spinning trompo of al pastor meat, what their shop is best known for and the main reason they keep expanding. New Jersey has much better street taco quality than rivals to the east, while places like this continue to nail the point home and offer a place to sit as well.

This location on Monroe Street in Passaic is a good introduction to the chain, in one of the best Mexican neighborhoods in the city. Upon entering, make sure to peek through the window into the kitchen and see their gigantic beautiful trompo. During eating hours, the spit is kept with great skill and the meat comes out perfectly.

What sets Taqueria Los Güeros apart from most of the competition in this part of the world is their terrific adobo blend, a mixture of dried chilis, achiote paste, pineapple, and all the secret spices. This is applied to the small strips of meat before they are mounted onto the spit to be grilled vertically.

You can find the meat in many forms here, but why not start with a plate of los tacos ($6.99, above), a portion of four mini D.F. style taquitos loaded with al pastor, onions, and cilantro. They do a good job bringing the packaged tortillas back to life with some grilling and oils, but make sure to squeeze some lime and load it up further with the gorgeous red salsa that arrives with other condiments.

Another compelling order was the mini torta al pastor ($3.49, above), which because of size and price acts like an appetizer and an easy way to try more food. They do not give this small sandwich short shrift here though, the meat is placed on a very nice miniature bread and is thoroughly enjoyable. The miniature option is also available in carnitas, creating the chance to create somewhat of a slider platter if desired.

While a pineapple is there on the spit providing its juices, and the marinade uses flavor from the fruit, they do not seem to use slices on their tacos or tortas here, something that is missed. This could probably be fixed by request if you cannot live without it.

On trips to Mexico City, at al pastor taqueros on the street an order of a gringa ($8.49, above) can usually not be resisted. Versions there are usually two small flour tortillas encasing al pastor meat and cheese, basically the size of a taco but in quesadilla format. Here at Los Güeros the order is a meal on its own, using larger flour tortillas like the ones wrapping burritos.

When you become tired of al pastor, if that is possible, there are quite a few other directions the menu takes including other antojitos and full combo plates with rice and beans.

These taquitos ($6.99, above) are filled with chicken and deep dried, with a sprinkling of añejo cheese and a side of sour cream. The rice and beans are not going to blow your mind, but the price point is genuinely ridiculous for food like this, and the condiment carrier is ready to put in service if you require.

It is not difficult to see why the company has expanded so quickly to fill the needs of many in New Jersey. Will they go further and bring their trompo skills east of the river and into the boroughs of New York City? Here's to hoping.

PASSAIC New Jersey
Los Gueros Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

04 December 2019

Goemon Curry


With so much love for and so many return visits to Cocoron Soba next door over the years, it was actually quite amazing that it took so long to finally try Goemon Curry, an offshoot from the same group. What looks like a large restaurant from the street is actually just a tiny sliver of a place that has barely any depth. Customers sit at a few shared tables often requiring a wait, but single diners can usually find a spot at one of the counter seats at the window.

Eating alone especially makes the restaurant feel a little like Tokyo, with polite jostling constant, good spirits and smells. Just don't look in the direction of any trash piled up on the street, or maybe just close your eyes completely.

Despite having the same ownership, Goemon ended up impressing even more than expected and it is a shame to have wasted over four years not coming here for their various curries. Now it will just be an internal fight each time to choose the orange or the black entrance, soba or curry.

Whether sharing this meal with friends or not, start out with the renkon chips ($5, above), which will not fill you up before the curry. These very thinly sliced pieces of lotus root are ultra-crispy and have a deeply satisfying crunch. The saltiness is pleasantly low, leaving room for an uptick in flavors later in the meal.

Goemon believes in umami, the deep flavors created with dashi, so it might be natural to start with their standard bearer premium classic curry ($14.50 for small order, above), which can be served with potatoes and carrots for $1 more. The slices of chicken katsu at the back are a very worthy $4 upgrade. The standard Japanese white rice goes better than the multigrain rice they offer, especially with the classic which is made from a roux of chicken and beef.

Their menu goes on to start insulting Indian curries for some reason, insinuating that they are too oily and without depth. This seems to be unnecessary, as thankfully the world has a place for both. Certainly there is a lot of room to compare and contrast the different styles, but degrading another culture's food is not the way.

In the progression of curry evolution, the next step will be mama's taste IE KEI curry ($14 for large order, above). This roux still uses chicken but pork replaces the flavors of beef and the liquid is more creamy. Slices of meat populate the plate, while the menu says "Very decent taste you want to eat occasionally." This is an undersell, as the style is fantastic and warrants more than occasional enjoyment.

For the maximization of flavor and the final step in your curry evolution, turn to the yakuzen soup curry section of the menu. Yakuzen is usually a type of cooking associated with a very healthy lifestyle and often with only vegetables, but the latter part of that formula is not the case here. The broth contains chicken, bonito fish-based stock, turmeric, and a claim of 16 spices that are inspired by Sri Lankan curries. Apparently they waffle on their praise for South Asian cuisines.

The yakuzen soup curry with pork ($19 for small order) was the kind of dish that makes you look around and furl your eyebrows in disbelief at your friends after tasting. It really picks up and enhances the cuts of pork belly, if that is even possible. It will be hard not to revert to this dish on future visits, even when craving the curry and rice standards.

Finish off with a thick slice of black sesame cheesecake ($7.50, below), which on this occasion was practically inhaled by a group of three. While both delicious components, the cheesecake and crust weirdly do not go well together, the dish is better deconstructed and enjoyed in separate bites.

NOLITA Manhattan
Goemon Curry Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

01 December 2019

Chobana Grill Café


It was not so long ago that this big flashy corner spot on 86th and 3rd was veteran Bay Ridge Italian favorite Leo's Casa de Calamari, which shuttered a couple years ago. Fans of the spot were thankful it was just a downsizing, for they moved a block north to 85th Street into a much smaller space. What quickly replaced them and opened over the summer was Chobana Grill Café, with two sheep flanking its name but otherwise adhering to the red theme that has lived on the corner for a long time.

As you can see from the picture above, the "Now Open" sign still hangs from the awning, but Chobana seems to be in full stride and making fans in the neighborhood. On a recent visit as the first customer just after noon on a Thursday, the proprietor was busy baking bread for the day and mentioned some baked items like pide would not be available until a bit later.

The chicken shawarma spit had been prepared for a while and was looking rather handsome, with just the right amount of charred bits. It seemed a good time to order the $9.99 lunch special which offers that meat with a patty of lamb kofte, rice and salad, and a fresh disc of bread. The amount of quality food that arrives with two sauces is actually quite astonishing, it is quite a good deal.

The first cut from the shawarma spit was indeed luxurious, the meat underneath that outside layer juicy and delicious. A plate of this with the lightly spiced Turkish-style rice and white sauce would be enough to please most anyone, but start using that great bread and life keeps getting better.

To get even more mileage from the bread, order a side like the sauteed eggplant ($6.75, above) for dipping. This is smoky and garlicky and is great alone or paired with bites of the kofte.

The only worry for this obviously talented chef is that this large corner space might be too big. Assuming the rent is as high as it seems, can enough people come here to fill the seats over on 3rd Avenue? Hopefully the lofty aspirations take hold, for Chobana is a great addition to the avenue.

BAY RIDGE Brooklyn
Chobana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

30 November 2019

Los Andes Bakery


For many years Los Andes Bakery in North Bergen has been the type of place that when passed on a day of walking always was done with a full stomach. Its abstracted mountains in the window, something like what you see from Santiago de Chile, have always had a pull. On a recent weekday morning the panaderia chilena finally became the destination, and a few rewards were procured.

It should be noted that this is more than just a bakery, they make many types of quick Chilean meals and sandwiches, and even pastel de choclo on weekends. A variety of breakfast dishes paired with freshly made coffee, and an assortment of empanadas are all on offer. In good weather, a short walk to the western corner of James J. Braddock North Hudson County Park would make for a pleasant place to bring your loot, but the few tables they have are just fine as well.

Having to decide between a chacarero and a completo, Chile's famous hot dog with avocado and many other toppings, is always a challenge, but on this day the chacarero ($5.95, below) won out. This uniquely Chilean sandwich consists of thinly sliced churrasco steak paired with a nice mound of green beans.

On the streets of Santiago you can eat one of these almost every block, as small diners called schoperias (something akin to a shop selling draft beer) offer these and other quick bites to keep the alcohol from acting too quickly. Here it is served on hallulla bread that is baked fresh in house.

If there is one disappointment with this sandwich, it is only that there is no healthy smear of avocado, something you see on almost everything in Chile and something usually found on this sandwich as well. As seen in the section view below, a healthy dose of mayonnaise is used as a condiment instead, as well as some tomatoes.

When the sandwich comes out, a bottle that has been refilled with their housemade salsa will be offered, and this of course does no harm to your bites as well.

If you have ever been to the South American nation, you may come back thinking there is no other food more iconic than the large square folded meat pastries known as empanadas de pino ($4, below). Bigger than most of their continental brethren, this could be more than just a quick snack, the smells of freshly baked ones permeate the streets of the capital.

The word "pino" does not mean pine as the direct Spanish translation would suggest, but rather is a derivation from the native Mapuche word "pinu" which means pieces of cooked meat. When wheat and beef arrived during the Spanish conquest, the Mapuche started making the first iterations of these, the modern versions of which remain extremely popular with almost everyone.

Like any good South American bakery would offer, the display case here is full of sweet treats, many of which use the ubiquitous dulce de leche. One new treat found on this visit were cuchuflís (below), which are also popular in Argentina where they are known as cubanitos. This of course is a reference to their tubular resemblance to a famous Cuban cigar.

These are light as air and surprisingly have a texture much different than imagined. Instead of a crispy exterior, the lining is quite soft and the whole thing gives a nice chew.

The next visit will have to coincide with a weekend to try that pastel de choclo, a savory corn and chicken casserole sometimes considered Chile's national dish. But the menu's offerings are wide and generous, so a chicken version of the empanada and that always inviting completo will probably come calling as well.

The bakery also operates a location in Westchester County in Sleepy Hollow. The branch in Peekskill was the unfortunate victim of a fire late last year.

Los Andes Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

27 November 2019

Cali Ají


The perfect time to experience Cali Ají is during a weekday lunch, when the casual café is running on all cylinders. In a working class neighborhood full of auto shops, NYC Transit depots, and close to LaGuardia, these are the customers who are the regulars. Colombians working in these professions seem to be the demographic of the restaurant, those with a little grease on their clothes and monster appetites.

For this reason, it was crystal clear before even sitting down that a meal here was going to be completely satisfying. The menu is full of items ordered a la carte, but also contains a page with daily lunch specials for $10. On most days this includes some type of soup, rice and beans, and a choice of meat from the steam table. On a recent Tuesday, the sopa de tostones (below) was chosen, although the delicious albondigas that were paired with it were greedily eaten before a photograph could be thought about.

The small space is mostly filled by six four-tops and hungry humans, often to capacity with pairs sitting with strangers. No one seems to mind though, as dishes are served rapidly and turnover is high. Taking the time to linger around for longer than most, the natural rhythms of the café were really enjoyable to observe. Is everyone in a good mood here?

Having been to Cali some years ago, it was natural to want to feel the connection. The instant feelings of togetherness and family. People smiling and enjoying their day. Unlike Colombia's other big cities, Santiago de Cali is closer to sea level and therefore hot and humid, and more intense. But alas, each time the door would swing open to let those chilly winter-approaching airs inside, the feelings snapped back to New York City.

The plates that are available all day mostly come in the range of $10-13 and are also a massive value. This sobrebarriga a la criolla ($13, above) was a pleasant surprise, flank steak almost swimming in a lovely sweetened and fruity tomato sauce. Sobrebarriga translates literally to "over the belly" and just refers to this cut of meat. It always runs the risk of being too tough, but here it is executed quite well, with minimal chewiness.

Joining the steak is a few potatoes, some yuca, and a wonderful slice of plantain. One of a few prototypical Colombian favorites. For a nice kick, a little "Cali ají" if you will, grab the squeeze bottles and top up the sauce to your liking. Unless you work in the construction field and absolutely destroy your plates like many did during this visit, expect leftovers galore.

Cali Aji Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

25 November 2019

La Fortaleza


Having walked by both branches of Passaic's beloved La Fortaleza many times over the past ten years or more, the establishment has always been on the to do list but unfortunately that box was never checked. These shops put cemita right in their name, claiming excellence in their execution of the Pueblan sandwich. Photographs and peeks inside the doors always show the other part of La Fortaleza experience: color and over the top kitsch.

What finally tipped the scale and locked in a visit was a look at their presence on social media, which by far and away favors another location in Garfield. This spot seems to ramp up the color, add nightly live music, and a full bar to the mix. The menu might actually be a bit longer, but they still give proper focus to those giant cemitas.

But first thing's first, do spend a little time in the bar area, especially during the daylight hours when light gives all the bright colors inside their proper due and some happy specials are available on weekdays. Giant margaritas can be ordered in many flavors or original, and when asked to be served in their house cantarito de barro (above), you get to take home the souvenir cup.

The good music rotation is on point even before the nightly live performances start, so you start to settle into your environment even if you had not planned on staying. Even when you have already eaten lunch the appetizers start to sound appealing. Order the guacamole ($8, below) if only for the chance to have the ceramic Volkswagen Beetle arrive filled with it. It took a few more limes and dumping in a bit from the various hot sauces on the table to give it life, but it was not the reason for this visit so it can slide.

After a few more rounds and time enough to feel like eating again, the list of cemitas was perused and offered many selections. This sandwich gets its name from the sesame-encrusted bread that is used, and on the east coast is often times a much better vehicle for meats if you cannot find handmade tortillas. The Pueblan bakeries and restaurants like this never disappoint.

These gigantic beauties range only from $9 to $11, really a steal for how much quality food arrives. The cemita de carnitas ($9, below) uses maciza cuts of the pork, probably the easiest for anyone to eat. All lean meat and no guts or skin, the pork is cooked Michoacán-style, with the addition of avocado, a mountain of quesillo, and a very important and unseen chipotle pepper.

The homemade salsas at La Fortaleza also really stand out. The menu says this sandwich is paired with a spicy salsa verde, and it is undeniably wonderful, but the salsa roja here is the real star of the show. It is made with habañeros and packs a swift slap in the face for each drop you apply. Sweat was forming almost instantly, but the heat is rewarded with a deep and rich palate underneath. If only they jarred it for purchase.

After this cemita was enjoyed, it was great knowing the Garfield branch was just as interested in what comes out of their kitchen as the Passaic locations. With a brand new spot in Clifton as well, La Fortaleza is creating a little empire in this section of New Jersey.

La Fortaleza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato