>> Eat the World NYC

18 November 2018

Tortas El Sancho

Mร‰XICO ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ

After yesterday's Moroccan sandwich shop in Astoria, it seems fitting to stay in the same genre while switching country and borough. The word "torteria" on the awning drew me in immediately, the Mexican torta is not rare but usually shares the menu rather than being the main draw. I could not resist checking El Sancho out despite already being full from pizza and gelato nearby.

The menu reads differently than imagined from the outside though, a modern design shows sections of tacos and juices as well as hamburgers and western breakfasts. Tortas El Sancho is trying to toe the line.


There is a section of what they call tortas combinadas, six creations that all cost an eye-opening $13.07 after tax. The first of these options is called El Sancho (above and below), the base of which is sauteed steak with red and green peppers. Besides some normal ingredients for tortas, they also throw in a slice of American cheese which surprisingly can be picked out easily while eating and just seems odd.

As seen below, a small portion of fries is served with the sandwich, another cross-cultural mashup. For the first time in my life I was asked if I needed ketchup in a Mexican restaurant.


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Tortas El Sancho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 November 2018

Halal Sandwich Shop

MOROCCO ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

With its bold color scheme and easy to digest chopping block name, Halal Sandwich Shop was one of the last places on Steinway I wanted to explore. Somehow it just gave off too much of a chain fast food vibe.

During the World Cup, I finally had my first taste of it, grabbing a poccadillo to go. Many of the hookah bars allow you to bring your own food, including the one I was headed to for Morocco's match. I did not take pictures that afternoon, but given the Atlas Lions poor performance on the pitch, that delicious spicy tuna sandwich was the highlight of the day.

I have since been back a few times and give the place very high marks. Most of the energy revolves around the front of the slim space which is divided between the kitchen and an area customers congregate to order and pay. If you get your order in, navigate to the back which has about six tables for eating inside. Sandwiches are fine to take with you, but soups and tagines are best enjoyed immediately when hot. A few of the tables are usually taken by solo male diners, sometimes with baby strollers, sometimes loudly talking on their phones.


Every trip back here has included a bowl of their delicious harira ($3.25, above), Morocco's famous tomato-based soup full of chickpeas, lentils, soft noodles, and spices.

The aforementioned poccadillo ($6.75, below) comes on fresh bread and covered in a layer of crisp fries. In between is a slightly spicy layer of tuna, thin slices of mortadella, hard-boiled egg, cheese, and vegetables. The photo below does not quite give justice to the size, but the sandwich is large enough to be two meals.


Tagines here are not served in their traditional cookware, but seem to be very popular nonetheless as most of the men in the back are digging into one of the options. Shown here is the lamb shank tagine ($12, below) with saffron yellow rice. Amazingly at this price point you get two large tender shanks, which with the rice is again more than one meal for many.


Tagines can also be enjoyed with chicken or beef, the former of which seemed to be the most popular item in the place based on my spywork. Halal burgers and gyros, as well as kebab platters and sandwiches are also on the menu.

This may be a "sandwich shop," but it is also a lot more.

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Halal Sandwich Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

15 November 2018

์ถ”์–ต์˜ ๋’ท๊ณจ๋ชฉ Old Days Corp.

SOUTH KOREA ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท

This article originally appeared in the 15 November 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

The Long Island Rail Road’s most northern branch to Port Washington rumbles below street level every few minutes, but not out of sight. The station shares its name with a Manhattan neighborhood, but the two places could hardly be more different. In that borough, the avenues are lined with bars where patrons sporting backwards baseball caps play beer pong and order rounds of anonymous shots at what might appear to be a fraternity party. The Queens version of Murray Hill is much more quiet on its surface, with most businesses using Korean script, revealing the newer demographics of what traditionally was an Irish and Italian neighborhood.


The beer and shots flow freely here as well, but soju is the spirit of choice rather than cheap well whiskey and tequila. Korea, after all, is one of the most pro-drinking cultures on the planet; some studies conclude that it is home to the world’s heaviest drinkers. This of course has negative impacts, with a high rate of addiction and a company-mandated excess that requires many employees to eat and drink after work as part of their job. Like anything else, however, the Korean drinking culture is best when enjoyed in moderation, and Murray Hill provides the opportunity to proceed at a rate that feels comfortable.

The best part about drinking in Korea or with Koreans is that food is always an essential, and central, part of the night. As with most Asian cultures, people do not go out just to get wasted. Even the most casual night out with friends will take place at a pojangmacha or pocha, a tented food stand sometimes outdoors that is a place to go and eat and drink late into the night. This concept seems to be the visual style here at Old Days Corp., which also goes by the English name “Back Lane” on its takeout menu. A friend’s translation of the Korean name is “Alley of Memories,” and maybe somewhere among all three is the true spirit of this intimate space. To evoke these tented carts in the second-floor space, fishnet covers the ceiling and has been accessorized over time with the caps of used soju bottles. The walls are covered with the colorful graffiti of guests, with love notes written in both English and Korean next to games of hangman.


In addition to expansive lists of beer and soju (always a bit more expensive on Friday and Saturday nights), there is an even longer list of dishes offered by an unseen kitchen. Everything is served family style on massive platters, many of which come to the table sizzling and still heated from fire underneath. The aluminum pots speak of a long history in a busy kitchen, full of dents and charred edges.

Anytime you order food, a tabletop stove immediately arrives with an egg, kimchi, and a package of Korean ramen to cook yourself free of charge (below). Since the array of small dishes known as banchan is not served here, this seems to take the place of offering something right away for hungry guests. This also helps you not get too far into rounds of soju before getting some food in your stomach. The distinct green bottles never seem to pack a hard punch—with alcohol levels just under 20 percent—but it goes down easily and always has a way of catching up if you are not careful.


When orders do start arriving, they will seem like perfect matches for drinking, and this is by design. The house special spicy black angus beef ribs ($19.99, below rear) come on a hot stone plate and seem to be the most popular item on every table. The spice level is high but subtle as it mingles with the sweetness of the sauce and tender meat falls off the bone before you can get it to your plate. Korean rice cake dishes known as tteokbokki might be the ultimate drinking food: chewy pieces in spicy gochujang chili paste and combined with your choice of fish cakes, seafood, cheese or a combination of everything.


A range of warming hearty soups gets chosen more as temperatures drop, of which the most popular for drinking is budae jjigae, usually called “army stew” in English because of its use of the awful ingredients brought by U.S. soldiers during the war. With packaged ramen noodles, find generous chunks of Spam and hot dogs, beans and kimchi, and of course gochujang again to make it spicy. Our favorite might be the kimchi soup with pork belly ($17.99, above front), another spicy red mixture that works well to help you forget it might start snowing soon.

Omelettes over rice, various versions of fried chicken, and an array of dishes under each category of meat are also available. It would take quite some time to sample everything on the menu, the oddest of which start seeming more tempting after a certain number of empty bottles populate the table. Interestingly, regardless of how late you try to start here, the place will be more crowded when you leave than when you arrive. Koreans always go out later than you, no matter how hard you try. Come before 7 p.m. or so and you may be the first group to arrive, but take comfort in the fact that they will not be closing before 3 a.m. on any given night.

Tteokbokki with cheese and seafood.

The world might be swirling on your way out, so hold the railing as you descend the stairs back out onto the streets of Murray Hill. A karaoke joint is still open underneath the restaurant if you have not had enough, but otherwise another level down is that trusty train rumbling through.


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Old Days Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

14 November 2018

Caffe Caggiano

ITALY ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น

The spectrum of what "Italian" means, especially in South Brooklyn, is a tricky question. The typical heavy Brooklyn accent of a middle aged man with a Juventus tattoo who speaks zero Italian might be the majority, but in the small cafes that survive in parts of Bensonhurst and Gravesend, a direct connection to Italy is still alive.

When I have time while happening upon them, I try to sit down for at least an espresso just to enjoy the atmosphere. Usually a cast of regulars are chatting with the owner and each other, sometimes in both English and Italian.

Despite a frigid dip in temperatures, a recent evening had me also in the mood for a cup of gelato ($4.25, below), so Caffe Caggiano was there for the rescue.


The hazelnut (nocciola) brought me immediately back to Sicily, where I spent part of September. Despite the small selection in a detached fridge unit, the gelati here seems to be quite well made, rich and creamy as you could ask and miles better than the junk our friends in Manhattan peddle to tourists.

This little shop is also just a pleasant, relaxing place to sit down. The proprietor really takes care of you and invites customers to make themselves comfortable. The world slows down to the speed of the Mediterranean, a pace we all need sometimes.

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Caffe Caggiano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 November 2018

Marina Restaurant

EL SALVADOR ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ป

The busy business district of Jamaica Queens between Hillside Avenue and the LIRR tracks has so much swirling around that it is hard to call it an enclave of any one type of people. South Asians and Caribbeans make themselves known with many shops and restaurants, but in the past ten years a growing population of Central Americans has also led to a number of new Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran eateries.

Marina Restaurant is a Salvadoran spot and is one of the longest running during this time, around for the better part of the decade. I finally had the chance to stop by for breakfast recently and found the atmosphere warm and welcoming.


The namesake desayuno marina ($7.95, above) is a good sampler, arriving with two cheese-filled pupusas, a portion of casamiento (rice and beans cooked together), a tiny sausage and block of cheese. A small bowl of pickled cabbage curtido arrives before everything no matter what you order, but use generously with your pupusas.

Alternatively, Marina also sells the donut-like nuegados, deep fried and sweetened balls of corn flour dough. Traditionally these are enjoyed with chilate, a roasted corn and cocoa drink that can be spiced in many ways. Since technically breakfast time had long passed, I was in the mood for a licuado de guanabana ($3, below).


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

12 November 2018

Kopitiam

MALAYSIA ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡พ

For the first few years of its existence, Kopitiam lived around the corner in a tiny space on Canal Street but popularity continually stressed its ability to comfort. Then at the end of 2017 it abruptly disappeared with only a promise left behind that something new would eventually come.

Thankfully this happened over the summer. The new space on East Broadway is not all that larger, but with much more seating and functionality allows it to be the all day restaurant it desires to be. The kitchen has room to spread its wings and the menu follows suit, offering all the Chinese-Malay dishes that would never have been possible at the old location.


Kopitiam simply means "coffee shop," so do not stop by without trying one of their offerings. Penang-style black coffee (kopi) is available alone, with ghee butter, evaporated milk or with sweet condensed milk like the cup above called kopi tarik ($4.50). Bek-kopi, the white Penang coffee the internet exploded over a couple years back is still here.

Oh chien, fried oyster omelette ($12)

The food, like most Malaysian in New York City, is Peranakan, rich in the influences of Chinese immigrants have brought to the country for centuries. The food is not limited by these two cultures though, it also reaches out and grabs bits of Indian and other Southeast Asian cultures that have blended here forever.

Otak otak, fish cake in banana leaf ($5)

The focus is not so much on belly-stuffing entrees as it is on snacks and smaller plates. While prices are reasonable, portions are small and you can easily find yourself in the $30/person range if sampling a few items.

Lobak, fried pork roll ($6)

Pulut panggang, rice with shrimp paste ($6)


Normally a breakfast item, pan mee ($10, above and below) seems to be somewhat of a house specialty. A rich broth is made oily and fishy by fried anchovies that wonderfully release their powers into the bowl. The homemade knife cut noodles are a true pleasure, thick and chewy.


Fish ball soup with vermicelli ($8)


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Kopitiam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

11 November 2018

El Conquistador

ECUADOR ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡จ

Finally had the chance on a recent chilly evening to stop in for some warming Ecuadorian soup at Broadway mainstay El Conquistador. This stretch just northwest of the busier areas near the Broadway/Roosevelt intersection is much quieter but has always had a small contingent of good food, some at restaurants that are no longer around.


After my first choice choice caldo de bola was not available on this night, I opted instead for their encebollado de pescado (above). This fish stew is popular throughout the country, but obviously the best ones are usually found in coastal regions with the freshest supplies of fish. You can also find a mixed version with other seafood, and restaurants that specialize in this dish are open from early morning serving up both from dawn until well past dusk.

It was not as flavorful and complex as some other versions, but after dumping in much of the spicy green aji shown in the photo and squeezing in some lime, the temperature starting feeling more manageable. Hearty Ecuadorian soups are so good for this.

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El Conquistador Bar Restaurant & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

10 November 2018

Aksaray Turkish Cafe

TURKEY ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท

The blocks of Kings Highway underneath the B and Q lines are always flush with people. Many are heading to and from the station, but this area is also dense with commercial business seemingly nonstop. Around the corner on East 16th Street, and quite a few storefronts away from this bustle, Aksaray Turkish Cafe has set itself up as a 24 hour business.

As standard for any business with spits of spinning meat, the two here are right in the window announcing themselves to any hungry passersby. Around lunchtime you will see them at their most beautiful, new wheels put on and fired up for the busy early afternoon rush.


Aksaray is an old silk road city near the geographical center of modern day Turkey that is much more quiet today than in certain times of history. Because it is surrounded by some of the best agricultural regions in the country, Aksaray is well known for its good cuisine.

The dining room here has been renovated in the last few years after the long-running restaurant took over half of the space occupied by their next door neighbors who offer buses to Atlantic City. The new look is modern and clean, and businessmen and others seem to be taking advantage of this, bringing their laptops and scheduling meetings here.


While most seem to eat the gigantic platters with rice, I opted for the somewhat less substantial chicken gyro ($6, above) served on Turkish bread for an extra dollar. The chicken here is excellent and juicy, not needing but certainly not hindered by the yogurt and hot sauces they provide. The extra dollar for the bread is recommended, the freshly baked loaf is briefly charred on the grill and wonderful.

Turkish and American sodas are all available, but why not perk up your day with a thick and muddy cup of Turkish coffee ($2, below), made fresh and enjoyable as always, if that is your thing. Take your cues from the others and bring out your laptop to get some work done.


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Aksary Turkish Cafe & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato