>> Karen Deli Grocery | Eat the World NYC

27 November 2011

Karen Deli Grocery


[UPDATE NOV 2018: A return visit has found a much more significant emphasis on the Guatemalan component than before, so this listing has been switched to reflect that. Some standard Mexican antojitos remain on the menu, but a specials list and daily list of guisados guatemaltecos has confirmed the shift. The text has been updated to reflect these changes.]

On a walking trip to scout and see what was new and interesting in the western part of Sunset Park a couple months ago, I came across Karen, which drapes Guatemalan and Honduran flags outside from the awning along with a Mexican one. They are geared towards the latter, but I like a specialty kitchen that tries to accommodate the other residents of a neighborhood, like El Atoradero in the Bronx. [UPDATE: As noted above, the kitchen has shifted their focus to Guatemalan plates, stews, and snacks.]

They advertise all their Mexican Guatemalan fare in the windows and also feature pupusas, the most famous item from El Salvador. The kitchen is a little hidden in the back of the shop, you must enter and navigate through the small grocery and tiny aisles to find it, but either one or two friendly ladies will greet you in the back where there are also two small tables to eat inside. [UPDATE: The dining area has expanded to six tables.]

Looming over the larger dining room is a big mural that acts as a love letter to Guatemala. Since the walls were green the last time we came in late 2015, the mural is at most three years old. Colorful homes, tropical coastlines, and women making food in traditional dress evoke memories that in reality the patrons most likely have little or no access to any longer. The rest of the store is painted in the bold blue of the Guatemalan flag. On each table are at least two bottles: a Guatemalan hot sauce called Picamás and ketchup from Pollo Campero, the beloved fast food chicken chain from the country.

On a recent night I found hilachas ($9, below) on the specials board, a dish hardly ever seen in the region. They serve it with rice and beans, the stew is less "soupy" than some, but delicious. The cuts of meat are somewhat dry unfortunately, but the stew itself works its way into the rice and could not be better.

As always with Guatemalan meals, homemade corn tortillas are served alongside plates. Their versions are much thicker than their Mexican counterparts and stay warmer much longer. They are irresistibly full of aroma and flavor and immediately had me piling the other ingredients on top. Not too long after I had finished both, the chefs offered me more from another batch they just made.

[NOTE: The rest of this article is unchanged from 2011, but some of these items or ingredients might not be available any longer.]

The tacos al pastor ($2.50 each, above) are big and come pre-loaded with their avocado salsa. Al pastor is almost always better from a spit of course, but this is the best non-spit version I have tasted, juicy and with a decent kick. If you need more bite, the plate comes with your very own jalapeño pepper (at bottom)

I did not see one on the picture wall, but I was in the mood for a huarache ($4, below), which she had no hesitation in saying could be done, and got right into spreading the ground masa to make its base. She spread a layer of the thin beans, and topped it with my selection of carne enchilada. This too came out very nice and needed no additional flavoring.

The last item ordered was a quesadilla de pollo ($3, below), which had ample portions of fresh queso blanco and quite a mild overall taste that was somehow sweet. I went ahead and loaded this one up with the salsa verde provided at the table.

I got to speaking with the lady who cooked us everything, asking if she made this or that, and was most happy to find that she was in the business of baleadas, a Honduran specialty that is not too abundant in the city. I will be happy to stop back and try her Central American cooking on my next visit. It is always nice to be so welcome in a place that is serving up such wonderful food.

Use with caution.

On an avenue that is packed with small Mexican antojito joints, Karen is really shining bright for its atmosphere of friendliness and quality ingredients, especially the spicing. For those that need an introduction to Sunset Park, this is a good place to start.

Karen Deli Grocery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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