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Good Enough to Eat With a Spoon

Among the 23.6% Americans who are currently dieting, the second most popular treat is mayonnaise. Weird. I guess I equate treat with sweet. Granted, that number two item was cited by slightly less than 10% of those surveyed. That’s still a lot of mayo-lovers, though.

I’m not one of them, though I do get the appeal of mayonnaise with fries. Whenever I hear about mayo-lovers my first thought is Mayonnaise Kitchen, the Japanese restaurant grossly devoted to the condiment. Then I immediately remember this girl named Bree who lived in a nearby cul-de-sac when I was in grade school. Everyone called her Shaggy, but more importantly she once answered the door with a bowl of mayonnaise in hand, eating it with a spoon.

Ew, and some heartthrob to the over-30 set apparently uses the condiment for sordid purposes.

Unbearably Mediocre

Black bear cheese

Normally, I scoff at brand label buyers who shun generics. Why buy Advil when Duane Reade ibuprofen does the same thing for less? But I just discovered that not all processed cheese is created equal (ok, I already knew that Kraft singles melt while weird 99-cent brands like Tropical don't).

While perusing the refrigerated deli section at a NJ Shop Rite, I went to grab my occasional guilty treat Land O'Lakes white American cheese then noticed a twin product mixed right into the pile: Black Bear, a brand I'd never heard of and can find no evidence of on the internet, for $2 less per pound. Sure, I'd try it.

I anticipated my first creamy bite, but no, it wasn't right. The deceptively albino slice just tasted like a normal shiny orange square that comes individually wrapped in plastic. It was lacking chewiness and real cheese flavor that might be attributable to milk though I can't say for sure.  I'm certain this knock off would taste fine in a grilled cheese sandwich but I just like tearing off bits of cheese to snack on straight from the fridge and Black Bear lacks purity. No more cutting corners with cheese products again.

Hope & Anchor

When passing through Red Hook James occasionally suggests stopping at Hope & Anchor. I never share his enthusiasm. This is based on little evidence since I’ve only eaten there once, and quite some time ago when it first opened. The place struck me as kind of fun with adequate food if you happened to be in the area but not worth a special trip. Its two main attractions being drag karaoke nights and prices befitting a real diner not a faux one. But it seemed like a fitting place for an early weeknight meal after looking at house for sale in Red Hook owned by the proprietors of Hook & Anchor, no less. (For the record, the home was lovely but just not me. I’m really more clean lines modern where this was a touch Cottage Living [R.I.P.] mixed with turn-of-the-century maritime. Those bearded Brooklyn foodie types would have a heyday wainscoting, wallpapering and tin ceiling-ing the hell out of the place. Moldings, chandeliers and dumbwaiter already in place [I really loved the dumbwaiter]. The unfinished basement would be perfect for crafting sassafras bitters and hanging homemade wild boar sausages to cure.)
If you’re in a diner, there’s no sense in ordering a salad. It’s grease or nothing, so it was cheesesteak and fries for me. The massive sandwich (which I made into a second dinner the following night) satisfied my unhealthy urge, but in a perfect world the meat would’ve been sliced instead of ground and oozing with Cheez Whiz instead of the indeterminate melted white cheese applied with a light hand. Red Hook might feel as far as a sixth borough but it is no Philadelphia. 
The pumpkin lager was no longer being served, but the suggested cherry was a fine enough substitute. Fruity beers do not give me pause. Generally, well-done ones like this Lakefront Brewery version aren’t cloying. I do draw the line at flavored coffee, though. (1/13/08)

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Clamming Up

Linwood inn

We had time to kill between early dinner/late lunch at Chevy’s (first choice Jose Tejas was ten people deep waiting at the bar. Any time before 9:30pm on a weekend and you’re asking for trouble) and a 9:45pm showing of Gran Torino at the theater next door (it was the only vaguely watchable movie playing. Notorious was sold out and My Bloody Valentine was only in 2-D, lame) so I decided to find the answer to a pressing question I’ve always had. Where do people drink in the suburbs? At Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse? You occasionally see strip mall sports bars, but seriously, where do people go?

This required detouring off chain-clogged Route 1 and scouring side streets. In this case, Wood Avenue in Linden, New Jersey, my favorite blue collar semi-suburb across from Staten Island. There were actual taverns along the little downtown strip dotted with Polish-Czech video stores and Eastern European butchers. Linden reminds me a little of Roseanne’s Lanford with the addition of minorities (the ratio of black teens to white adults at the movie theater was like 9-to-1).

I couldn’t decide which place to pick. Darkened windows with beer brand neon give little clue to what you might be getting into once you walk through a door. But when I spied anthropomorphic clams, one with a bottle of beer and another chomping on a piece of pizza, I knew Linfield Inn was our bar.

Still, I’m hesitant to walk into dive bars in neighborhoods I’m not super familiar with. Will it be tight-knit and cold shoulders or easy going and friendly? I never ventured into a single old man bar along Fresh Pond Road the three years I lived in another Eastern European enclave, Ridgewood, Queens because I’m just not the type who wins over strangers everywhere they go. I’m not a regular anywhere. (I’m still not sure why my coffee cart guy seems so fond of me [I feel incredibly guilty since moving floors and getting a coffee machine. I only stop by every few weeks now and my absence has been noted]. Maybe smiling and saying please and thank you is enough for some.)

Linden historical society
After I opened the door in the back entrance in the parking lot, I was taken with the sign on the interior door beneath the Bud Light logo pointing out the bar and restaurant on the left and a historical society and reference library on the right. Really? Now we were talking. My photo is blurred because I was paranoid someone was going to push the door into me while quickly snapping it.

A few tables were finishing dinner as we entered and the rest of the clientele was made up of a handful of 45+ year old guys who all seemed friendly with the younger bartenders. A little later two college-aged couples came in together and ordered platters of fried food. A gruff Walt Kowalski (technically, I didn't have this thought until after seeing Gran Torino) type showed up and started busting the bartenders' balls and made me wonder when racial epithets might start flying. A disproportionate amount of customers were drinking cranberry juice and vodka.

I turned down the offer a menu because we’d just eaten, but now I regret not at least seeing what was on it. Was the burger advertised on the sign outside worth trying? And what about those clams? I also regret not having time to stay for a second drink or for the live entertainment promised at 10pm. To date, my only experience with live entertainment near Route 1 was the guy belting out ‘90s covers at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

In 2009, I vow to explore more side streets and independent operators. Ignoring the siren call of suburban chain restaurants won’t be easy but I’m up for the challenge.

Cookbooks Worth a Look

Check out my list of Accessible (Mostly) Southeast Asian Cookbooks on Flashlight Worthy. Yes, people still read books.

Give Me a Break

Japanese kit kats

Even though I’m off the sugar, I was excited when a coworker brought back green tea and sweet potato flavored Kit Kats from Japan this week. I was just going to take pictures, but how do you not taste unusual varieties of candy from afar? I bit.

Sweet potato & green tea kit kat

The green tea had proper bitter undertones; you’d probably be able to identify the flavor if pressed to do so. Maybe the creamy pale green color would help, too. But in the U.S., orange signals sweet potato even though not all yams, sweet potatoes, whatever (I know they’re not the same) are so brightly hued. Orange dye wouldn't  have even helped the butter yellow wafer because it  tasted like super sweet white chocolate and nothing more, not even a hint of vegetal goodness.

Word is Japanese Kit Kats have been known to come in limited editions flavored with corn, watermelon and salt, and even soy sauce. Check out the Japanese KitKat Flickr pool that includes chiles, McFlurry, macchiato and more.


The Chinese aren’t the most sentimental people. Mainlanders only recently started to fetishize the past with the creation of Maoist, peasant-themed eateries. It takes a more Westernized city like Hong Kong to name a high end restaurant Hutong after the maze-like back alley dwellings rapidly being demolished in Beijing.

I avoided slick restaurants on vacation (Robuchon, while expensive, was more garish-regal) but for our final evening in Asia I wanted to do the whole guidebook-approved fancy cocktails and dinner overlooking the skyline. And you’ll end up paying for that, no getting around it. Not only are the Chinese un-sentimental, they have no problem requiring customers to spend set minimums. At Aqua, one floor above Hutong on 29, you are must spend HK$120 to enjoy the atmosphere. No one ever need encourage me to order two drinks (which easily added up to more than the $16 rule) so that wasn’t a problem.

It did seem odder to set a number (HK$300/US$39) at a chic restaurant. I’ve never encountered practices like sharing fees and $10 per person musts at diners and the like. But I knew this going in based on the confirmation email that also spelled out the no short, slippers or sleevelessness (for men only, I would think) policy. I can see dirty backpackers being a problem in Bangkok but Hong Kong doesn’t really attract the bumming around element. Or maybe they are trying to keep out those pesky Chinese who wouldn’t stop wearing pajamas in public even for the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I goofed off like a good tourist taking copious photos of the glowing red and blue interior and picture window view so poor I was forced to delete them. At 8pm, they start a laser light, pyrotechnic show, “A Symphony of Lights” in Victoria Harbor (and we think the Empire State Building periodically changing color themes is hot shit) which is hard to ignore. In no time I got a red battery low signal that had me panicked over missing shots of our last supper.

I greatly prefer the strong flavors of Northern Chinese food over the pure delicateness Cantonese is known for or else I would’ve booked a place like Lung King Heen, recently bestowed with three Michelin stars. I’ll eat atmospherics right up too; the wire bird cages that sit on each round antique carved wood table until diners arrive and they’re whisked away, the dim cavernous space with outer edges divvied up into mysterious private nooks and even the rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” orchestrated on plinky Chinese string instruments. The cover was almost as good as the first time I heard Musak version of “Hungry Like the Wolf” piped into a Hallmark two decades ago.

