>> Eat the World NYC

17 July 2019

Tres Chivos


That first time you walk by a machetes vendor in Mexico City, and especially Los Machetes Amparito in Colonia Guerrero, it is an eye-popping experience that demands sitting down immediately no matter how hungry you happen to be. That 55 year old institution cooks and displays its colossal machetes, up to 70 cm (over two feet) in length right up front for all passersby to see and smell.

Machetes are similar and evolved from quesadillas, but kept thin and extruded to sometimes crazy length beginning to resemble the blade of their namesake. In Mexico City, their birthplace and really the only place they remain common, they are always made of a corn tortilla and often filled with stewed meats called guisados. White Oaxacan cheese works not only to round out the tastes, but to keep it all together.

The oblong handmade corn tortilla found here at Tres Chivos, a slim little restaurant in Sunset Park that otherwise does not stand out from the crowd, clocks in below 40 cm but it is still the only version in town. For $8, the machete de tinga (above) is a real bargain as it can almost satisfy two hungry bellies. It has a nice ball of guacamole served on top it, is accompanied by a salad, and can be ordered in chorizo and carne asada versions as well.

With green, white, and red streamers overhead, upbeat Norteños coming from the jukebox, and many types of Mexican beer available, the atmosphere here is fun and festive and lends itself to eating antojitos with a few drinks. What few photos can be found through their online presence seem to showcase this side of the restaurant, with happy hours that see it get busy in the evenings as groups of guys order buckets of bottled beer.

The nachos al pastor ($12, above) are also well-executed and pair nicely with those cold beers (or a margarita). Ingredients can be found throughout the dish, deployed in many layers so the chips at the bottom have plenty to carry.

On a follow-up visit and racking the brain and Google to figure out what "TXM" on the menu could possibly stand for, it was learned that this simply meant "Tex-Mex," somewhat of a disappointment if truth be told. That being said, the next time a mood strikes for a quesadilla or burrito wrapped in a fluffy flour tortilla, the TXM side of the menu might have to be investigated further.

Instead a large plate of enchiladas verdes ($12, above) was ordered. Four corn tortillas wrapped with chicken inside and smothered with their tomatillo salsa were decent but proved that sticking to antojitos was probably the best route when dining here.

Order another beer, wait for another song to get loaded into the jukebox, and maybe that hunger will come back soon enough to order another machete.

Tres Chivos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 July 2019

bb.q Chicken


While only gracing the shores of the United States for the last five years, bb.q Chicken is a company that is almost 25 years old, starting first in Korea but expanding to at least seven countries as the Korean fried chicken craze shows no signs of slowing down. Back home the franchise went crazy even in its first year, with 100 locations opening.

So when it started up in cities here, naturally Koreans were very happy with the additions (in addition to the Koreatown location, there is one in Flushing, another in Brooklyn, and five across the Hudson) but it deserves the attention of everyone.

Sometimes you will see the word "olive" before chicken in the written names online or elsewhere, and this refers to their use of olive oil in the frying of the chicken and cooking of other items. Their signature dish is the golden olive chicken (below), which lets the simple ingredients speak for themselves.

Courtesy of bb.q Chicken DTLA.

The Midtown branch offers a basement level with a bar and becomes a great place to drink and watch sports. The party they threw for one of South Korea's World Cup match last year was fantastic and entry included plates of their fried chicken and beer (below).

With many other options like soy garlic and secret spicy, most fried chicken lovers will be happy here. Most of their locations provide good beer and soju options.

On ground level, they also have grab and go bowls already prepared for quick lunches, and ample room for dining in as well. This space is better for customers on the run during the day.

Grilled chicken bibimbap to go.

One of the best dishes available are the spicy rice cakes known as duk-bokki (below). Cups of these to go or plates to stay can be topped with stringy cheese but regardless they have a really good heat kick, the "soup" full of plenty of gochujang.

Interested in some fusion? The bulgogi poutine (below) is one of the latest mashup poutines in the world to offer a really delicious way to eat fries. This pairs especially well when you come here to have some drinks, and provides a good contrast to plates of chicken wings.

bb.q Chicken Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 July 2019

La Placita Mexicana Deli & Grocery


New Brunswick, New Jersey, a growing town of about 57,000 people is most known for Rutgers University and surrounding area that firmly place it in the image of a "college town." But not far outside of the university section and the city's downtown, roads stretching south and west reveal where the growth in population is coming from, and an almost magical area containing one of the densest concentrations of Oaxacans on the east coast.

After a satisfying meal here a bit over two years ago, the feeling after looking around a bit was that the wrong establishment was chosen. Despite being delicious, other smaller locations on nearby blocks looked even more promising.

A good place to begin your explorations is at one of the oldest, La Placita Mexicana, which has evolved in its ten or so years of existence from a tiny kitchen inside a grocery to a slightly less tiny kitchen inside a grocery with a massive following. Because growth really is not an option at this original location, they have opened up two formal restaurants nearby, but the casual nature of the grocery is still preferred.

Two years ago was the opposite view.

The dining area here has grown over time in the most charming of ways, counters and tables fashioned from whatever was around and stitched together. A mishmash of stools surround these, a convivial atmosphere when a few groups and solo diners are around. The majority of people seem to come here for the gigantic tlayuda, the shining icon of Oaxacan cuisine, but the succinct menu overhead (see last photo below) also promises other antojitos, larger plates, and weekend specials.

Once you decide on your order, just tell one of the busy people cooking and it will be put on their assembly line. Ask for one of the refrescos, or make yourself a coffee, then pay for everything in the front of the store when you finish eating.

The big crispy yet stretchy tortilla used for tlayudas ($10-12, above and below) is not ever made to order, as these are actually imported from Oaxaca. This is not the same as a packaged tortillas you may see used for tacos though, as it will come back to life when put on the grill. Everyone has their own source for these, and honestly even the best places here in the east do not have access to the finest from Oaxaca as those are all seemingly reserved by Oaxacalifornians.

While not having the same durability of those A+ tlayudas, the process once you order is still the same and the finished product is very enjoyable. A layer of asiento (unrefined pork lard) and black beans creates the canvas for lettuce, the meat of your choice, stringy white Oaxacan cheese and avocado. Before the tlayuda is folded over, it is large and round, about the size of a medium pizza. Sometimes it is served without folding like at Costa Chica across the street, but at casual places and on the street the fold is done to make the dish easier to eat by hand.

Tlayuda de chorizo.

While these beauties should not be missed, you will also notice the constant dull metal pings of the tortillera de hierro, a cast iron tortilla press. Each and every tortilla for tacos here is made this way, something of a rarity for folks in New York City but what seems to be the norm in New Brunswick. If you took a strategic seat with a good view, you can watch these pressed and placed on the grill one by one, each one puffing up perfectly when cooked.

An order takes a slightly longer than usual because of this, but is well worth the extra wait. An order of three tacos ranges from $7.50 to $10, but is an enormous amount of food and gets served with a wedge of avocado.

If possible, plan your visit here on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, as the weekends only barbacoa is excellent and should not be missed. This is barbacoa de chivo ($9, above and below), goat that tastes like it has been cooking underground since midweek. Without any salsas, it already exudes so much flavor that it needs only a slight squeeze from a lime.

Barbacoa can have slight to major variations from region to region in México, but in Oaxaca it is legendary. Even in different parts of the large state it can vary wildly, available at all times of day but usually only until it runs out. Since it is so popular for breakfast in soup form, do not plan on waiting until dinner to get your fix because it is likely to have been gone for hours.

The goat meat here is complex and full of the earth. Dried chillies and nutty flavors are most noticeable, but many more evade the knowledge of an amateur palate. In fact they were so delicious that a second visit for dinner was necessary to try some other offerings and make sure tiny La Placita was not a dream. An appetite was reformed after a lot of walking and exploring to Somerset and back followed by an overpriced campus iced coffee.

On the first visit a very large order of carne asada was being cooked, and this also seemed to be one of the favorites for folks ordering tlayudas, so it was necessary in one of the tacos. Lengua (tongue), the most expensive offering was decided to be the second, and neither disappointed.

The lengua was perfectly fatty and silky with a very slight char from the grill. It is cut into very small pieces so the char reaches as many surfaces as possible. The asada is also cut very fine and even more charred but the meat here is good enough to shine through this cooking style.

Once again a seat was selected right in front of the tortillera de hierro, which hardly ever stopped. Those metal clanks are still on the mind, the siren song of Oaxacan New Brunswick.

La Placita Mexicana Deli & Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

04 July 2019

Tsion Cafe


Sometimes called fir-fir like on the menu here, and sometimes fit-fit elsewhere, recently there was an intense craving for this Ethiopian breakfast dish that thankfully was easily satisfied when work was nearby Tsion Cafe on a morning last week. They simply call it a "spiced onion stew" here, but it is much more than that, full of berbere and most notably, small chunks of injera.

Usually served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, what makes the fir-fir ($12, below) unique here is that instead of offering a piece of injera on the side they actually wrap the stew up with it with the care taken to bundle a little baby. As you peel away the top folds, tear pieces and use them to pick up the stew. In fact, unless you ask, this will be your only utensil, the way it should be.

As stated, this is primarily a breakfast dish in both Ethiopia and Eritrea, but it looks like Tsion Cafe offers it all day. The cafe is deceptively larger than it seems from the street, the small storefront opens up into a fairly expansive space a few steps down from the sidewalk, and even has a backyard for the 25 or so nice days a year that happen in New York City.

If it seems familiar, you are showing your age (and your good taste) because it used to be home to Jimmy's Chicken Shack, the historically essential Harlem club known for good food and jazz. The Sugar Hill space once frequented by Charlie Parker and Redd Foxx is this exact room, now the domain of tasty Ethiopian food. Tsion Cafe opened in 2014 and seems to focus on the healthier aspects of its chef's cuisine.

Tsion Cafe & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

02 July 2019

Good Hope Restaurant


Talk long enough with people from Guyana, and the topic of conversation will likely somehow come to a point of pride they have with their ability to drink you under the table. There may be cultures we more stereotypically associate with alcohol consumption, but there may be no people more enthusiastic about this "gift." While cricket is the sport on TV, drinking is such a culture in the country that "sporting" has become slang for the act.

In the capital Georgetown, before it gets late and parties move to places like Original Palm Court, a lot of drinking takes place in Chinese restaurants. These offer the best of both worlds, plenty to drink and Indo-Caribbean style Chinese food which is fabulously popular. These habits have directly transplanted themselves with the Guyanese population in and around Ozone Park and Richmond Hill as well, as thoroughfares like Liberty Avenue are densely packed with establishments just like back home.

As far as a casual visitor is concerned, Good Hope Restaurant is always full of "sporting," and seemingly near or over capacity at all times of day and night. It was a place to seek refuge on the night of a blizzard last winter, but even then not even a stool at the bar could be found to rest weary (and wet) feet.

But stand around for a bit after ordering a beer and something will open up. Grab a dirt cheap beer from the bar and tip a couple bucks and the ladies here will immediately start taking care of you. The scene is raucous and might spin at first with the soundtrack of Bollywood and its Caribbean offshoot chutney at volumes that make everyone have to raise their voices, but give it a few minutes for your body to find its rhythm within the walls here and the music will eventually seem ideal.

By the time your first order arrives, a booth or at least a seat at someone else's will have most likely opened up and you can sit and enjoy plates like pepper chicken lo mein (above). Lo mein of course has its own section on the menu at any reputable Indo-Caribbean Chinese restaurant, and you can get it topped with all manner of jerked and barbecued meats, gizzards and livers, and seafoods. The pepper chicken is always nice because it brings the heat and creates a certain pleasure mixed with the sweetness of the noodles below.

As the first dish was just about finished, the first point of contact brought a bill since she was about to leave. The damage for the plate and a Becks beer: $10. But on this occasion there was no feeling of wanting to leave, and plenty of other tables were snacking on plates of fried wonton ($5.25, above) so another tab was started. These small nuggets come with a side of sweet dipping sauce but are better alone or with a slight drizzle of the vinegar they bring to the table in clear or mustard squeeze bottles.

There are usually no female customers here, but every once in a while a confident pair will come in and meet up with friends, immediately becoming the center of attention of everyone. The community is quite large in this part of Queens but you get the sense everyone knows each other already and certainly the patrons of this restaurant are all on a first name basis.

If you are not in the mood for the spicy chicken gizzards and liver appetizer, another safe option is the cha che kai chicken ($7.50), on not just Guyanese-Chinese menus but all throughout the region. These spicy morsels are fried to a strong crisp with the skin still on. While most of it can be popped in your mouth directly, do be aware that this is bone-in chicken and you will find them here and there.

The spicy oil and peppers shine through brilliantly in the dish, which of course is best washed down with bottles of light beer readily available. In an informal poll during many trips here, Heineken is by far and away the most popular beer of the Guyanese diaspora, followed by Coors Light and Corona. You may find a Guyanese Banks Lager at some establishments up and down the strip but not here, and as you may recall from previous posts the Trini beer Carib has been sold and is awful now, worth avoiding.

Follow the "locals" and drink what they're drinking. On a most recent visit the highlights from the Cricket World Cup were showing on the restaurant's TVs but the "sporting" going on this evening was definitely more about emptying those bottles.

Good Hope Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

01 July 2019

Menya Jiro


If you get in a time machine and set it for just ten years ago, ramen had already taken hold in New York City and was very good. Restaurants in Midtown, some even with special post-midnight bowls of noodles, were already giving the city a good name. Many Japanese establishments grouped themselves fairly closely on the east side, not tight enough for a "Little Tokyo" to form, but they effectively served the Japanese-based businesses in Midtown as well as the United Nations.

Especially in the last five years, many chains from Japan have taken notice of how well Ippudo has done as well as all the other ramen shops across town, and began expanding their business to New York City. Good ramen can now be found all over Manhattan, but also in unexpected spots in Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey. So far this flooding of the market has not reached a problem level as demand seems high and people start expecting more from their bowls.

Menya Jiro, a Japanese chain that has arrived in the city less than two years ago after five locations back home, offers ramen originating in Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu. Kyushu's more northern city of Fukuoka is known as the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, the regional specialty that Menya Jiro also offers. Their special Kagoshima ramen ($16, above and below) is a bowl using traditional methods of pork-based tonkotsu with the addition of chicken broth as well.

The city has taken to their specialty quite rapidly, before opening they competed in (and won) a series of ramen contests and operated pop-up events here and in Greenport, Long Island. These helped make the decision to seek a more permanent space to offer their Kagoshima ramen.

The brand has promptly expanded from their first overseas branch in east Midtown to the Financial District and now here to Downtown Brooklyn for a third location.

Menya Jiro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

26 June 2019

Restaurant El Diez


Any drive or walk through Maspeth will show no shortage of pizza spots, most your standard New York City slice joints. Every once in a while an Italian-American is still running the show, but more often than not nowadays there are Albanians and more lately Mexicans behind the counter feeding New Yorkers their fix. NYC's "national dish" is probably the slice, but Maspeth would take it up a notch further and put it on their flag.

The address at this location was one of these places for a long time, before a new cuisine moved in alongside the pies. A few years back, El Diez was born, serving the small but growing Paraguayan community in Queens. The pizza oven still sits in the back and pizza is available by the slice, but this side of the business seems to be less of a priority now for both the owners and the customers.

Even the streets of Maspeth declare their love.

A new owner has taken over the space about five months ago and renovated, a brief chat with her made it sound like she had big plans for the restaurant. For now everything remains very casual and comfortable, service is friendly, and like often happens an "outsider" will constantly be asked how they are enjoying the foods. Paraguayan pride even for a short lunch.

If you have ever traveled through Paraguay, the country will leave an impression on you that is always through the lens of the Guaraní people. The culture of this indigenous group is still very strong in the country and the language still used. The foods are heavily influenced by Guaraní traditions and ingredients, and more often than not the names of dishes will use their language. When the grill is going and everyone is served asado, it may not seem different from Argentina, but the other items served before, during, and after these grilled meats and sausages is really what makes the cuisine its own.

A spread centering around mate cocido.

Yerba mate is popular in Paraguay like its neighbors, but a unique way of drinking it in the country is cooking it with sugar in a pan to make cocido, or mate cocido ($2, below). This "tea" ends up being pleasantly sweet rather than overly, and can be drank with milk although this is not required.

It is such a common order here at El Diez that they have a tank of it for self service.

Many Paraguayan dishes stand out from their use of manioc flour, made from cassava, rather than other flours. You will see many different types of chipa, a chewy, cheesy bread made from manioc with roots in Guaraní culture.

One outlying chipa is the chipa guazu ($5, below left), a very dense corn cake served with mate cocido as a snack or sometimes alongside asado. Whole corn kernels and grain are used in its production. Guazu, or guasu is Guaraní for "big" and this type of chipa is usually served in large format in a casserole dish.

Not entirely different but smoother in texture and using corn flour rather than grain is sopa Paraguaya ($5, above right and below), sometimes referred to as the national dish of Paraguay. Yes sopa means soup, but this like the chipa guazu is more like a cornbread, albeit heavier and moist.

There are disputed origin stories about the dish but the best as always revolves around an accident. A white soup heavy with milk, Paraguayan cheese, egg, and corn flour was requested by an obese governor hundreds of years ago but too much corn flour was added by mistake. The resulting product was thrown in the oven because there was no time to make another, and a new favorite was born.

Mbejú ($4, below) is a cake made from starch and more Paraguayan cheese. The resulting dish has a very chewy texture, similar to sticky rice, and might be the most interesting way to have a snack with your mate cocido.

Chipa almidon ($2, below) is one of many types of chipa snacks that you will see vendors selling alongside the road in Paraguay and at bus stations and stops. While passengers come and go, big baskets of sometimes still warm chipas will be brought on board at stops and tempt the remaining folks still in their seats. The chewy and cheesy breads are perfect for long (and short) bus rides.

It certainly would not be a South American restaurant without empanadas ($2.50 each, below), offered in both beef and chicken. The insides are plenty moist and spiced well, requiring no dipping sauces.

While having no relation to Paraguay, another man of Italian descent was eating the restaurant's gnocchi, known as ñoqui in Spanish, a reminder of Italy's widespread influence in the southern cone region of South America. El Diez has a few pasta dishes cooked in this mashup style including tallarin verde.

You can of course find soups and that famous asado here as well, so bring a group and an appetite to experience a little "slice" of a typical Paraguayan life.

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