>> Eat the World NYC

16 September 2018

Chuan Tian Xia


A little over a month old, Chuan Tian Xia is off to a flying start. The two level dining room is constantly full during the evenings as Sunset Park's residents have been hungry for good Sichuan food for a long time. So far, it seems like feedback has been exclusively positive, and our dinner only validates this completely.

There is something of a new generation of Chinese restaurateurs in New York City, the monied generation investing in new businesses. While many fall flat, a select few are standing out like this one, an unassuming corner joint on the less trafficked avenue of Brooklyn's Chinatown.

The name, like most things being translated from Chinese, is a bit less meaningful than the original. On the receipt, the simple version just says "Chuan World," the first word just a short version of Sichuan. "Tian Xia" means something like "everything under heaven," so finding the real meaning of the restaurant's name is probably somewhere in between the simple and the spiritual. Dine here though, and you will find yourself thinking more towards the latter.

Some scenes from a wonderful Friday night meal, shown in the order they arrived at the table:

Pork with garlic sauce $9.99

Pickled chicken legs $6.99

Chengdu cold noodle $6.99

Chengdu dragon reading hands $5.99

Sour soup with fat beef slices $21.99

Yam fungus $12.99

Griddle cauliflower $11.99

Potato floss $10.99

Grouper, grilled on the table $39.99

Mapo tofu $9.99

Chuan Tian Xia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 September 2018

Tierras Centro Americanas

Central American Independence. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

This article originally appeared in the 13 September 2018 issue of The Queens Tribune.

When I first sampled the thick stews of Guatemala at this location almost 15 years ago, I could never have known how finding them in restaurants could be so elusive. So rare in fact that later that year on a trip through Central America, I found myself constantly hearing “Ese es un plato que solo comemos en casa” in restaurants throughout Guatemala.

“We only eat those foods at home.”

The wildly enjoyable joc贸n and hilachas at what then was called “La Xelaj煤” are almost unheard of in restaurants in the New York City area. Only one other time had I found a rendition of hilachas across the Hudson River, but this only made the yearning more fierce as it seemed no love had been put into the plate at that restaurant.

Thankfully for over 20 years the specials here at what is now Tierras Centro Americanas have stayed wonderfully steady despite one change of hands. Current owner and chef Maria Escobar took over in 2006 and employed its former chef for two years to pass down the Guatemalan recipes she was less familiar with. Hailing from El Salvador but living in New York City since the early 1980’s, Ms. Escobar decided the menu should keep its focus on an integrated cuisine that represented both countries and also catered to Hondurans in the area. This recipe for success and a commitment to quality have led to a consistency that is quite rare in restaurants. In over two dozen visits I do not remember an off day from this kitchen.

Joc贸n. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Around the corner from Hillside Avenue and hidden from the busy thoroughfare, this Jamaica mainstay is very much unhidden to its Central American regulars. Not much else has changed since those first visits besides fresh coats of white and light blue paint to represent the many flags of Central America and probably some new handicrafts for the walls. Over time what was originally $10 on the menu may have been crossed out and have $11 hand-written instead.

Primarily used for the storage of menus and drinks, the room you enter from 168th Street also has a couple chairs for waiting takeout customers and you can peek into the small kitchen and catch glimpses of the chef in action. As you take your seat in the dining room, the only access to the kitchen is audible, where during slower mid-afternoon times you can almost hear every rattle and clink of your meal being prepared.

Big hearty plates are served to couples, solo diners looking weary after long days of work, and groups of men who come in and enjoy a table full of Coronas or Cerveza Gallo, Guatemala’s biggest beer which goes by the name “Famosa” in the states. The joc贸n (above) comes in a large bowl accompanied like most Guatemalan dishes with thick homemade corn tortillas. The dish has its roots in Mayan culture and cuisine, still very prevalent in Guatemala more than any other place. Tomatillos have been discovered to be a very important ingredient of this ancient civilization and they have a heavy influence in the stew. In addition the wonderful green is created by adding cilantro, green peppers, and jalape帽os. Toasted pumpkin seeds called pepitos, garlic, and onions provide the rest of the palate.

Salpic贸n. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Take caution with the tortillas which are not only piping hot but have a quick way of filling the belly. Put them close to your nose and enjoy the wonderful smell once they cool down, but save room for hilachas, a shredded beef stew made with a base of ripe tomatoes, and salpic贸n (above), a pan-Central American beef salad served cold with chopped onions, cilantro, tomatoes, and non-spicy peppers. Another typically Guatemalan dish is revolcado, which can be prepared in many ways but always involves the interior parts of the animal involved in its preparation. Here the brief English menu description is “chopped cow heart and pork in homemade brown sauce,” but without knowing the cuts could be mistaken for tender beef. In addition to these more intricate dishes, the workaday meals found on Guatemalan lunch menus daily like pepi谩n, another meat stew with Mayan heritage, and garnachas, an appetizer similar to Mexican tostadas consisting of a fried tortilla topped with meat, onions, and tomato sauce.

Pupusas revueltas. Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.

Many of the other tables you see will be Salvadoran people ordering stacks of Ms. Escobar’s excellent pupusas (above), perhaps the most recognizable symbol of that country’s cuisine but eaten by more than just Guanacos. Groups of men devouring them might ask for the lone TV to be switched over to La Liga matches, but usually a talk show or drama will be on in competition with the jukebox if someone puts on a song. At the back with the jukebox is the most prominent work in the restaurant, a handmade mural celebrating September 15th, 1821, the day El Salvador and Guatemala, along with Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica all became independent from Spain. For hundreds of years the histories and cuisines of these nations have been tied together, and often this translates in New York City into restaurants like this that can satisfy the cravings of each of these peoples.

You will still find the name “Xelaj煤” on the menu, an ode to the roots of the restaurant and its food. This Mayan word derived from the phrase “under ten mountains” and used to be the name of what now goes by Quetzaltenango in the highlands of Guatemala. In New York City, Tierras Centro Americanas is the fastest way to get to “Xela,” the nickname residents still use for their city.

The previous Eat the World NYC article from 14 August 2009 can be found here:

Photo by Sasha Maslov for The Queens Tribune.


11 September 2018

Mrahib Restaurant

YEMEN 馃嚲馃嚜

Mandi, a dish from the nations of the Arabian Peninsula originating in Yemen is sort of a rarity in town. Yemeni menus often do not have it, but we did see it once on an Emirati menu in Floral Park. A new spot in Bay Ridge that took over the space after King Tut Pie closed features mandi made from either chicken ($9.99, below) or lamb, both tender and delicious.

The name of the dish actually derives from the appropriate juiciness of the meat, so even hunks of white meat chicken are miraculously moist.

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

08 September 2018

Meet Rice


The "rice" in the name refers to the style of noodle eaten in Yunnan Province. These rice noodles are having their moment in New York City, with the famous "Crossing the Bridge Noodles" dish leading the way.

A full set of toppings is brought out individually to be combined in the hot soup at the table. The history is debated, but the deliciousness is not. Scroll down for a few rice noodle options and one rice dish.

Tomato & beef rice noodle.

Spare rib noodle.

Pork with rice noodle.

Sliced pork with dried tofu.

Pickled cucumber.

Steamed dumplings.

Meet Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 August 2018

Meet Noodles (閲嶅簡灏忛潰)


For the first time in memory, Sichuan restaurants seem to be popping up with more frequency in Sunset Park. With only two people on this day, it made more sense to visit the four month old noodle shop first. The menu here is succinct and focused on a list of different types of Chongqing-style xiao mian, long wheat flour noodles popular in the region.

The flagship bowl of Chong Qing noodles ($7.75, above and below) is beautiful and vibrant, loaded with ground beef and tendon and topped with peanuts.

A closer look.

For those in the mood for bowls without spice, Kim's beef noodles ($7.95, above and below) is a good option. Thin-cut strips are the highlight, and if this is the route you choose it is possible to ask for some spicy sauce on the side.

Both bowls have good meats but suffer from their other ingredients, which are not as light and fresh as they could be.

This meal was supplemented with roast duck buns ($6.25, below).

Meet Noodles 閲嶅簡灏忛潰 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

24 August 2018

San Antonio Farm & Grocery

M脡XICO 馃嚥馃嚱

It takes a bit of maneuvering, but pass the groceries and head to the back to find a weekend taco market from Friday to Sunday. A big flat screen and a shelf of products does well to hide the chef in the back and his small table of offerings. The house specialties seem to be chile relleno tacos and barbacoa.

On a weekend afternoon there is bound to be a Barcelona or Madrid match on the television and a few guys watching it. Enjoy your meal while soaking this all in, knowing that you have done well just to be here in the first place.

On a first visit, the bright shiny red chorizo (below) attracted us, and like the rest of the tacos has a heap of guacamole on top all for $3. The sausage itself is fantastic and leaves you wanting more, so maybe just order two from the beginning.

"Have you ever tried goat?"

After finishing that first day and asking what else I should try, the proprietor asked me if I knew what barbacoa was and said he has it about every other weekend. Unfortunately I keep coming on the wrong weekend.

The highlight of this place regardless of how you feel about the actual taco is the chile relleno ($4, below).

You will often find a chile relleno on a big taco placero with its bed of rice and gut busting qualities, but this is simply the pepper stuffed with cheese, breaded, and fried and placed on the tortilla. Take a couple bites and behold the beautiful queso inside the slightly spicy pepper.

The winner of the whole ordeal here might just be the delectable pernil ($3, below), slow roasted pork shoulder that needs absolutely nothing to spice it up after whatever marinade they put it through. I actually knived off the guacamole from this taco so that I could enjoy the meat more purely.

The table only has about four seats, but most people come and go quickly and there is usually room. The standard feeling here is sleepy, so even if the seats are taking you can mill around and wait for something to free up without feeling cramped. If you require salsas and lime, everything is right there as well as some grilled jalape帽os and radishes.

San Antonio Farm & Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato