>> Eat the World New York City

27 August 2016

Restaurante y Panaderia Guatemalteco

GUATEMALA

This weekend I set off for the Jersey City African Cultural Arts Festival in Berry Lane Park, but despite plenty of people having a good time, I did not find a fruitful food scene. The lineup was full of a wide variety of performances and the park had a decent number of clothing and accessory vendors.

Thankfully I had planned a long, circuitous walking route to explore a good chunk of lands I had never explored, south and west of Journal Square before arriving at the park. My to-do list gained about ten places, Egyptian seafood restaurants, a couple new Filipino spots, and a number of Central American steam tables.

One of these, which immediately got crossed off the list after I did not find food at the festival was a tiny Guatemalan spot on Pacific Avenue. The company is actually split in two (above), with a bakery on the left and a small steam table kitchen on the right. The bakery has a long list of elaborate celebratory cakes on its roster, as well breads and sweets, but I needed real sustenance after 10 kilometers on the hot pavement.


A look through the menu reveals a rotating menu of Guatemalan standards, similar to the steam tables in Brooklyn and Queens and nothing on par to the still amazing Tierras Centro Americanas. Soups, various guisados, carne asada, etc. The stewed chicken, or pollo guisado ($6, above) looked the tastiest on the table, so I ordered it with rice, beans, and a sweet plantain. At this price, we need not ask any questions, and I was full for the rest of the day.

Although this area seems very far off the Grove Street PATH station, there is a "hipster" coffee shop right around the corner on Communipaw. Coming from the west, I would have never imagined this world arriving here yet, but it does seem like the edge of a frontier, as a couple walked their dog to get a coffee and returned immediately to the east. With plans to continue that way towards Grove Street, I instead turned back to search more promising non-hipster lands. Thankfully a couple Honduran joints popped up before I got back to Journal Square, as well as the murals below.

If you are in the area, check out the "Aqualand" project created by the Jersey City Mural Arts Program, as well as some other large format vacant building works:




Restaurante y Panaderia Guatemalteco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23 August 2016

Tlacoyos Zacapoaxtla

MEXICO

Sunset Park is more family oriented than Jackson Heights, Queens, and therefore has a much smaller street scene when it comes to eating at night. If you walk down 5th Avenue after dark, most of the businesses are closed and all is pretty quiet. There are a few very strong options for those that look around though, like the Tacos El Bronco truck near 37th and a gorditas and esquites vendor at 45th.

Further down between 50th and 51st is a tlacoyos vendor that I started noticing a couple months ago. Usually there are plenty of patrons here, so I finally went for myself to try their popular specialty.

The street vendors I came across in Mexico City usually had tlacoyos in a basket, which seemed to be their trademark. When you ordered, they would take it out and dress it with the salsa of your choice, some cream if desired, and a bit of cheese. I never saw options for meat on them in Mexico, but could not resist putting different choices every time I visited this cart in Brooklyn.


The first order was one cecina (left, good) and one enchilada (right, forgettable) ($4 each, above). You can order a tlacoyo regular for $3, which is the original version of the antojito without any meat, focusing your palate on the beans cooked into the thick masa vehicle.

As seen below, that vehicle holds up a hefty amount of toppings. Besides a choice of six or so meats, they will also ask if you prefer red or green salsa, which you can also take on the side. Tlacoyos have to be fresh and stay moist, otherwise they start to get very hard and unappealing, but for this reason it is a good option for street snacking because they are almost always made recently.


On another night, an order of tinga (below) was made, another great option. This seemed much fresher and homemade than the enchilada, and paired very well with their red salsa, complementing smoky flavors.


The cart has a list of items, and also make sopes and huaraches. Last time I was at the cart, I stood admiring the making of a huarache while my tlacoyos were being prepared. The huarache is thinner but also has beans inside, made the correct way with no shortcuts like you see by many vendors.

19 August 2016

Little Saigon Pearl

VIETNAM

There might be a trend. It is slight, and possibly just wishful thinking, but a second "different" Vietnamese eatery has opened up in the last year. Our small east coast town of New York City cannot quite claim to be on the level of places like Atlantic City yet, which is full of good Vietnamese, but maybe a trend is brewing? We'll see...

Little Saigon Pearl, just across the border of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach in Gravesend has small ambitions from the look of things. The awning is adorned with the family's favorite market from back home in Ho Chi Minh City called Cho Ben Thanh. On the menu it says "Go here for real Vietnamese food." No superlatives necessary, just some good advice from people who know.

Now those people in the know are cooking a small menu just off 86th Street.

You do not often see the finger food tom hoa tien on menus in New York City, the preparation probably too intense for the standard assembly line Vietnamese we find throughout our city. Little Saigon Pearl seems to have taken this as a challenge and have made it their goal to popularize the dish and make it their flagship appetizer. Sometimes translated in English as "rocket shrimp roll" or something similar, the main feature is a whole shrimp amongst other ingredients that is fried in a thin wonton wrapper.


Be warned, an order ($7.65, above) comes piping hot. The dipping sauce nuoc cham accompanies the rolls, but each bite once cool does not really necessitate the spicy sweet sauce. It was our first taste of the restaurant, and already we knew the care and ingredients coming from the kitchen were a step up from the norm.

Also wonderful was the pho tai, nam, gan, bo vien ($7.45, below, punctuation theirs), the soup listed first on the menu. While the different beefy ingredients may come in slightly short supply, the real marvel here is the soup itself, which tastes of fat covered bone. It instantly warms the soul as good pho should.


Before ordering pho, check the specials board, which always seems to include bun bo hue, another great soup option that should arrive already spicy. It also might be possible to find banh cuon here, a dish I would love to try next time along with their two banh xeo options.

The big disappointment here is the bun dishes. The bun cha gio thit nuong ($8.45, below) is inexplicably served with hot noodles instead of cold, while the spring rolls seem soggy and possibly microwaved. This dish is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially on a hot day, and can be mostly relied on even in the most standard New York City joint. Not sure if this was an off day for the dish, or if this section of the menu should be avoided.


Despite this bowl, our feelings for Little Saigon Pearl are still very positive. Is the D train in South Brooklyn becoming the city's new corridor to better Vietnamese? We've been back to Pho 18 Ave a few times since writing about it in April and still think it is great. Now another shop opens further along the line. Keep the trend going!

Little Saigon Pearl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

18 August 2016

Georgian Deli and Bakery

GEORGIA

About a year ago, the awning went up for this bakery, but each time I came back in the following months there was still paper in the windows. By the end of the year, they were up and running, but my meals did not bring me back to the area. One day a few months back, I grabbed one imeruli khachapuri ($7, below), which are easy to transport and heat up well in a home oven. It was easily tasty enough to want to return.


This deli/bakery is takeout only, but has quite a large variety for such a small place. A refrigerated case in front has a good selection of soups and salads, all the classic Georgian favorites including soup kharcho ($5.99, not pictured) and lobio with walnuts ($7.99, not pictured). Coupled with the five versions of khachapuri and many other baked breads and pies, someone could create an epic Georgian feast for themselves. For anyone in the southern part of Brooklyn, they deliver at least as far as Sunset Park.

On our second visit, in addition to the khachapuri above we took home a container of chashushuli ($6.99, below), a beef stew that has tomatoes, sweet onions, fresh herbs, and plenty of Georgian spices. It is hearty, slightly spicy and soaks into bread perfectly.


There are good Georgian restaurants in the area (Mtskheta Cafe, Georgia Kiziki), but the food here at the deli might actually be better. Unfortunately they have no seating, but anyone with the ability to transport their foods home or have it delivered should definitely check it out.

Georgian Deli and Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 August 2016

Sranan Dei (Suriname Day)

SURINAME

In the past, interested New York City diners could hop on the A train and take it to the Lefferts Boulevard terminus to enjoy the beautifully complicated cuisine of Suriname. Both restaurants that I have eaten at (Warung KarioCaribbean Suriname Restaurant) have shuttered, leaving a void for the country. Once a year though, seemingly all the expats from the country here in New York gather in Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans, Queens, so it seemed only duty for me to make sure there was at least one surviving chance on the website.

Sranan Dei, or Suriname Day, is just that, a festival that celebrates the country. Better yet, it is not just an opportunity to see various parts of their culture through food and people, it is a fantastic event well worth the time and effort it takes to get to St. Albans.


There were two main food vendors that gathered very long, slow-moving lines and were clearly popular chefs by all in attendance. I arrived about an hour after the opening time of the festival and these lines only grew in length despite a couple other tents beginning to serve, so it is definitely recommended to be on the early side and get in line as soon as you know what you want. Talk to the people in line around you, who will be happy to tell you everything about their country's cuisine and what each vendor is best at.

Suriname is a country of collisions between cultures and history, a fact celebrated by its citizens. The festival matched suit as bodybuilders, drunks, busy chefs, running children, and some stragglers all mixed to enjoy their afternoon.


To read more about the country of Suriname and its collisions, please read the links above and check out a cool article by Ethnojunkie, who I ran into and shared food with at this event. He talks more about pom, the festival dish that inspired a former roommate of mine to create a Surinamese-flavored Thanksgiving meal after our dinner at Caribbean Suriname Restaurant.

Photos for this event are currently lost in Milan, Italy with a friend who documented the day and then went on vacation. I will post those as soon as I have them, so please check back in September to see all the deliciousness we devoured.

14 August 2016

Eat Offbeat

IRAQ

Until this past weekend, I never really had much desire to visit the Queens International Night Market. The idea is good, but I usually tend to visit places in their natural environment, the festivals I attend are country-specific. I have wanted to visit Burmese Bites again, the only good Burmese pop-up no matter what the NY Times and Robert Sietsema are telling you about others. But Corona Park on a Saturday night? Sigh...

This changed instantly when relative newcomer Eat Offbeat announced that they would be a vendor. Eat Offbeat is hiring chefs that are refugees in the United States from various countries, giving them the opportunity to cook the foods they love for others here that might not have tried them. Their chefs currently hail from Syria, Eritrea, Nepal, and Iraq.

The only problem (for me, not office folk) is that until Saturday, the food was only available as a catering menu that required large orders. Since New York City no longer has an Iraqi restaurant, I decided to make my way there and try out the food and support what seems to be a great organization.


Like most orders at the market, one tray of three small potato kibbeh costs $5. They are served plain and leave the meat and internal spices to do the talking. The thin layer of potato mash wraps the beef and is lightly deep fried.


At least three of the chefs were there helping, but only two dishes were available. In addition to the Iraqi croquettes, a Nepalese dish called Manchurian ($5, below) was also being served. Colorful peppers and onion top a deep red cauliflower that is also fried in a mild sauce, and it is served over an unseen bed of basmati rice.


It was their first night at the market, and first time in public as far as I could tell. The sweltering evening with "real feel" temperatures hovering around a hellish 45 degrees made their job all the more tough. It was obvious that everyone involved in the operation was kind though as the company's co-founder was introducing them all to each patron.

Best of luck to Eat Offbeat, check out their website and cater your next event with something new.

As portions are small at the market, there were a couple extra dishes ordered from other stands, which I have included below.

Deep fried fish skin, HK Street Food

Ceviche, Inti Sumaq Peruvian Cuisine


08 August 2016

Kabayan

PHILIPPINES

There was never an intense relationship between me and Filipino food, it was more like a passing appreciation every now and then. Once a year or so I might find myself at a Queens turo turo or somewhere a little more refined like Papa's Kitchen or Engeline's, where non-steam table meals can be enjoyed. Then I visited the actual country in early 2015 and never wanted to eat the food again. Lovely people, amazing land, sadly the food scene for tourists is redundant and very heavy. After three weeks I could not think of anything I wanted more than absolutely anything else.

This is not a fair representation though and I knew it all along, but it took me a year and half to find my way to another Filipino meal. Queens Boulevard has been home to beloved Tito Rad's for a long time, but is now also home to next door neighbor Kabayan, which attracted me with their focus on kamayan dining, or what is also known as a boodle fight. More on that later.

To check out the place, I went alone for lunch to scope out some favorites on my own. The word kabayan, it turns out, is the way one Filipino will greet another as countrymen, and this seemed to be most appropriate as even for lunch the place was packed full of countrymen and women. Kabayan seems to have shot up the ranks among Filipino favorites in New York City, and has even opened a second place in the heart of all the turo turo joints on Roosevelt Avenue in the high 60's.

Thankfully, it was a good soft landing back into the cuisine. The food here is excellent. I could not resist ordering the sizzling sisig ($12.95, below), a wonderful assortment of pig parts chopped up and served just like the name suggests. A raw egg is on top, so mix that in and squirt the lemon everywhere.


In the Philippines, I noticed the sizzling platters came out more often in other versions than sisig, from bangus (milkfish) and squid to beef and pork chops. All those versions are available here on their very ample menu.

In the true spirit of a Filipino eater, I went all in with pork on this lunch and ordered the lechon kawali ($8.95, below), the deep fried pork belly that is served very simply with a side of vinegar garlic sauce. Whether you use the sauce is completely up to you, but the meat speaks for itself.


A truly special side of the place is shown in their highly promoted kamayan feast, otherwise known as a boodle fight. For $32.95 per person, minimum of four, diners here can take part in a very fun, thoroughly modern, feast of Filipino classics. Half of the enjoyment comes from watching its presentation. First banana leaves appear on the table, freshly washed, then a ring of rice is laid down and four different sauces arrive.

Each person is given a piece of fried fish and then portions of seven different courses are laid on each side of the rice. Not all of this happens immediately, and things take time to take shape, making the level of anticipation build along the way. It also becomes ridiculously clear that there is no way on Earth that you will come anywhere close to finishing the meal.


After everything is placed on the leaves, a gigantic bowl of bulalo comes out, the famous soup of slow cooked beef shank and bone marrow. For a final touch, the ring of rice is topped with prawns and mussels. Where to start?


We tried our best, but had at least twice as much to take home as we were able to eat. It is a thoroughly amazing spread. And all of it is properly eaten by hand, utensils are cleared from the table and not offered.

Be sure to ask for a glass of fresh buko juice ($3, not pictured), the young coconut juice that will help wash it all down.

Kaba Yan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

23 July 2016

Tacos El Bronquito

MEXICO

For months the awning has been up for the latest expansion of taco empire Tacos el Bronco, just a block away from their main restaurant location. The corner of 45th Street and 4th Avenue in Sunset Park is now home to smaller offshoot Tacos El Bronquito, which seems to have been set up as a quick stop for people getting off the R train at the corner. This subway stop is active 24 hours a day with people coming home from work, but unfortunately the hours of the new shop only extend to 11am during the week and 1am on weekends.

It seemed that paperwork was holding the place back, as I asked a couple times when I saw the gate up when the opening would be, only to get shoulder shrugs and frustration. But last night, a mariachi band played for hours in the extreme heat while the shop offered free food for all those that passed.

I hung out a bit and mingled, but thought it better to judge the food on a real business day. Fast forward to Saturday lunch and two plates of tacos al pastor ($7.50 for 3, below) were presented in front of us.


Like the famous fleet of Tacos El Bronco trucks, this little shop has a good looking trompo in front, the spinning wheel of meat. The menu has a lot more length in it than I expected for such a small place, but for this first visit we stuck to the what they are best at.

Put either red or green salsa on your tacos, squirt some lime, and bite into some of the finest tacos in Brooklyn. For a quick bite, this little expansion seems more proper than sitting down at the full service restaurant, but still not quite the atmosphere of the truck, especially late at night.

What we found odd was that they would not let us order tacos in any denomination other than three, and these three all had to contain the same meat. This may have just been a weird oddity of opening day error, but they stuck to their guns despite us wanting a couple other tacos individually. The menu shows the price for one, but it's not possible to order just one. The price also seems spiked, as these same small taquitos are $1.50-$1.75 at the truck. $2.75 gets you their massive version at the restaurant, so I am not sure if they are planning to tweak this as it is easy to predict business going in either direction to their other locations.

At any rate, updates will show up as needed. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Tacos El Bronquito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato