>> Cali Ají | Eat the World NYC

27 November 2019

Cali Ají


The perfect time to experience Cali Ají is during a weekday lunch, when the casual café is running on all cylinders. In a working class neighborhood full of auto shops, NYC Transit depots, and close to LaGuardia, these are the customers who are the regulars. Colombians working in these professions seem to be the demographic of the restaurant, those with a little grease on their clothes and monster appetites.

For this reason, it was crystal clear before even sitting down that a meal here was going to be completely satisfying. The menu is full of items ordered a la carte, but also contains a page with daily lunch specials for $10. On most days this includes some type of soup, rice and beans, and a choice of meat from the steam table. On a recent Tuesday, the sopa de tostones (below) was chosen, although the delicious albondigas that were paired with it were greedily eaten before a photograph could be thought about.

The small space is mostly filled by six four-tops and hungry humans, often to capacity with pairs sitting with strangers. No one seems to mind though, as dishes are served rapidly and turnover is high. Taking the time to linger around for longer than most, the natural rhythms of the café were really enjoyable to observe. Is everyone in a good mood here?

Having been to Cali some years ago, it was natural to want to feel the connection. The instant feelings of togetherness and family. People smiling and enjoying their day. Unlike Colombia's other big cities, Santiago de Cali is closer to sea level and therefore hot and humid, and more intense. But alas, each time the door would swing open to let those chilly winter-approaching airs inside, the feelings snapped back to New York City.

The plates that are available all day mostly come in the range of $10-13 and are also a massive value. This sobrebarriga a la criolla ($13, above) was a pleasant surprise, flank steak almost swimming in a lovely sweetened and fruity tomato sauce. Sobrebarriga translates literally to "over the belly" and just refers to this cut of meat. It always runs the risk of being too tough, but here it is executed quite well, with minimal chewiness.

Joining the steak is a few potatoes, some yuca, and a wonderful slice of plantain. One of a few prototypical Colombian favorites. For a nice kick, a little "Cali ají" if you will, grab the squeeze bottles and top up the sauce to your liking. Unless you work in the construction field and absolutely destroy your plates like many did during this visit, expect leftovers galore.

Cali Aji Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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