Crispy yuppies

The food wasn’t anything like the upscale Chinese that plagues NYC. The Waikyas, Buddakans, I don’t know, maybe Shang (I haven’t tried it yet but have higher hopes). Hutong served Chinese food that was actually good. And being Hong Kong, items you’d never see on an American glossy menu—marinated pig’s throats, lamb organ soup, lots of salty egg yolks and crab roe—were right at home. I’m still not certain what “crispy yuppies” are. I’d guess a fish, as
this dish was listed in the seafood section, but that could also be
because it sounds like guppies.

Hutong crab daikon rolls

Family-sized portions provided way more than I had expected. Thankfully, the chilled daikon crab meat rolls were light. The sweet-vinegary edamame cabbage slaw on the right was a freebie relish/appetizer.

Hutong boneless lamb ribs

Lamb ribs were a signature dish and present on nearly every table. I acquiesced. I would be good with these crackly skinned, lightly fatty slabs replacing pork belly as cut of choice. If I’m correct, the meat is de-boned and slow cooked while the skin is fried separately then reconstructed. Accompaniments included crushed garlic, julienned scallion whites and a soy based sauce. The sharp raw garlic and onions helped cut the natural sweetness.

Hutong sichuan fish head

The fish head wasn’t on anyone’s table, and got lots of ogling from the Middle Eastern couple sitting near us who asked the waiter what we had. I’ve never encountered a Sichuan fish head preparation and am not sure whether it’s traditional or not. Who cares? The sauce tasted salty and hot from chile bean paste and was enriched with minced pork, very much like a ma po tofu preparation.

Hutong green bamboo shoots

The last surviving photo from Hong Kong/Singapore/Macau extravaganza 2008. My battery died immediately after I snapped this shot of the “jade” bamboo shoots. Not only did these taste amazing, they also were incredibly pretty, pale green and glistening. I thought they had forgotten this dish since it arrived half-way through the meal; there was no rhyme or order to the courses. I could’ve sworn these were cooked in butter as they tasted salty and rich, though the menu only said wok-fried with no clues. I’m not crazy about gloopy cornstarch-thickened vegetables so these were perfect.

We did the high in the sky, bar with a view sandwich (or is that a bookend) and had a few nightcaps at Felix, famous for its window-facing urinal in the men’s room. I had no idea how tiny—one long table and a curving leather banquette off to the side of the circular counter–the Philippe Starck-designed bar was. Or how much the peach and pistachio pudding color scheme enhanced by underlit marble reminded me of ‘80s Santa Fe style with a dash of Golden Girls’ Miami. It never looks like that in photos, though. It’s quite possible that my observation skills were dulled by too much food and drink.

Hutong * 1 Peking Rd., 28/F, Hong Kong


If you're like me, you pass by roadside beacons like Carrabba's, Bertucci's and Macaroni Grill and despite your indifference to Italian-American food (I hear the entire February issue of Gourmet is devoted to the cuisine though I've yet to receive my copy in the mail and am in no hurry to), wonder what they're like because you can't resist the allure of a chain, any chain. I mean, aren't they all kind of Olive Gardens at their core?

I was in the wilds of East Brunswick, testing out the new GPS I bought (as a gift) for Christmas to see if it could find Hong Kong Supermarket (a point of interest according to the GPS) and afterwards, Makkoli, a Japanese buffet (not found by name in the GPS). Before I could reach my all-you-can-eat sashimi goal, I was lured by the starchy promises of Carrabba's.

"It's more upscale than Olive Garden," James promised, apparently an old pro from dinners with his parents in Northern Virginia. That's not saying much, though I get what he meant. No photos on the menu or zingy folded cardboard promotions on the table, and no free salads and breadsticks. Everything's a la carte and a few bucks more than a suburban OG (though not necessarily a Manhattan one). I ended up with a $10 glass of wine at the bar, which seemed steep by chain standards, though it's not like anyone forced me to order the Coppola claret. I switched to the $9 quartino of chianti special with dinner. Oh, but it's classy because they pour the wine into an individual glass carafe for you dole out as you like.

At the ungodly hour of 6pm on a Saturday it was family central. I knew what I was getting into. However, I'm still not sure why parents bring kids little enough to need distractions out to eat at places where sitting relatively still is required (maybe I'm just jealous because we rarely went to sit down restaurants when I was a child. And other than maybe Sizzler, fast casual chains didn't exist yet. We would occasionally go to Heidi's, a local favorite with a Swiss-themed gift shop and dazzling pastry case). The toddler with a DVD player at eye level on the table disturbed me much more than the girl walking her plush pony up the mini blinds near to us. At least physical toys require some degree of imagination.

Carrabba's crab cakes

The food was standard issue and plated in sparse lonely ways. Crab cakes seemed awkwardly shoved to one side with an awful lot of real estate devoted to the sauce.

Carrabba's lobster ravioli

My lobster ravioli looked like I'd heated up a frozen pack from Trader Joe's and tossed it on a plate, more in a hurry to catch 24 (sure, I'll still watch Jack Bauer torturing people) even though I'm DVRing it. Ok, there were some herb bits scattered on top, which is more garnish than dole out at home.

Carrabba's chocolate dream

Carrabba's has totally tapped into the mini dessert trend, offering $2.50 "bacino," which translates to creamy parfaits in glorified shot glasses. I wasn't biting as can be seen in this photo of the Chocolate Dream, a bit of fluffy overkill by way of Kahlua brownie with chocolate mousse and syrup. I could've sworn there was ice cream in there. It definitely needed ice cream.

I hate macaroni, which will prevent me from trying a Macaroni Grill maybe ever (I can only picture noodles dripping with Velveeta over flames). Bertucci's, I might give a chance. Though the chain I've always meant to visit but haven't is P.F. Chang's. Looks like the closest one in the strangely named town of West New York, NJ,. Maybe I'll put the GPS to use this weekend.

One thing Carrabba's has over Olive Garden is that if you mention them on Twitter they'll start following you. Brands connecting through tweets is one thing, but when Damages' Patty Hewes started following me I got kind of scared.

Carrabba's * 335 Rt.18, New Brunswick, NJ Local Lowdown

Sangria Bar & Grill

112 Dyckman Street
Cross Street: Between Post and Nagle avenues

809 owner
Cirilo Moronta is banking that Inwood is ready for an upscale take on
Caribbean classics. The clubby restaurant, named for the DR´s area
code, borrows from more than Santo Domingo. Dainty arepas topped with
a trio of shredded chicken, pork picadillo and ropa vieja are among recommended
starters. The seafood-heavy menu includes the show stopping pargo relleno,
a whole red snapper stuffed with seafood risotto and a lightly spiced
coconut-tomato sauce. The mix and match churrascaria will appeal to carnivores
who want to choose their cut of meat, side and sauce. The pulsing upstairs
lounge going strong Thursday through Sunday draws crowds. If you´re
looking for a quieter meal, head downstairs—on a recent weeknight,
a prime ivory leather corner banquette was filled with a family, newborn
and toddlers in tow, proving that you don´t need to be famous to
get the VIP treatment.


134 East 48th Street
Cross Street: Between Lexington and Third Avenue

Alma Grill is the handiwork of music mogul Ralph Mercado yet isn't strictly
Latin American in style. Cream tones, rich brown accents and metal beaded
curtains give the impression of a tasteful hotel, which makes sense since
the stylish restaurant is attached to a Midtown Radisson and primarily serves
its guests. Luckily, the food rises above corporate blandness and should
attract a broader clientele. Guaranteed favorites like steak frites and
roast chicken are available but creative flair can be found in tuna glazed
with rum and served with citrus salsa and quinoa salad, as well as lobster
ceviche punched up with Thai chiles and passion fruit. Don't pass up the
Alma trio, showcasing of mini versions of crème brule, coconut flan
and buttermilk panna cotta.

197 Meserole Avenue
Cross Street: Between Humboldt Street and Bushwick Avenue

This mirrored
to the max Ecuadorian eatery on a residential Bushwick avenue bustles,
even in the traditionally Puerto Rican enclave. The seaport city of Guayaquil
is represented by a ceviche-heavy menu. Deep bowls of octopus, shrimp
or black clams (when they're available) swim in a blush-colored soup of
lime juice tangled with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The broth is a
reputed hangover cure, though if you order Pilsener, the national beer,
the healthy properties might be counteracted. Humitas—sweet,
cornhusk wrapped cheese and corn tamale—are a welcome change from
also popular starches: rice and plantains.

338 Bedford Avenue
Cross Street: Between South 2nd and 3rd streets

has been given the Williamsburg treatment. By retaining the original retro
charm of a former Latin eatery, and keeping the subway tiles, counter
stools and glowing comida criollas sign intact, Mexican food
has been made hip. The menu is short and sweet, focusing on tacos and
burritos. Daily specials like guajillo roasted pork shouldn't
be ignored, though. Guacamole mashed in a molcajete the size
of a wash tub, and Baja-style fried fish tacos with chile mayonnaise have
won over locals. And the three table salsas: verde, chipotle and pico
de gallo, are all fresher and spicier than you might expect in this Brooklyn


513 E. Sixth Street
Cross Street: Between avenues A and B

beef is what´s for dinner at this often-packed East Village steakhouse.
Diners can choose from eight different cuts of grilled meat or make like
a hungry gaucho and order the parrillada teeming with sweetbreads,
short ribs, skirt steak, kidneys and two types of sausage. Vegetables
are offered in the form of perfectly crisped french fries, ensalada
—a potato salad with green peas, carrots and mayonnaise—and
baked spinach and cheese empanadas. South American wine is an obvious
choice, though a bottle of Quilmes beer feels right when soccer matches
are being broadcast on overhead televisions.

Castillo de Jagua

113 Rivington Street
Cross Street: Between Essex and Ludlow streets

Savor a
rapidly disappearing segment of the Lower East Side at this Dominican
stalwart. Florescent lights, linoleum, big portions and low prices are
all part of the package. Old timers huddle over steaming bowls of hearty
sancocho at the counter while the occasional newcomer stops in
for a Cuban sandwich and a bottle of Presidente. Early birds can have
mangú for breakfast: the mashed plantains are served with
eggs, fried cheese and salami or a gut-busting combination of all three.
Just like an old-fashioned diner, coconut and chocolate cakes are displayed
on covered glass pedestals near the cash register.

& Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen

54 Seventh Avenue
Cross Street: Between Lincoln and St. Johns places

This diminutive
Park Slope restaurant that opened in early 2007 boldly states, "We
are not a Mexican restaurant." Instead, they've declared their allegiance
to the regional cuisine of Oaxaca, which translates to rich, complex moles
in three styles: negro, verde and coloradito.
All can be applied to chicken breast, stewed pork or grilled vegetables.
The classic thick, burnished negro mole contains over twelve ingredients,
including chocolate, sesame seeds and plantains. In their effort to strive
for authenticity, ancient beverages like champurrado, a warm
corn and chocolate concoction, is offered, and guacamole is optionally
served topped with fried chapulin—yes, grasshoppers!

320 Amsterdam Avenue
Cross Street: 75th Street

Latin and
Japanese food smoothly co-exist at this cavernous Upper West Side restaurant
washed with orange accents. If it's too tough to choose between shrimp
fajitas or tempura, the ultimate roll combination is the perfect compromise.
Raw fish is paired with mango, avocados and bananas, wrapped in seaweed
and served with spicy dipping sauces like creamy wasabi, chipotle and
scallion soy. Dessert can be skipped in lieu of a key lime pie cocktail
composed of Absolut vanilla, pineapple and lime juice in a sugar-rimmed


170 Waverly Place
Cross Street: Between Sixth and Seventh avenues

food is scarce in the city, and fading fast—Flor's Kitchen shuttered
their East Village location in February 2007. The surviving cozy bi-level
West Village spot is a diverse and date-friendly nook. Start with quintessential
arepas or simply make a light meal out of the stuffed corn cakes. Substantial
dishes like pabellón criollo, saucy shredded meat served
with maduros and black beans, are also available. Cachapas, sweet,
gooey, corn-studded pancakes topped with melted paisa cheese are worth
the estimated 15-minute wait.

y Gonzalez

625 Broadway
Cross Street: Between West Houston and Bleecker streets

Sure, this
impossible-to-miss cantina is cheesy figuratively and literally, but sometimes
you're in the mood for nachos, neon lights and a giant sombrero. Avoid
the pricey guacamole and stick to Mexican-American favorites like carne
asada burritos, enchiladas suizas or decadent drinking snacks like jalapeño
kisses, cheese and shrimp stuffed poppers wrapped in bacon. Gonzalez y
Gonzalez boasts NYC's longest bar—margaritas are almost standard
issue on every table. The festive décor and biweekly salsa lessons
draw crowds from nearby NYU, as well as the Angelika Film Center around
the corner.


1575 Lexington Avenue
Cross Street: 101st Street

2004, brothers Anselmo and Fermin Bello parlayed their behind-the-scenes
cooking talent into their own ambitious Mexican-French restaurant, incongruously
placed in Spanish Harlem. The shoebox-sized corner bistro romances couples
with a candlelit vibe featuring folk art, Frida Kahlo paintings and, oddly,
an '80s greatest hits soundtrack. Unctuous goat cheese flan spiked with
jalapeño and epazote, spicy seafood pozole, rich with
oregano, hominy, mussels, firm snapper and jumbo shell-on shrimp, exemplifies
their Franco-Hispanic style. And their desserts, like the tequila chocolate
cake with brown sugar ice cream, are reason enough to squeeze your way
into this welcome addition to the neighborhood.

6405 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 64th and 65th streets

are quintessentially Salvadoran, and this whimsically decorated Woodside
restaurant serves wonderful examples. Take in pictures of the namesake
volcano and clay-tiled indoor roof inhabited by fake iguanas and an armadillo
while trying the stuffed, grilled corn cakes. Choose from chicharron,
cheese, frijoles or revuelta, a mix of all three. Curtido,
a pickled cabbage slaw (sometimes available with papaya), thin, lightly
spiced tomato sauce and a bottle of Suprema beer are necessary accompaniments.
This isn't light fare; easily sharable meat-based entrees are served with
rice, beans, cheese, sweet plantains and corn tortillas. Simple and satisfying
res con salpicon, beef soup, is a weekend favorite.

25-35 36th Avenue
Cross Street: 28th Street

up early for Malagueta´s Saturday-only feijoada, the Brazilian
national dish of stewed black beans, pork, sausage, ribs and bacon served
with collard greens and farofa (toasted manioc flour)—it
frequently sells out before dinner time. This candlelit white tablecloth
café on a quiet Astoria corner melds the tropical moqueca de
, a Bahian-style shrimp stew with palm oil, peppers and coconut
milk, with dishes you wouldn´t expect on the streets of São
Paulo, like lombo de porco, pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes
and bacon vinaigrette. For a sweet finale, chocolate mousse is just as
popular as manjar, their coconut pudding.

136 West 46th Street
Cross Street: Between Sixth and Seventh avenues

Midtown's Cuban-style, Dominican-run holdout hasn't changed in years.
Three brown vinyl stools facing three foil-wrapped sandwich presses greet
you as you squeeze into the entryway. A long row of steam tables filled
with a changing roster of daily specials stretches out to the left. Lunchtime
hordes line up for aluminum containers of pernil or tripe with rice and
beans, but the star might be the toasty sandwiches Cubanos: roasted pork,
ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard are warmed and flattened into compact
torpedoes and the inclusion of unorthodox salami slices add extra oomph.

82 Washington Avenue
Cross Street: Between Park and Flushing avenues

in the ground floor of luxury lofts on a gritty block near Brooklyn's
Navy Yard, Mojito seems deliciously out of place. A Cuban cigar box motif
blends with the exposed pipes, cement floor industrial-chic, and attracts
Clinton Hill denizens and Pratt students in droves. The freebie garlic
bread with three piquant dipping sauces promises good things to come.
Gently priced ropa vieja and chuletas don't disappoint,
though a less conventional entrée-sized mojito churrasco salad
overflowing with grilled chicken, mango, white cheese, avocados, tomatoes
and fried onions is a satisfying alternative for the rice and bean averse.
Tumbler-sized mojitos are powerful: you've got fifteen—yep, 15—different
rums to choose from!


652 Union Street
Cross Street: Between 4th and 5th avenues

the ground floor of a Park Slope brownstone, Palo Santo exudes folksy
chic. Chunky wooden furniture, colorful mosaics and Andean murals lend
a handcrafted touch, while the inventive food also carries a personal
imprint. Half-Haitian chef and owner Jacques Gautier melds Caribbean and
South American flavors into an ever-changing collection of dishes that
are prepared in an open kitchen flanked by bar seating (patrons in these
perches can order a $45 chef´s tasting menu). Expect things like
seafood asopado, a soupy rice, and obscure herbs that might give
a botanist pause. Duck medallions in mole sauce are accompanied with a
black bean-topped corn cake graced with fronds of Mexican papalo
and pepicha. Don´t forget a full wallet—the establishment
is cash only.

92 Seventh Avenue South
Cross Street: Between Grove and Barrow streets

Peruvian chicken chains are nothing new in NYC, but this
West Village poultry purveyor is the only one straight out of Lima. To
the delight of homesick South Americans, the first U.S. outpost opened
in December 2006 and has been doing brisk business with all nationalities.
Marinated in 14 secret ingredients (likely including indigenous huacatay),
pollo brasa is unquestionably the main attraction. Tacu tacu,
rice and bean croquettes, yuquitas, yucca fries and knobby Inca
corn on the cob are choice sides, and tiny ramekins of mayonnaise and
pale yellow aji sauce arrive as dips. Brave souls should investigate anticuchos,
grilled beef heart slices on skewers. A list of cocktails is worth a look,
from traditional frothy pisco sour to the thoroughly modern Piscopolitan.

47 Eighth Avenue
Cross Street: Between Horatio and Jane Streets

The glowing
wood-fired oven is a focal point in this welcoming West Village wine bar
decorated with dangling lamps and swank decades-old Spanish magazine ads.
Thin, charred-edge pizzas topped with ropa vieja and manchego
or shredded chicken and crema fresca might belie Pasita´s South
American roots, but Venezuelan tapas called pasapalos also complement
the reasonably priced list of South American and Spanish vino. Red pepper
and cumin-covered cheese puffs, tequeños or arepitas,
mini corn cakes with guasacaca (an avocado salsa) and nata cheese
pair up nicely with a glass of fruity Zolo Malbec from Argentina.


264 Cypress Avenue
Cross Street: Between East 138th and 139th streets

The Bronx branch of one of NYC's favorite Peruvian pollo
specialists is an airy Mott Haven escape. Lilting acoustic guitar and
saffron colored walls decorated with Incan glyphs attract extended families
that linger over the generous matador combo. The plates just keep on coming,
along with a whole rotisserie chicken and a delicious green mayo-based
chile dipping sauce. Expect a whirlwind of rice and beans, avocado salad,
and salchipapas, a loco mix of french fries and
frankfurters. (Why didn't anyone think of that before?!) Earthenware pitchers
of fruit-laden sangria complete the well-rounded meal.


1013 E. 163rd Street
Cross Street: Between Simpson Street and Southern Boulevard

This tiny
Hunts Point taqueria could easily go unnoticed, and since it's
not in a particularly Mexican neighborhood, traditions aren't strictly
adhered to. Atypical items like shredded lettuce and tomato come default
on tacos and hamburgers are even on the menu. But the griddle filled to
capacity with quesadillas is a tip-off to their specialty: Tortillas are
crafted from fresh masa and pressed before your eyes. Fillings include
mushrooms, huitlacoche or chile strips and are held together
with melted muenster cheese. Real Azteca's owners hail from Michoacán
in southern Mexico, and their weekends-only birria, a spicy goat
stew, is a hallmark of the region.

1200 Castle Hill Avenue
Cross Street: Gleason Avenue

Bronx accents
mingle with Spanish and Chinese at this nautically themed Castle Hill
institution. As Chino-Latino joints dwindle, this crowd pleaser keeps
churning out old-school fusion like avocado adorned chofan, chicharron
and chicken studded fried rice. Plantains and yucca get equal billing
as lo mein and linguini on the laminated picture menu. Inventions such
as inside-out mofongo—formed into a bowl shape and filled
with creole-sauced meat or seafood—are the result of owner Nelson
Ng´s seven years in the Dominican Republic.

Restaurant & Bar

142 Beekman Street
Cross Street: Front Street

Lazily whirling ceiling fans, plantation blinds, and congas in the corner
might make you forget that you´re steps away from the South Street
Seaport. This slice of Miami on the East River draws hungry shoppers and
an after work crowd seeking mojitos and Pan-Latino tapas. Artfully plated
tasting portions of maduros filled with spicy beef and Monterey jack, Ecuadorian
shrimp ceviche and lobster tacos are snacky options, while full-sized entrees
like seafood paella and grilled Argentinean skirt steak will satisfy larger
appetites. Live Cuban jazz fills the small, multi-tiered space on Tuesday
and Thursday nights.

Antonio Bakery #2

36-20 Astoria Boulevard
Cross Street: 37th Street

Owner Ruben
Guzman, is practically Astoria's ambassador to everything Chilean. Everyone
receives a warm welcome, even if there's not a South American bone in
their body. Substantial, baked empanadas filled with chopped beef, green
olives, raisins and hard boiled egg are a good starting point. Completos,
hot dogs topped with avocado, sauerkraut, mayonnaise and tomatoes are
presented on a little red plastic stand and can be found on nearly every
table. Lomitos and churrascos, pork and beef sandwiches
come with similar toppings on chewy freshly baked rolls. The front glass
case is lined with dulce de leche treats like alfajores, meringue
covered cookies. Don't forget to try a can of Pap, a Chilean papaya soda.
If you're curious where San Antonio #1 is—that's in Long Island,
where all of the baking is done.

400 East 57th Street

When you consider that in New York, finding Puerto Rican
fare that's not served from steam tables at a lunch counter is rare, you'll
soon realize that the moderately-priced sit-down restaurant Sofrito is
quite unique. When you consider that it's restaurateur Jimmy Rodriguez's
latest venture, it makes perfect sense. Jimmy brings glitz, punchy cocktails
and sweeping chic to an otherwise subdued Sutton Place street. Flaky pastelitos
are a great way to start, and since you can choose beef, chicken, shrimp
or vegetable fillings, no one's left out. Boricua delights have been prettied
up and the mariscos are irresistible. Try the creamy seafood
stew teeming with shrimp, crab legs and served with tostones
on the side or the crispy red snapper bulging with coconut rice stuffing.

Cuban Cuisine

73 New Street
Cross Street: Between Beaver Street and Exchange Place

A Peruvian
family, the Lunas, have modernized the classic Latin lunch counter into
a successful chain—their fifth location opened March 2007 in midtown.
Sophie's filling and reasonably priced beans and rice combos appeal to
all strata of office workers, it's nearly impossible to snag a seat between
noon and 2 pm and the take-out line is consistently long. The unmistakable
scent of roasted pork wafts onto the sidewalk, and must be the reason
why the pernil is a menu mainstay, Monday through Friday. Other
specials like stewed goat and oxtails are only available select days of
the week. Cubanos are also a hit and a quick snack can be made of the
fried empanadas displayed in the window.


4503 Fifth Avenue
Cross Street: Between 45th and 46th streets

Sunset Park is teeming with taquerias, and Tacos Matamoros
is a Fifth Avenue favorite. Jukebox ballads serenade families and couples
in the sparsely-furnished dining room. Pint-sized tacos are only a buck
a pop, so take advantage and experiment with fillings! Pork al pastor
sliced from the twirling spit is a stand out, but don't shy away from
tripa or lengua. Hearty tortas and cemitas
are safe bets and simple platters of grilled bistec with tomato-speckled
rice and cotija-sprinked beans are satisfying. You won´t find cervezas
on the menu, but sweet horchata and tangy tamarindo
are on tap.


29 Clinton Street
Cross Street: Stanton Street

a wine bar without snacks? Tapeo 29, secluded behind a heavy unmarked
door on a Lower East Side corner, provides tasting flights of wine with
appropriate Spanish accompaniments. After choosing between red or white,
you'll be given three generous glasses and an equal amount of cheeses
or tapas. Your wedges might include murcia, a goat cheese with
a wine-soaked rind, smoky idiazabal and sharp cheddar-like
. Tapas range from simple olives and grilled garlic shrimp to
bacon-wrapped dates and chorizo braised in cider. Diners can sit at the
prominent U-shaped bar or share tables against the brick walls of the
dimly-lit room.


8218 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 82nd and 83rd streets

Jackson Heights has Colombian options galore, but this
roomy, booth-only diner can almost guarantee that no one leaves hungry:
its speciality, Bandeja campesina, is a quick introduction to
the cuisine and practically serves as breakfast, lunch and dinner in one!
An oval platter barely manages to contain layers of steak, sweet plantains,
soupy red beans, white rice, strip of chicharron, arepa, eggs sunny-side
up and avocado slices. Daintier options include soups of the day like
Saturday's chicken or Wednesday's ox tail served with an arepa. Frothy
fruit batidos are refreshing and lulo (similar to an
orange) is muy Colombiano.

37 East 28th Street
Cross Street: Between Park and Madison avenues

In early
2006 Dominican chef-owner Alex Ureña opened his avant-garde Spanish
namesake in the Flatiron district. The narrow room draped in hushed cream,
brown and burnt sienna tones attracts upscale clientele and foodies seeking
creative flavor pairings. Texturas de foie gras is a decadent
triple threat. Paté is presented wonton style with plum puree,
in a terrine with cocoa and chocolate and mixed with yogurt and currants
in a tiny cup. Cubes of glistening suckling pig crown wilted lettuce and
shiitakes and are surrounded by green apple puree and truffle sauce in
the cochinillo confitado. Sparkling cava makes perfect sense
with the elegantly quirky fare.


10-43 44th Drive
Cross Street: Between 10th and 11th streets

This Latino
bistro is literally a beacon on an otherwise desolate stretch in Long
Island City. Reasonably priced lunches appeal to nearby Citibank workers,
but at night things get more ambitious. Local art enhances the brick walls,
DJs play world beats and deep house on Friday nights and their garden
patio is a warm-weather option. Country-hop with Argentinean skirt steak
with mashed potatoes and chimichurri salsa or tropical grilled shrimp
with coconut rice and pineapple jalapeño mojo. Brazilian cahaça-laced
caipirinhas go along with nearly everything.

Writing Samples


Oddball frosties in NYC
Horseradish ice cream: oooh or ewww? The cold truth about NYC's quirkiest scoops, snow cones and popsicles.

NYC's bitters boom
Beyond the Manhattan: The rise of unusual, bold and handcrafted bitters in NYC cocktails

Gettin' crabby
Bibs, mallets, hard shells—we're hardcore! Where to score top crab, from Clemente's to Captain Luna's.

Banh mi ban!
Sick of the overexposed Vietnamese hoagie? Nine other Asian(ish) sandwich substitutes worth

checking out.
Restaurant Reviews

Fan Ti

AJ Maxwell's



Coffee House
Cafe Noir
Caffe e'

Cherin Sushi
La Casa del

Chao Thai
La Dolce Vita

Szechuan Village

Grand Sichuan


Happy Family
5 Noodle House

Lucky Mojo
My Kitchen
Om Tibet
The Park

Palm Court



Ren Ren


Sheng Wang
Time Cafe
Tokyo La Men
Le Train


Village Pizza
Wok to



York Post

Best 10 Websites to Get You Started Going

Eco-friendly spots on the web

and Deliver

Guide to the Red Hook ball field vendors, plus how to eat a mango Latino-style
25 Influentials

Annual list of the top New York Latino movers and shakers

of the Mayans

Discovering culinary treats from Southern and Central America


Where to find South American hot dogs (part of a summer food guide)

Like it Hot

A sample of the best spicy sauces on the shelf–from mild to positively


Don't get conned by counterfeit Latin cuisine, try these bona-fried feasts

Food of Love

These aphrodisiac entrees will spice up your Valentine's Day


This new Mexican concoction is creating quite a "buzz"


The Latino turnover moves away from meat fillings

Soccer and Tacos

Visit this Red Hook Park if your
goal is sampling scrumptious snacks

Pecking Order

A battle of the best Latin birds

Down in Chinatown 

Ring in the Lunar New Year with a downtown bar binge
Booze Run
Find the perfect drinking spot to watch the marathoners trot 
Enjoy the best of the wurst in one Queens neighborhood
Local Lowdown

Sangria Bar & Grill

Alma Grill
Buenos Aires
El Castillo de Jagua
Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen

Flor's Kitchen
Gonzalez y Gonzalez
Itzocan Bistro
Palo Santo
Pio Pio
Real Azteca
Salud! Restaurant & Bar
San Antonio Bakery #2
Sophie's Cuban Cuisine
Tacos Matamoros
Tapeo 29
Tierras Colombianas
La Vuelta

Out New York
Eating and Drinking


* Cafe
Cafe Lalo * Cyclo *
* Dock's Oyster Bar * Galanga *
Good World Bar and Grill
* La Bonne Soupe
* Peggy O'Neill's
* Pravda * Remi * Rising
* Sunny's Bar

Village Voice

Close-Up On:

Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Ridgewood, Queens