>> Eat the World NYC

13 September 2019

El Pastorcito Taqueria


It seems like every month brings some kind of new innovation (the word for "catching up" when it comes to New York City) in the Mexican food scene in the various neighborhoods where they live in big numbers. Sometimes they do not last very long, but others seem to have caught fire right out of the gate.

A new cart in Sunset Park has been on the block of 5th Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets for about two months, offering alambres, what seems to be a first coming from a street vendor. An Alambre (below), most of which are $11, is basically a selection of grilled meat that is diced with bacon, onions, poblano peppers, and in the case of the options here, plenty of stringy Oaxacan cheese.

El Pastorcito alambre.

The word in Spanish translates to "wire" and has some reference to the skewers the meat is originally grilled on before becoming the mixed platter. It does take on the character of the beloved Tex-Mex fajitas, and sometimes in restaurants you might even see it served at the table sizzling. No matter what, it will always be served with corn or flour tortillas and salsas.

Many of El Pastorcito's options are also offered on flour tortillas, so this seems to be the proprietor's preference. Since neither is of the homemade variety, the flour do well for making your own tacos with the order, especially with all the cheese. On the night of this order, a rain started and made the small stools provided not work, so an escape plan was made to the McDonald's across the street. This turns out to be an excellent place to eat an alambre with the help of a table. An apple pie was procured for dessert as not to be completely offensive. With free wifi, the second floor of the fast food chain was something of an office for a few others.


As the name suggests, there is a small trompo here, although business is not quite fast enough yet for it to remain under constant fire and spinning. An order of gringas ($4 each, above) will be quickly toasted up on the grill before serving with nicely melted cheese. It turns out to be really tasty and probably should be the starter point for any small order here.

Once you do get a friend or three to join you for alambres though, there are six or eight varieties to choose from including a "Hawaiano" which of course gets pineapples thrown in and the "Sabores" which uses the marinated pork from the pastor trompo.


10 September 2019

Chingunae Pocha 法拉盛酒吧 | 朋友酒吧


It has always been around here and there, but in recent years the pojangmacha-style Korean pub format seems to be taking over New York City's Korean food scene, especially in and around Murray Hill, Queens. Another new establishment, opened up earlier this year, is Chingunae Pocha, a bustling and friendly place that seems to get a good crowd. Sometimes many of these type of pubs do not get truly busy until close to midnight, but Chingunae seems to thread the line between dinner and late night drinking and might be full even if you show up at 8 or 9pm.

Part of this might be because their decent happy hour food specials, large format dishes best enjoyed with a group of at least four. Also make sure your group comes ready to drink soju, as they serve many varieties like any respectable pocha (short for pojangmacha) should.

Korean drinking culture, written about at length here at nearby Old Days Corp., must involve surrounding yourself with good friends and good food. Actually the food needs to be good, but the friends can become good by the end of the night.

As usual, some kind of heat source is at the table for a combination of dishes to arrive and be prepared. Some require stir-frying, mostly for effect at the table right before eating, which is all handled by the staff. On a recent visit the dish below was put down and a couple seconds went by before the server asked "Don't you want to take a picture first?"

Having only a party of two for this meal, the options for a full feast were limited, but the stir-fried pork belly and squid ($35, above and below) was a great choice that provided for quite a bit of leftovers as well. Once the fire was on and our server mixed everything together, each bite was full of many textures and flavors, all brought together by the lovely spicy sauce.

The menu included a few pub food-type favorites that were served in a bed of melted cheese like the marinated spicy baby back ribs with melted cheese ($26, below). It was unfortunately almost obvious that these would not be so delicious upon arrival though, as the sauce appeared to be a sticky sweet glop.

The taste was not much different from that description, although the rib meat was tender and fine. The afterthought of a sauce was just such a disappointment. While certainly not fancy cheese, the stringy hot bed of it was enjoyed at least by half of the table. At some places you will see the server wrap the cheese around each rib and place them on your plate, but here is completely do it yourself, which is probably better for those wanting higher quantities of one part.

Cheese seems to be something you see more and more of over the years in Korean restaurants as spice levels of dishes are tempered with it. The newer generations of Koreans seem to love it far more than their parents and grandparents.

For a true sense of the scope here, a return visit is looked forward to to try more and pair things with soju.

Picked clean.

Go home, you're drunk.

Chingunae Pocha Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

09 September 2019

Hungarian Meat Center


Wander into the small Hungarian Meat Center on a weekend, and the intensity of cured meat hits you at the door. Most places are markets that sell meat, but it is clear that this small Passaic business, open since 1988 by the same family, is worthy of the title of "center." Their website, www.kolbasz.com, is the Hungarian word for sausage. While they may seem unassuming, this place comes to play.

Since all the meats have been dried and/or smoked already, the smells of the center are outstanding and addictive. Walk in when things are freshest on a Saturday and you might be introduced to paprika szalonna, a luscious cut of smoked pork fatback that is bright red from paprika, Hungarian salami and head cheese, and of course fresh kolbasz which hangs from behind the counter.

The shop also carries a large selection of Hungarian and Eastern/Central European candies and drinks. The racks are fun to peruse for the perfect snack to satisfy a sweet tooth after meals nearby.

On weekends they also receive fresh loaves of poppy seed and walnut filled breads known as beigli, hugely popular around Christmas in Hungary but here available all year round.

Mákos beigli ($8.50, above and below) is what they call a poppy seed strudel, about 35 centimeters in length and full of poppy seeds and sugar. A spiral is revealed when you cut through the thick crust, a lovely moist and sweet bread hidden within. The walnut (diós) version is similar in a lighter tone.

If you are ever fortunate enough to be invited into a Hungarian's home for the holidays, you will likely see the two served side by side.

Open the freezer and find Fenom (below), a chocolate covered cheese dessert that Hungarians grow up with. Before eating, let it start to warm up just a bit, so the chocolate gets melty on your fingertips. Talk about them long enough with someone who has childhood memories, and eventually they will try to convince you of all the health benefits involved as well.

Either way, it might just be the perfect dessert after a heavy meal.


05 September 2019

Kape't Torta


When the ugly new building on the corner of Queens Blvd and Van Loon Street opened in late 2016 it took a while to fill up with commercial tenants. Queens Blvd from this point west was always pretty sparse with business as foot traffic is minimal after Broadway and cars are traveling so fast they never see anything interesting. Eventually as tenants took hold a florist moved into this spot and a pizza parlor tried to take the corner, but neither survived.

Now the building has taken somewhat of a Filipino flavor, with popular Lahi opening on the corner in spring of 2018 and a brand new Filipino bakery taking over here. Kape't Torta keeps it simple inside and out, their name translating to something like "coffee and cake."

For the first part of the name, it was exciting to see Filipino Kapeng Barako beans advertised and available freshly brewed everyday. This coffee comes from the more southerly and hilly parts of Luzon island, the Philippines' largest. It is highly regarded around the country, which is even hinted it by its name. Barako means "stud," and this is indeed strong coffee.

To finish an enjoyable sit down and follow through with everything in the name, a torta cebuana ($2, below) is recommended. This slightly sweet and very dense cake hails from the island province of Cebu and was the perfect counterpoint to the bitter coffee. The edges crumble off easily while the center is more strong, the whole thing hints of anise.

It is said that these tortas are better after waiting a day, and indeed this was confirmed after eating a cold one straight from the fridge for breakfast the next day. It may not be meant to be refrigerated, but the inner portions of dense cake were still moist and really lovely eaten cold.

Other cakes are made daily and some less Filipino-specific offerings are available, or you can try their halo halo ($6, below), advertised as "special" on the sandwich board outside. It is packed so full of shaved ice that mixing its content is impossible until you eat off quite a bit of it, but once the syrups and jellies from the bottom are mixed the whole concoction is quite enjoyable.

Ube and vanilla ice creams are joined on top with another kind of torta and some corn flakes, all of which make their way to the table or your lap at some point, as the cup is stacked over maximum capacity.

If you try some of their other sweets and find them noteworthy, please tell everyone about them in the comments below.

Kape't Torta Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

04 September 2019

Los Tacos No. 1 Tribeca


Without much fanfare, the fourth branch of Los Tacos No. 1 has opened up a small spot in Tribeca offering the same foods and experience as their other locations. The wildly popular Tijuana-style taco spot, lauded as the "best tacos NYC has to offer" by many folks has still been unable to keep up with demand as lines at the original Chelsea Market location are almost always out of control. There have been many occasions in the area where one glance at the line was enough to decide against another visit.

In a way, the franchise is something of a rarity for New York City, a little bubble of what is all the rage down the west coast and across the border where the style was born. One of the founders of the branch is actually even more famous for a similar taco operation in Los Angeles called Tacos 1986 which now has a brick and mortar shop after multiple successful street and market vending locations. Copycats in NYC have just now started to pop up around town, but so far it is best to avoid places like "Los Tacos Al Pastor" in DUMBO which rips off interior design and fonts but not the taste.

Eating a taco is a spiritual experience for some people, an attack on your senses from all directions if done properly. You might see smoke from the carne asada blocks away from a street vendor you are approaching, then start smelling it when getting closer. The chop chop chop of the blade going through meat hits your ear. The salts, fats, and acids hit your mouth at the same time all creating ecstasy, just in time for you to notice the juices running down your hands and onto your shoes.

If there is any complaint about Los Tacos No. 1 it is simply that some of this experience is taken away by the shiny white diner aesthetic they have chosen. I am sure some (or most!) folks do not mind this, but that spirituality spoken of is hard to attain here for that reason. This is to say nothing about the price, which is absolutely not a problem. The tortillas themselves make the taco worth double of its street counterparts, and that is not even mentioning the much higher quality ingredients.

On corn tortillas.

Whether you go with corn (above) or flour (below) tortillas, the assembly line starts here, freshly pressed masa and flour is placed on the grill as demand ebbs and flows. At this price point, they are by far the best in the city, the flour so thin as to be translucent.

They do pollo asado, but where Los Tacos No. 1 truly excels is with carne asada ($3.95, left) and adobada ($3.75, right). As seen in the photo above, each meat has its own professional taking care of it, one man stands over the grill cooking the former while another taquero constantly shaves off meat from the trompo. Despite being over a gas grill, the steak magically has a great smoky charcoal flavor.

On flour tortillas.

In true Tijuana style, a dollop of guacamole should be added to each taco, plus their red salsa, onions, and cilantro. A small condiment bar is also set up with more options, and be sure not to forget to squeeze some lime juice. The marinated pork cut off the spit is almost perfect but usually gets a bit too burnt after they grill it up and before it makes its way to your tortilla. Otherwise, you can really taste the high quality meat and adobo spice mix they use.

While most customers rightly stick to tacos, after a few visits don't be shy to try their especial ($6, below), a fried quesadilla that arrives looking like a Dominican pastelito or South American empanada. This dough only gets super crispy at the folded edges, while the rest remains soft and lucious. The fluffiness was a true surprise.

After frying, they cut open a seam and add the fresh ingredients and salsas so even when piping hot the mix of cold within is enjoyable. You can also order it with any of the meats for another $2, but in this form it is great and cheesy without.

Their mulas ($4.75-$4.95, below) might be the only dish that misses the mark. Essentially this is a taco with cheese and another tortilla added to the top, but they use such a small amount of cheese that it is almost not tasted. The tortillas are already so big and tasty that another one just alters the flavor combinations too much. Stick to the tacos.

As a pro tip, don't be like the finance bros on their phones or trying to impress their dates and saying the words "number one" out loud, because that is not the name of this place. If you are already going through the trouble of saying "los tacos" with your best Spanish accent, why not finish the name correctly?

Numero uno. Like this guy below.

Los Tacos No. 1 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

03 September 2019

Circulo Español


Now just two years shy of their 50th anniversary, the Centro Español de Queens has lived in its current Astoria home since 1985. Originally called the Circulo Español when formed in 1971, the organization has always had the mission of preserving the Spanish culture of its members and their children. The third major wave of Spanish immigration to the United States that took place during the 60's, 70's and 80's created strong communities here in New York City, always one of the major destinations.

Nowadays many of the members have been here for decades and multiple generations of descendants have grown up in this country, but the center acts as a hub to return to with family for celebrations and comradery. While run separately from the Centro, the restaurant is an important part of the daily operations. Walking up to the bar not only brings you a transition into Spanish culture, but also seems like a bubble away from the rapidly changing streets of Astoria.

Early on a weeknight, the men at the bar all seem like regulars, while the formal dining room is not called into action at all. For a sense of this space at capacity, coming on a weekend is ideal to watch large families at multiple tables. If you come here alone or in a small group, eating in the bar is perfectly fine and comfortable, a few tables surround the space and two Spanish beers and plenty of Spanish wines are always available.

Four flags flank the large TV in the bar along with a World Cup replica trophy that all of Spain was proud to win in 2010, but the beers are the first sense of a strong connection to Galicia, the small northwestern region that juts over Portugal. On the dinner menu, many of the items are described as Galician-style, a sense of what the meals here will focus on.

Marinated olives ($4)

The main dining room doubles as a dance hall and event space and has always been an important place within the institution. On a recent meal with six others, the menu was attacked from all angles to get a sense of what makes the place special.

As you might expect, a thorough list of tapas are available. Most of these dishes are served in bite-sized portions and perfect for sharing.

Patatas bravas ($5)

Pulpo a la Gallega ($18, Galician-style octopus)

Croquetas ($8)

Xouvas ($8, fried sardines)

Fresh anchovies in vinegar ($10)

Nothing served here in the Circulo Español is intended to knock your socks off, but it all gives a deep feeling of being homestyle. Meals seem like they are served by your aunt and uncle who farm in the countryside after you drove two hours to get to their home. The views out the window lack the vistas of rolling hills like Galicia, but as each new dish hits the table it is not hard to imagine them instead of Queens.

Unless you plan on returning many times, bring a large group so you can sample from the extensive offerings. Especially with entrees, the portion sizes are modest and allow for many dishes to be sampled.

Paella a la Valenciana ($22)

Chuleta de cordero ($20, lamb chops)

Shrimp in garlic sauce ($18)

The perfect time to come might just be weekend lunches, when the dining room is buzzing and after meals you can retire back to the bar where a busy crowd is cheering on La Liga matches.

Circulo Español Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

28 August 2019

Thai Noodle House


For many years Wondee Siam, while still not quite at the level of the restaurants in Elmhurst that Eater.com just found out existed, has been a reliable source of Thai food in Hell's Kitchen, whether it be for lunch or a group dinner with folks you could never get to come out to Queens. Recently they opened a small noodle house next door, so stopping in to check up on things a couple times was recently necessary.

One side of the menu reads a lot like the offerings next door, but stick to the noodle soups for now, which are the highlight as you can guess from the name. One unfortunate part is letting customers decide their own noodle types for each soup, which actually go better with specific kinds of noodles. If you do not feel comfortable making this decision please ask the server to direct you to a dish's best noodle.

If it doesn't show up on its own, ask for the condiment tray.

For example, thin noodles should be used for the Sukhothai noodle ($13.95, below), a tom yum noodle soup that can be very hard to pull off well. Besides being very timid to put heat in the soups of their customers, the bowl has most everything right. The amount of chilis and sourness can be easily fixed with the condiment tray that should arrive at your table after ordering (above).

A bowl of Sukhothai noodles, named for the central city it hails from, is a masterpiece of flavor combinations and always includes ingredients that can be counted into the double digits. A slight sweetness comes from the abundance of peanuts which are dusted over cuts of roast pork and ground pork. String beans and bean sprouts are populated in the broth with garlic, scallions, cilantro, pepper, and the secret recipes of the kitchen.

Slightly less successful but still satisfying is a bowl of nam tok noodle ($13.95, below), available in both pork and beef versions. This is the soup usually translated to pork blood soup, but despite ordering the pork version there did not seem to be any hint of blood found within. Probably another thing that Hell's Kitchen is just not ready for, unless you ask ahead of time.

After finishing half the bowl, it was noticed that pork blood was nowhere to be found in the listing of ingredients, and as seen below the focus seems to be more on the dried pork skin that covers everything. After a lot of work with chilis and vinegar from the condiment tray, the bowl was in good shape.

Quite disappointing and not recommended is yen ta fo ($14.95, below), which should be requested with flat noodles (sometimes vermicelli is preferred as in the bowl here). This seafood soup in a broth made pink by the combination of spicy, tangy, and sweet ingredients used. Unfortunately, nothing in the bowl was of note to bring the level of enjoyment up.

With 12 different noodle soup options, some were bound to excel and some were bound to fail. Eating these types of dishes in Thailand would probably take you to 12 different noodle shops that all specialize in one specific type, so it is understandable when one kitchen tries to pull everything off it could take a while to tweak.

For now the Sukhothai is the stand out, and if any of the other nine are worth mentioning on return visits, the page will be updated. Do you have a favorite?

Thai Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato