>> Eat the World NYC

19 February 2018

Los Toldos


Has Los Toldos existed since before any of us were on Earth? Somehow it has this feeling, a charming place full of regulars and Colombian home cooking right in the center of a Colombian stronghold on Northern Boulevard. The interior is a hodgepodge of tables bought at one place, chairs at another, and a designer using wood and thatch to replicate a feeling back home. Three bar stools that must have come from a diner going out of business complete the look, but honestly it is the massive plates of food that everyone is focusing on here.

When the first visit was made about a year ago, decisions were based on how many items could be on just one plate for a solo diner. Colombia's solution to this is always the bandeja paisa, a plate of food born from more modern interpretations of peasant diets, so full of protein for someone working hard all day.

The most prominent piece of a bandeja montañera ($12, above), as the variation is called here, is always the curving arc of chicharrón, a long hunk of pork skin fried to perfection. Red beans cooked with pork and rice lay the foundation and are covered with a fried egg, sweet plantain, thin cuts of beef, and a small arepa. It is advisable to choose the fresh juice with water and not milk when eating such a dish.

When the chance finally came, the cazuela los toldos ($20, below) stuck out from the long list of seafood dishes offered. They also offer the familiar coconut milk-based cazuela de mariscos, but since they stuck their name on this one, it seemed worth a try.

Nothing within the casserole was a disappointment, with fresh hunks of shrimp, squid, and fish throughout in a thin but very tasty soup. It pairs perfectly with rice, and would seem a no-brainer on a return visit.

The lomo de cerdo a la plancha ($12, below) also popped out and was ordered, a thin steak of pork that is griddled. This tasted very good, but may have remained cooking just a bit too long.

It and many dishes come with a plate of their porky red beans and white rice, which pair well with everything and possibly call for a second side order for those that love beans.

Daily rotating soup specials seem to be very popular here, an economical meal priced $6.50 for a small bowl and $7.50 for a large. Good fruit shakes made fresh are only $3, a steal really. Try the lulo, a citrus-y tasting fruit only available in Colombia, Ecuador, and Panamá.

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Los Toldos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 February 2018

Alberto's Restaurant & Pizzeria


The charm of Alberto's is easy to recognize even from a passing car. The extended flag of Argentina stretches the entire length of the facade, and the kitschy fun of the interior shows through outside.

Opening the door is an assault on the visual sense, every surface is covered with all things Argentina and New York City. Three TVs are waiting to be tuned to a Boca Juniors match on the weekend, but during a weekday you might find some traditional music playing during the afternoon.

Above the refrigerator is somewhat of a showcase of Argentina. The faces of Diego Maradona and Pope Francis are joined by mates, thermoses, and flags. At the center though is the real patron saint, Lionel Messi, who has something of an "altar" with offerings of Quilmes and Fernet, Argentina's most popular alcohol.

Each table is decorated with fake flowers and a couple flags, and the scene is set.

In addition to Italian or Italian-American, or maybe just American-style pizzas, the back of the menu offers an Argentine selection, and any meal here should include some of their delicious empanadas. A pizza oven offers the perfect way to cook and keep these hot and fresh.

There are five different versions available, each for $1.85. The beef and chicken in these photos were both well-spiced and kept their moisture beautifully. No sauce was offered, and no sauce was needed as the flavors were definitely enough to satisfy on their own.

Many of the customers of Alberto's come in to buy full pies to go, and it would seem odd not to order pizza in a pizzeria. Thankfully the signature Pizza Argentina (below) is sold by the slice. On top of what seemed like a sourdough crust, this pizza has a layer of nice salty Spanish ham, sweet roasted peppers, and green olives. This salty, sweet, and sour mixture created very tasty bites.

They also do calamari ($13.95, below) well here, with just a thin layer of breading to lightly fry.

What is all this stuff doing under the flag of Argentina you may ask? It is estimated that over 60% of Argentinians have some level of Italian ancestry in their blood, as waves of migrants were coming to the country in the second half of the 1800's and first half of the 1900's. Italian last names and pasta on menus are ubiquitous.

Something distinct to the South American continent's indigenous people but shared all over Argentina is drinking the highly-caffeinated yerba mate. This is unfortunately not available in its traditional form here, but you can have a tea bag of the drink.

The spot will entertain supporters of Boca Juniors on weekends for the next few months, but everything will turn to the national team in June when the World Cup starts. This will be an excellent spot to cheer on La Albiceleste. It is BYOB, so along with your appetite, make sure to bring something to quench certain thirsts.

Seats that will all be full in June.

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Alberto's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 February 2018

Antojitos Mexicanos


Since Antojitos Mexicanos rebranded itself recently from a more nondescript deli grocery that also made antojitos, the place seems to be perpetually jammed. The all-female staff is constantly pressing fresh handmade tortillas out as orders come in. Four or five of them each have a station and the spot runs seamlessly, it takes about 10 minutes to get really good food. As the awning suggests, this is a place only for antojitos, something that New York fortunately excels at. With that being said, don't walk in expecting larger platos fuertes.

Three tables sit about 10 depending how close everyone wants to get. A lot of people come here to eat solo, so don't feel shy to grab a seat with someone after placing your order at the counter. A good view of the kitchen or some football on TV will pass the time nicely as you wait.

On a first visit, it seemed as though quesadillas ($5, above and below) were the most popular item, and an order easily proved why. The handmade tortillas for these are pressed out in real time and grilled, toppings and fresh cheese also prepared only when ordered.

One was certainly big enough for a meal, but guaranteeing that I would be outdone, the man that joined my table ordered two for himself and finished every last bite.

After a couple bites of the tacos on a second visit, I was almost convinced that these tortillas were also handmade, which would have changed the universe in Sunset Park. In reality it was just a higher quality product that was then griddled to toasty perfection on both sides.

The tacos made with pastor and suadero (below) were both top notch, served in a large size and already prepared with cilantro, onion, and a green salsa made with avocado. Good red and green salsas are also available in bottles and will be brought when your order comes.

The tostadas (below) are also good, a thin layer of beans is spread below the toppings chosen.

Having nothing even slightly mediocre yet, a third visit was impressed by the sope ($5, below), built on a large oval-shaped tortilla that is pressed by hand to remain thicker and left with flat ends. This uses a more generous spread of their tasty black beans, and the version below came with carne asada, which was really good and possibly a highlight of their meat selections.

Last, but certainly not least, was the more compact picadita ($4, below), built with upturned ends that act as a defining edge. The tinga here is unusually delicious, smoky from chipotle peppers and full of heat.

When you order food in México, the process is somewhat similar to that here. They get to work creating tortillas and putting everything together after the order has been made, and it all comes back as good as possible according to the chef's talents. It is amazing what a difference this makes without the use of premade items, and it is no wonder why this relatively new spot is always full of hungry patrons.

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Antojitos Mexicanos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 February 2018

Island Express


If you are a Caribbean person living in South Queens or Brooklyn, or just love good food, chances are you have heard of and love Sybil Bernard. Her first bakery opened in 1976, offering Guyanese bread and pastries that quickly became beloved and eventually expanded to two other restaurants. The fourth has recently opened in Flatbush, Brooklyn and resembles a fast food burger joint on first glance. Fortunately it is much better, all of the Guyanese favorites are just as good as always.

The graphics game is on point, and the walls tell the story of Sybil, her children, and this Guyanese empire. It also includes her photos from younger years and a few select quotes that frame her as a no-nonsense woman.

The menu is compact but offers all the Guyanese and Caribbean favorites including roti and curry. There is also a bakery side, getting back to her roots and showcasing her many skills.

Off the menu, but sometimes available is pepper pot ($12, above and below), a stewed beef dish made with Caribbean hot peppers, cinnamon, and a cassava root-based sauce called cassareep. The second half of the name comes about because this is a dish usually reserved for special occasions or holidays, and cooked in a large pot for many servings.

This should be eaten with white rice, which will turn brown and soak up all the good gravy. It comes with a choice of one side, which will be added to the plate and also covered with gravy.

The bakery skills of Sybil have always shown through with her Jamaican-style patties, which can also be purchased here in a small size called cocktail patties ($1.50 each, below). The well-seasoned meats are covered with perfectly flaky crust.

Other treats from the bakery include a thick and sweet yucca and coconut "pudding" called pone ($2, below) and the cheese roll ($1, below) which is not unlike the patties but filled with slightly spicy cheddar.

Also available are homemade Caribbean drinks like sorrel and mauby, and something I can never resist, the peanut punch ($3, below).

Caribbean people fly the flags of their country everywhere, but often times a restaurant will have an awning that says "West Indian" on it instead of being specific. I think it is great that Island Express proudly prints "Authentic Guyanese Cuisine since 1976." If you have ever felt intimidated by some of the Caribbean steam table restaurants written about on these pages that do not really have a self-explanatory menu and require some guess work, this is a "user-friendly" place to start.

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Island Express Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 February 2018

Chris's Restaurant


Besides the odd place or two, Polish restaurants in Brooklyn are quite rare when you go south of Greenpoint. Attracting stray Polish people down in this area though is an interesting outpost on 86th Street in Bensonhurst. Chris is actually Krzysztof, and runs this place that has been offering hearty meals and Zywiec on draft for the better part of a decade.

Some of these "strays" were sitting at the bar when we arrived for dinner, and were still there when we left, full of big laughs. The bar has a nice TV for weekend European football, and the white eagle coat of arms of the country. Wood and brick and some faux-stucco make the decor like a comfortable country home, a nice place to eat a warming meal in winter.

In that spirit, we ordered a cup of white borscht ($3.50, below) to begin the warming of our bones. This traditional Easter soup is generally eaten around the holiday, but can be found year round. Each ingredient signifies something from the basket that might be taken to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed. The "broth" is sharp and sour, with buttermilk, vinegar, and sugar mixed in with sour cream.

Whether white or red, any borscht will of course include Polish kielbasy, an ingredient that is also on the appetizer Polish platter ($14, below), which gives you the chance to sample a lot of the classics. In addition to the sausage, three pierogi topped with caramelized onions, a nice portion of sauerkraut, and a stuffed cabbage also populate the plate. It is all executed very well.

In the mood for seafood, an order of the filet of bass ($16, below) was also decided on to finish off the meal. These grilled filets are served on top of sauteed onions, mushrooms, and zucchini, and comes with a choice of side.

Barely visible in the background are the two available sauces, mushroom and dill. The darker mushroom was a favorite, and could be slathered over the fish or any other dish on the table.

 With half liters of draft or bottled Polish beer only running $6, this is the type of place that is really comfortable to come and spend some time in for food and drinks without breaking the bank.

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Chris's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

07 February 2018

The Australian


The Australian, besides being a friendly bar that tries to serve good food, is known as a top place to go for rugby. Old and new jerseys and balls (eggs?) celebrating the sport cover the walls and bar here, and they open early when the rest of the world is playing. A recent visit coincided with the Six Nations Championship, a yearly competition between the top 6 countries in Europe.

Later this summer, this will be the most popular bar for fans of the Socceroos, the national football team of Australia which will be competing in the World Cup. (Side note: Australia is one of the only places in the world like here in the USA, that insist on calling football "soccer" for some reason.)

Outside of sport, you can also come here to get a taste for some foods from or inspired by Australia. Although you won't get away from sports even if you try, there is even a sign up sheet for a cricket league in the bathroom.

It was impossible to resist the grilled kangaroo skewers ($16, above), if only for the uniqueness of eating this meat which is popular in Australia. The first taste and texture is similar to beef, but a flavorful gaminess comes through during chewing. The dish is interesting and tasty, but laughably small at this price point. Next day overseas delivery must be built in.

The menu also offers four varieties of pies. The traditional meat pie ($14, below) is served with a choice of potato.

These pies are less soupy than their American pot pie cousins, letting the ground beef speak for itself but unfortunately coming up a bit dry. The curry vegetable version might be the way to go, but again at the price it is probably not enough to be filling. Kangaroo is also available for an extra $2.

On the menu, the barramundi ($24, below) is listed with the comment "Australia's No. 1!" That fact could not be independently confirmed by this website, but the concept here was pan frying of the fish and laying it over slightly spicy pad thai.

The bar definitely excels with beer selection, including some Coopers options on draft and in bottle. You can have Fosters if you must, and a couple other choices, as well as plenty of domestic and imported options more familiar.

See you in June, Australian. It is going to be a tough group to get through, with all three other countries expecting three points against the Aussies. But that is why the matches are played, it should be fun.

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The Australian Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

04 February 2018

Taiyo Marketplace


With one store already thriving a few blocks away in Sunnyside, Taiyo has expanded to a second location to offer Japanese groceries and prepared foods in Queens. This spot, a few steps from the 52nd Street 7 train station, seems to be pushing more of what is going on back in the kitchen, and Woodside is certainly set to benefit.

The menu is concise, with three versions of udon, one rice and beef gyu-don bowl, and tonkotsu ramen available regular or spicy. This shop has only been open since late autumn, should we expect an expansion of these options? It actually would not matter, as long as they keep these meals feeling the way they do.

Sitting down here to wait for and enjoy your food is also a nice experience in watching all the little unique parts of Japanese culture. The owners and employees seem to know their guests well and interact with everyone who comes in.

The most expensive item on the menu runs $8.95, the spicy version of the tonkotsu ramen (below). While it may not be at the top of any noodle list, this bowl is exactly on point for its good value with a healthy portion of nice noodles, a couple slices of chashu, bamboo shoots, and just a bit of kick. If you want it really spicy, add the 50 cents extra scoop of spicy.

The two tables and counter at the front of the shop are also available for those that want to come in and buy packaged goods. The microwave can warm up those soups as well, if that is your thing.

A lot of other things in the store are going to vie for your attention as well, whether it be the wall of chewy candy or the fridge full of Japanese craft beers. With such a good selection, it is impossible not to ask them to brown bag a bottle for you while you eat.

In addition, sometimes they make bento box lunches in limited quantities, and sometimes they even do okonomiyaki making demonstrations. One time, Pikachu even showed up.

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Taiyo Marketplace Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato