>> Eat the World NYC

24 May 2019

Kingston Food Truck


If you are not already on a long walk through the Bronx, the southern reaches of Castle Hill require at least one transfer to a bus from the 6 train up on Westchester Avenue. And getting over to Zerega Avenue to find the home of the Kingston Food Truck requires a bit of extra walking after that anyways. Located just before a bend in the road that follows Westchester Creek getting read to dump into the Atlantic, the area is dominated with large-scale light industrial facilities and can seem like the end of the world.

The truck's primary clientele are Caribbeans who work at the FedEx Ground location it parks in front of, but some others walk over from the Castle Hill Houses, which are not far away. On the day of this visit, the sun was bright, a pleasant breeze filled the air, and walking out to the truck was not a problem at all.

The only obstacle for those without a house, office, or car to take their food back to is a lack of seating in the area to enjoy your meal in any fashion but on your feet. A walk down to Castle Hill Point and the Bronx YMCA will take around 10-15 minutes but rewards you with a couple benches and views out to the Whitestone Bridge. After the industrial portion of the neighborhood, this more southern section feels very quiet and is full of single family homes and apartments on tree-lined streets. Besides the flights taking off from LaGuardia and flying overhead, it can be downright tranquil and feel like a reprieve from city life.

But open up that to go bag and the city in focus immediately shifts down to the Caribbean and the capital of Jamaica, the namesake of the truck. Tourists to the nation normally do not spend much time here, but Kingston is home to around a quarter of the island's inhabitants and is a big, vibrant city worth exploring for many reasons not least of which is the excellent food.

While owner and chef Paul Smooth (I think he prefers "Chef Smooth" based on his social media presence) has been cooking in New York City for a while, the truck is relatively new, hitting the street around the beginning of November of last year. It can be found here in Castle Hill every weekday for lunch and dinner, with a rotating menu that is usually posted on Instagram in the morning.

Two sizes are available, either a $10 or $15 portion. The jerk chicken with rasta pasta (above and below) is the smaller of the two unbelievably, a heaping container stuffed almost too full to close. Besides this bird, you can usually find some style of shrimp, possibly a salmon, jerk pork, a stew or two, and oxtail amongst others. Pair this with the side of your choice and you are good to go for at least two meals.

When I jokingly asked him why he only charges $10 for such a massive portion of food, he relayed some instances of customers actually being mad at him for not serving enough! After sitting down and eating everything, it was obvious that the food here was a substantial upgrade from the common steam table Jamaican restaurants around town, so even if the portion is small for someone, the quality would demand an appropriate price.

In the mood for rasta pasta, this order incorporated that rather than rice and peas to go along with the meat. A healthy squirt of jerk sauce to cover the whole thing meant that by the end the concoction at the bottom was quite lovely with everything mixing.

Noticing that Chef Smooth seems to make a big deal of his mac n' cheese ($6, above) on Instagram whenever he has it available, an extra side was also procured knowing that much of the meal would have to be repacked and taken home to eat later. This dish is well worth the order, small elbows and multiple cheeses perfumed by herbs and black pepper. As seen above, he does not skimp on a healthy piece of the baked crust top.

If exploring Castle Hill is not in the cards for you on weekdays, Chef Smooth and his truck can also be found parked on Fordham Road and Valentine Avenue on Saturdays just one block east of Grand Concourse. In this busy shopping district, the feeling is much different and the lines can get quite long when the weather is nice. Either way, bring your appetite, and be prepared to take home some leftovers.

Kingston Food Truck Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

22 May 2019

Usulteka Pupuseria


When you are merrily walking east down Jamaica Avenue on the first actual warm day in spring, through a few block stretch that is mostly auto repair and smog check shops, a pupusa stand with outdoor seating may just be the only thing in the world worth a detour. Who cares that you were on your way to other meals? This demands your attention now, so get to the counter and order as many of these Salvadoran snacks as you see fit. You can think of an excuse why you are not hungry while sipping on their homemade horchata.

From the look of their Facebook page, the stand has grown up a bit since it's birth last summer. In three photos uploaded from what can be presumed was around the opening of the operation, an open air grill was right at the corner. This year they have taken over a larger chunk of the auto body shop's real estate and fenced in a small seating area. A colorful tourist bus much like the party wagons found in some Latin American cities provides a boundary, and the cooking has moved to a permanent and sheltered structure.

Like Sunset Park's Usuluteco restaurant, the name here is a reference to someone from the southeastern Salvadoran city of Usulut谩n. This visit took place shortly after noon, but a short conversation with the proprietor revealed that despite being open at 10am every morning, the real business is to be had in the evenings and late at night. On weeknights you can eat pupusas here until 2am and on Friday and Saturday the stand remains open until 5am. She pointed out a couple places that have crowded bars in the area, and since Jamaica also has a thriving and growing population of Central Americans coming home at all hours, the stand serves both types of hunger.

On a warm summer night, after a few drinks, there must be few places more comfortable and satisfying than the benches here at Usulteko. Pupusas ($2.25 each, below) are perfect for filling your belly with something heavy and greasy to counteract the effects of alcohol, but to be honest they did just as well perfectly sober on this day.

Most of the standard options are available, and each of the corn (no rice versions here) discs is stuffed and prepared to order with ample filling. A tomato salsa and curtido, the fermented cabbage used liberally to top each bite, are added by the house, but certainly more could probably be obtained if necessary.

While pupusas are meant to be eaten by hand, a plate arrives piping hot so be careful. The chicharr贸n and frijol versions seen here, both with cheese, were excellent and some of the most delicious eaten in the city. Did this have anything to do with the excitement and environment found here on the corner of 180th Street and Jamaica Avenue? Certainly possible, but this is all part of what makes eating so wonderful to begin with.

Waiting to cool.


21 May 2019

Hadramout Restaurant

YEMEN 馃嚲馃嚜

If you have never been to Yemen, at the very southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Hadramout might not be familiar in your vocabulary. While currently the region of the same name (often spelled Hadhramaut) now encompasses over half of the nation, when the restaurant opened in 1996 it simply referred to one large province in the eastern part of the country. This area remains very low density but of high value because of its oil production, and like many parts of Yemen it contains people and cultures that would love to see less power wielded centrally from the capital.

New York City has a diverse Yemeni and Yemeni American population, with all ranges of folks fleeing the troubled country in recent years joining an already established community. A younger second generation mostly raised here now fluidly coexists, but for those from the namesake eastern province or with ties to it, the promise of back home must be a strong calling.

A falafel ($6.95) appetizer served with hummus.

A recent stop here with a group of five rewarded us a night with a full house of Yemenis coming for their iftar meal. This special dinner, eaten after sundown during the holy month of Ramadan, is not only a way to gain strength after a day of fasting, but looked forward to by practicers of the faith for its time of community and celebration. Those outside the faith often perceive this practice of fasting called sawm, as hardship, and while it does take willpower and determination many Muslims look forward to this most holy of months in the Islamic calendar.

Even for outsiders it is a joy to join Muslims during the iftar meal. Sitting down about 20 minutes before the sun went down, our group witnessed the restaurant (and the others on the block) fill up fast as friends and family got together and prepared to eat.

Foul moudammas ($8.95), stewed fava beans.

Never say no to an order, or even multiple orders, of their delicious flatbread referred to here as Hadramout home bread. This is malawah, one of many types of bread eaten in Yemen but the standard here at Hadramout. It is layered and slightly stretchy, folded over itself with ghee and bubbled and slightly burnt from the oven.

Coffee and tea are both very popular throughout Yemen but different areas drink them at different rates. In the capital of Sana'a you are more likely to see groups enjoying coffee together, but in Hadhramaut black tea is preferred. They have a self-serve tank of it in the back but you can also ask for a cup, which comes full of cardamom and cloves but is blanketed almost completely by an (un)healthy portion of sugar.

The meal and evening swirled by, dishes arrived when they were finished, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Below is a sampling of what was on offer for one meal on one particular night:

Haneeth ($17.95), traditional Yemeni roasted lamb.

Selta, meat and vegetables stew with fenugreek froth.

Deep fried salmon steak with rice ($20.95).

Kebsa chicken ($15.95)

Chicken maslook ($10.95)

On an earlier solo meal, a shawerma lunch was procured. The sandwiches come standard on a pita but for one dollar extra ($8.95 total) you can enjoy it with their malawah, which is highly recommended and shown below.

Hadramout Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 May 2019

Restaurant Paradis des Gouts


While comparatively small when judged next to parts of Harlem and especially some neighborhoods in the Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant's Fulton Street still holds its own when considering the treats to be found of West African origin. Chefs from a range of the francophone nations there can be found if you look hard enough, with those of Ghana a bit further south in Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Outside of this zone, the storefront at this address on the dividing line of Bedstuy and Bushwick has been home to the foods of C么te d'Ivoire for quite some time.

The previous restaurant here, called Abidjan and named after the economic capital of the country, was on the to do list for most of its life, but West African hunger pangs always led to trips to different parts of the city. Less than two years ago in August of 2017, the owner of one of our favorite places in Harlem branched out to this Broadway location. Abidjan had the name and colors of the Ivorian flag displayed proudly on the awning, but Paradis des Gouts has decided to be a bit more subtle about its offerings with "African-French-American" under its name.

Those who have traveled the region or have experience telling the different nations apart will still see the telltale signs though, the first of which is the elephants on each side of the awning. The elephant has been of deep importance to the country since its founding, not least of which because of its source of ivory that gave it the name in the first place. Now that this practice is not as common, the animal is held in very high regard, especially with their national football team who have one on their crest and are nicknamed Les 脡l茅phants.

If that slips by unnoticed, the bright orange walls will be the next clue, the color used exclusively for all things Ivorian.

The menu has been expanded since the change as well, but as with most West African restaurants it is a good idea to ask about what is and is not available on any particular day before getting too excited about any one dish. Smaller portions are available, but for sharing we found the "entree" section offered good value and size, pairing the main course with one of many side dishes that you could choose from.

Dishes like this fried fowl ($17, above) come served on handmade wood plates and are meant to be eaten without utensils as would be customary back home. At least in this case a knife and fork would not serve you very well anyways. In the background is a portion of the house atti茅k茅, a starch made with fermented cassava and wildly popular in C么te d'Ivoire moreso than its neighboring countries. This often gets translated across cultures as couscous because of a similar texture, but approach it with no comparisons if you can. Unseen in the photo is the cube of Maggi bouillon that always gets served with atti茅k茅, ready to be dusted over as desired. Missing was the customary fiery scotch bonnet pepper, a sign the chef did not take us seriously.

Covering all three dishes that made their way to the table on this occasion was the onion sauce sometimes referred to as yassa in S茅n茅gal. Using a dijon mustard, lemon, and usually a bit of scotch bonnet, the raw onions give anything they touch a life of their own and ordering some extra is always recommended.

Wanting to try the thick fried tuna but disappointed when it was unavailable, the table instead settled on fried tilapia ($15, above) and chose fried sweet plantains to accompany it. The meaty, bony fish was cooked just perfectly and seemed to be the consensus favorite of the group. The plantains are plentiful and provide a good contrast with almost everything else.

As a scroll through these pages will probably give away, it is hard to turn down a portion of dibi when eating at a West African restaurant. Here the grilled lamb is $16 and very satisfying, tender chunks of on-the-bone meat covered in that ubiquitous onion sauce again. Pick them up and enjoy, throwing in a bite now and then of what they call African potatoes, pleasantly soft and lightly fried.

Sharing West African stews can be a challenge so it was avoided on this trip, but if you come alone try one with foutou banane, a popular starch in Ivory Coast similar to fufu but using plantains. Since you use this to dip in deep into the stews and grab chunks of meat, it is best enjoyed alone, especially if your eating skills are less than average.

At a communal table in West Africa no one would think twice about this though, so do feel free to disregard the last statement and dive right in with friends and family. Grab one of their homemade juices from the fridge and live life to the fullest.

Sorrel, ginger, and bouye juices.

Restaurant Abidjan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 May 2019

Mi Casa Bakery & Coffee Shop


On multiple occasions the neon signs had beckoned during walks up or down Grand Concourse, but for whatever reasons on those past trips the pull was not quite strong enough. Recently the promise of coffee and a sandwich cubano was too much though, and Mi Casa had finally won. When you open the door, the smell is distinctly more bakery than coffee shop, freshly baked breads and cakes find their way to your nose before the busy grill.

This location is actually the third of three for what is an expanding franchise, and the furthest south so far. They have another location on Kingsbridge Road and the first was further up on Bedford Park Blvd. All three took over the spots from other bakeries with a focus on custom cakes, a business that is always in high demand amongst certain communities. Flip through their photo album on Facebook to see some of the truly creative cakes they have designed.

There is a list of breakfast foods and sandwiches available up on the wall which most people order takeout from, but grabbing one of the barstools and settling into the rhythm of the place is more recommended. The women who run everything are quite friendly and manage the always swirling goings on very well. They treat their regulars the way they want to be treated, and get good laughs at people who come in for the first time asking for something they do not offer.

Never afraid of taking extras home, an order of two sandwiches was made, both of which were even larger than expected. The first, a pernil ($6, above) was loaded with thin slices of pork shoulder obviously marinated with care and full of spices and flavor. The bread also shined and was the first hint at the skill of the baker here. Soft and pillowy, slightly sweet, easy to bite through yet strong enough to hold the heft of the sandwich without falling apart.

The same bread was used for the cubano ($6.50, below), which I marvelled at for its mashup of so many ideas. The bread's sweetness wanted to trick me into thinking it was a sort of medianoche, but the bread was unlike any of a traditional Cuban sandwich. You can get many versions of a cubano around town, but this rooted itself here in the Bronx, a Dominican-American hybrid loaded not with mustard and pickles but with lettuce, tomato, and mayo like at any proper bodega. This might infuriate a purist, but on this day it was appropriate, and delicious.

With more ingredients but including the tasty pernil, this sandwich is an upgrade and highly recommended with Swiss cheese, ham, and those aforementioned toppings. A New York deli sandwich on quality bakery bread and a touch of Bronx Caribbean flair.

After eating half of each and tucking the other halves away to go, focus shifted on the other patrons, one of which seemed to have his own seat at the counter and knew everyone working here. He was proud of the fact that it was his 81st birthday the next day.

Right before I left, a woman came in asking for flan, but the bakery had just ran out. It was not a tough switch for her to decide on cheesecake instead. At Mi Casa, it seemed very appropriate.

Mi Casa Bakery & Coffee Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 May 2019

El Progreso Restaurant


While the northern reaches of Hoboken continue to see high rise residential development and a complete sanitizing of all life, a quick walk up the hill into Union City seems like an escape to paradise. The avenues south of 495, the artery that leads into the Lincoln Tunnel, are teeming with a Central American enclave made up mostly of Salvadorans and Hondurans. Each block presents a new restaurant, bar, or bakery, all while having a much more calm and serene feeling than the same streets north of the highway.

In and around New York City, El Progreso is probably the favorite name of a catracho establishment, with at least half a dozen eateries, salons, and even a liquor store in the Bronx named after the the city in Honduras that sits at the base of the Mico Quemado mountains. Much of the immigration to the area was from this part of the country, in and around the major city of San Pedro Sula.

Needing some energy after a climb up from Hoboken, first things first the icon of comida hondure帽a was immediately ordered, the picture perfect baleada (above). For the first time in New York, this baleada brought back clear memories of eating at an outdoor restaurant in Honduras, not so much from the inside but the way the tortilla was a bit charred on the outside and had the wonderful taste of the earth. The handmade disc was also thick, soft, and chewy; its creator should have a statue made in her honor.

Inside this meatless beauty is beans, cream, and crumbled cheese, all top notch and in flawless proportion. Is this the area's finest baleada?

With the hunger suppressed, it was easier to enjoy the charms of this simple restaurant. An open kitchen in the back dominates your attention as each dish is prepared fresh to order. Tables are mostly blue and white like the country's flag, with the five stars that represent Honduras and its four neighboring countries that used to form a united Central America.

A plate of carne asada (above) was also a winner, served with all the components of a proper meal. Warm and freshly made tortillas are given to help you add combinations of the beans, rice, cheese, and avocado. A tomato and onion salsa is just right on select cuts of beef. Often carne asada plates can be chewy and tough, but the meat used here is definitely far from the cheapest they could find.

With plenty of other daily plates with a heavy emphasis on meat, future visits will be looked forward to, but dreams will be full of those amazing baleadas until the chance presents itself to return.

El Progreso Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 May 2019

Sumnima Kitchen

NEPAL 馃嚦馃嚨

Some time ago, this location at the corner of 64th Street and 39th Avenue was home to a large Himalayan market, purveyor of so many delicious crispy spicy snacks that far too many visits were made to procure these calorie-laden treats. Eventually that business closed down and the space was split into two, a nondescript deli on the corner and a Halal Chinese-Indian restaurant that just had no glow and never really looked that great. Late last year, the addresses turned over another time and Sumnima Kitchen moved in, the division removed and spaces united once again.

On first glance, Sumnima checks all the boxes for a restaurant approved by the Nepali community of Queens. Everyone already knows each other and men sit around tables drinking large jugs of red wine or Budweiser tall boys they brought with them.

Chicken jhol momo ($6.95, above) are served in a shallow plate and puddle of soup (jhol), the classic dumplings arranged in a pinwheel. This particular style of eating Himalayan dumplings in broth is best known in Kathmandu but has completely overtaken the scene in Jackson Heights and Woodside. Don't feel guilty, there is a magic here.

But you cannot stop there, a Nepali would scoff at you for only eating snacks and not a real meal. While technically the back of the menu offers Japanese bento boxes and teriyaki, as well as a fairly long list of run-of-the-mill Indian food, keep it turned to the Nepali side and look for things like samaya bajee ($10.95, below).

This platter is built for festive occasions usually, also as part of Newari celebrations in Kathmandu. Available with chicken as well, the version seen here is completely vegetarian and made for alternating combinations of textures and flavors. The bright white beaten rice is crispy and wonderful when bitten into but wants to be joined by the sharper flavors of all the colorful items that surround it.

Closest in the photo below is aalu achar, potatoes cooked with mustard seed and fenugreek, which seemed to be the item disappearing fastest on this night. Pickles spiced similarly and known as just achar were quite good as well. Fritters and bodi ko achar (sensing a theme?) flank the beaten rice and provide other flavorful ways to combine everything.

A special section of the menu called "Sumnima's Special Platter" draws your attention, but unfortunately both dishes sampled from here were the ones that came closest to falling flat. The first of these was better, hyakula ($11.95, below), chunks of fatty lamb on the bone cooked to the point of charring. What excelled here was the wonderful marinade, which could have shined through if the taste of char had not been so prominent.

The pork rib roast ($12.95, below) had a high char level as well but was also almost unbearably fatty. Sometimes fat works and sometimes it does not, this was unfortunately the latter and beyond overkill.

When the order for chili paneer ($7.95, below) was put in, our server asked if we needed an order of naan ($1.50) to accompany it. Expecting something like the churu khatsu from Little Tibet or drier versions from Nepali restaurants, naan seemed unnecessary, but this dish was quite a bit different and definitely needed the bread upgrade.

This gravy was thick and sweet, slightly spicy, and full of chunks of cheese (paneer). Despite being on the front of the menu, it reminded me more of Punjabi dishes, but honestly no one was complaining as every last drop was mopped up from the bowl.

Welcome to the constantly expanding Himalayan food scene, Sumnima, it's a pleasure to have you. As the frontiers of Himalayan Heights expand further from the 74th Street Jackson Heights station, the cuisines seem ready to impress those it has not yet reached.

Sumnima Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato