Hypothetical scenario: you’re a few hours away from getting your phone turned off because you haven’t paid your bill. I owe you money. I’m dodging your calls. Where is the first place in NYC you go to look for me?
I love Bushwick, I really do. It’s the perfect balance of hipster and ratchet, of overpriced condos and trap houses, of interesting businesses and ones that didn’t even open their door once in the year you lived on the same block. It gets a bad reputation at times…old school New Yorkers say it’s dead now – gone are the days when people were emptying clips for breakfast and abandoned lots dominated the landscape. Hipster purists will argue that it’s where the hipsters who can’t afford Williamsburg go to live. Neither side is wrong. Me? It’s close to the city, served by more than one train line, and affordable. It’s almost perfect, except the food options in certain areas of Bushwick tend to suck.
The main avenues (Broadway, Knickerbocker, Myrtle, Bushwick, etc.) are filled with great, cheap eats ($1 taco spots, carryout Incredible Hulks from Apolo’s, and just about any Dominican restaurant comes to mind), but the smaller side streets often lack. Not much besides take out Chinese, fried chicken spots, and maybe a mediocre pizza offering. But lately, on the Western side of the neighborhood, I’ve noticed some things changing. An LA-style burrito spot has proudly held down a corner along Wilson (I think) for quite some time now. There’s a fancy pants creative burger place that I’ve heard is serving up chorizo burgers I need to be paying attention to. They’re off the beaten path, definitely a sign of changing times, but also generally really good quality. And then there’s Arancini Bros.
An uber-tiny spot – it’s honestly smaller than my studio apartment – nestled on the corner of Flushing and Central, you may have driven or walked by here dozens of times without noticing it thanks to the crowd of drunk youngins taking a smoke break outside of the adjoining Wreck Room bar. Yep, adjoining. Wreck Room has a door that connects to Arancini Bros. which serves as a window where party people can order themselves one of Arancini’s many varieties of Sicilian-style rice balls. It’s pretty much the best drunk food-themed idea ever.
The menu is brief – four to six flavors of rice balls to choose from (sometimes they run out of flavors), a few other options like potato croquettes, and some interesting beverages to choose from as well (they stock espresso soda which is the most confusing thing ever to your taste buds, but I can’t get enough of it). Last night’s venture saw flavors like asparagus/lemon/mint and nutella with cinnamon sugar. But I settled on slightly more traditional offerings – the classic ragu (saffron risotto rice ball with traditional ragu sauce) and a mushroom offering.
I expected to enjoy the ragu more, but I was mistaken. Though it was fried to golden perfection, I expected a little more meat and sauciness to be happening inside the thing. Instead, it was more rice than anything. It was still delicious, don’t get me wrong, but I needed something more from this. I think if I order it again I’ll ask for sauce on the side (it’s not provided, which also puzzled me, but not enough to give a shit enough to ask for some).
My second choice, which proved to be the winner in my eyes, was the mushroom taleggio filled with mushrooms and taleggio cheese. The result was a very rich mushroom flavor throughout, and a humongous glob of melted cheese amazingness waiting for you on the inside. My picture did this thing no justice at all, so the above was swiped from the Arancini Bros. twitter. I’d order this again. A few times. And not just because it’s so close by. Again, I think this would be an even better experience if there was some default sauce served on the side for these things – a tomato or pesto would be ideal – because the cheese gets really intense. Some kind of light acidity to cut that would be fantastic, and probably mean that I could eat more of these in one sitting.
For the record, I tried to go back for a Nutella the same night after leaving because these things were that good, only to return and they were just closing up. Fail!
All arancini are $4 each, or two for $7. They’re about the size of my fist, but I have little hands, keep that in mind. Well worth the price at least a few times a year though. They also offer a frequent baller card, where you get a free ball after buying ten.
Arancini Bros., 940 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn
Ah, the woes of moving. That unnerving feeling of not knowing where any of your things are. That lack of desire to cook since you haven’t perfected the art of maneuvering around your new kitchen. The unpacking. The dust. The allergies.
But damn, it feels good to have a new home.
Just slightly over a week ago I moved my life from Bushwick’s Upper East Side (locals call it the Dark Side) to a location quite significantly more West, namely the Southeastern portion of Williamsburg. The parking blows over here but I live on a commercial avenue and am also walking distance from the other two commercial drags of this part of town. In other words? There is great food. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And shopping too, but this is about the food.
This particular portion of Williamsburg has a longstanding Italian population to the North, and a predominantly Puerto Rican population to the South, and given my new location I’m in a perfect place to reap the benefits of both. So after a day of being holed up in my “cozy” (real estate slang for “smaller than the chances of Drake freeing himself of his twinkie soft reputation”) apartment, a break in the rain beckoned me to take a walk around the neighborhood to satisfy some hunger.
I walked on over to Napoli Bakery, a Metropolitan Ave. gem. I intended to only buy one loaf, but I walked out with three: a classic Italian baguette, a loaf of heaven which they called sourdough lard bread, and a foccacia-style bread, thick and heavy with tomato and herbs sitting on top. The most amazing part? All of this was only six bucks. SIX BUCKS. Only a few days ago I paid half that price for just ONE loaf of bread which wasn’t nearly as good from Whole Foods in Union Square. Fail.
The Italian baguette was simple and delicious, crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and tasted very fresh despite me waltzing in about fifteen minutes prior to their closing time. For $1.50 this is the perfect accompaniment to any home cooked meal, and I’m sure I’m going to return for this at some point. But it was hardly the star of the show.
The lard bread, for which they have earned themselves quite a reputation throughout the neighborhood apparently, is well worth the fuss. It’s good enough to be consumed on its own, no butter or anything. Seriously. It tasted as if it had just come out of the oven. They claimed it was sourdough but it didn’t have an overwhelmingly sourdough taste to it, it was just…there are no words. Please. Go here. Buy one. They kindly slice it for you upon request as well. It’s possibly better than half the bread I’ve received in baskets in restaurants prior to a fancy meal. Seriously.
And the last of the bunch was the foccacia-looking thing, which was another that was good enough to simply eat on its own. This could feed me for a whole day I imagine, and I’d be happy to let it. Unlike the previous two, this was a dense, heavy bread, with the tomatoes on top lightening everything up. Yep, it was greasy. Yep, it was amazing. They also had a rosemary variation of this on the counter that I may return to try very soon. But I imagine if you threw some mozzarella, parmesan, and some red pepper flakes on this and just put it in the oven for like 10 minutes, you could probably sell it on the street as drugs. Incredible.
Dinner that evening ended up being of the candlelit variety, with bread and a bottle of Portuguese white wine from Blue Angel Wines not too far away on Grand St., and it was completely satisfying. If I had prosciutto, a good cheese, and some olives on hand, I probably would be able to survive on this for the rest of my life. Grand total for dinner for two, with a bottle of wine, and bread leftover the next day? $19. And people say New York City is expensive. Psh.
The shop also sells various Italian goodies, like pasta, olive oil, coffee, some desserts and drinks, etc., though the bread definitely reigns supreme. They’re also open until 8:30.
Napoli Bakery, 616 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn
If I had to pick one beverage to drink for the rest of my life, it would probably be coffee. I get headaches when I don’t get it. It cheers me up on a gloomy day. I drink it before bed. I drink it when I wake up. I drink it black, or I drink it super sweet with heavy cream in it. I’ll drink it with booze in it. I’ll drink it iced. Soy? Fine. Condensed milk? OK. I’ll even drink Turkish coffee, with a twist of lemon peel, just like my uncle likes it. Coffee ice cream? Sure. Instant coffee? Not complaining. Flavors? Can’t get enough of hazelnut or pumpkin.
Bring. On. The. Caffeine.
So the other night I was craving a pumpkin spice latte since it’s finally that season, and was all geared up to go get one when the plans changed a bit. I was unwilling to deny myself at least even a subpar cup of coffee, so before I boozed it up over a pool table nearby, I stopped into Fabiane’s in Williamsburg to satisfy my caffeine craving. No pumpkin spice lattes here, but they were actually open at 9:30pm and had seating. I browsed their menu (which is rather broad for a cafe – lots of fancy sounding sandwiches, soup, breakfast food, desserts, etc.) and instantly fell in lust with the cinnamon spice mocha ($3.50 if I’m not mistaken).
Sadly, it didn’t satisfy my caffeine fix as it was probably equal parts whipped cream and actual coffee, which is great if you like whipped cream. I like it, but I know it goes straight to my ass and I’m really just here for the coffee – I usually order my drinks without the whipped cream frills. I was hoping for a really strong cinnamon and mocha flavor in the coffee, but on the flip most of it was on top of the whipped cream. The redeeming factor was that the bit of coffee that was hiding in there was actually really good. The flavor was on point, it wasn’t served painfully hot, just pleasantly so, and it was a perfect level of sweet.
They also had this lovely array of sweets, definitely a temptation for me…especially those chocolate creme brulee cups hiding on the bottom. They also had pistachio and standard vanilla flavors. Interesting. They really seem to like pistachio here, as I saw quite a few people picking up slabs of “pistachio cake” for sale near the register for like $2.50. But more fascinating than all of this was their wide offering of gluten-free options. It’s not something I care about (bring on the gluten!), but I know many people do. I honestly think this is what this place really has going for it. There’s a huge market for that gluten free stuff, and where this places actual product may suffer weaknesses (service was “interesting” at best, also), having that many options for special dietary needs makes up for it. And hey, the more people that come here for gluten free stuff? The more gluten-ridden amazingness will be left for me. Now that’s balance.
Fabiane’s Cafe and Pastry Shop, 142 N. 5th St., Brooklyn, NY
Seven dollars and some change isn’t a bad deal for boba and a plate of dumplings. And thus the search for cheap dinners in NYC continues.
A friend of mine had been praising the excellence of Vanessa’s Dumplings’ other location somewhere in SoHo or Chinatown or some shit for quite some months. So imagine my surprise when I was walking down 14th St. and saw a Vanessa’s Dumplings. Of course, I texted him to ask if it was as amazing as the original location, and he said no, but I never go down there so I settled for this one.
I am a dumpling snob. I love them. I could eat them forever. There is something about stuffed dough that is consistently satisfying to me. Dumplings, egg rolls, crepes, calzones, pierogies, you name it. So I have constantly been on that search for the dumpling in NYC that makes me swoon, kind of like the ones at A&J restaurant in VA. I was hoping I’d find them here. They were good, but they weren’t mindblowingly cracktastic.
Pork and chive dumplings are a standby, and these were definitely good. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t eat them all right there on the spot. But something was missing. To me an ideal dumpling is one where I don’t have the urge to put sauce on it. These ended up with sauce on them by like the third or fourth one. The ideal dumpling becomes a juicy hot mess when you bite into it. These lacked the dumpling gut juice that I so crave. I’d eat them again, but they weren’t that holy grail of dumpling I know exists somewhere in lower Manhattan. Or Flushing, which I have no patience to travel to right now.
But another plus for Vanessa’s? Boba.
A coconut boba makes any day better. Though this wasn’t the most flavor intensive one I’ve ever had, the boba were cooked properly and better yet, they were over ice, rather than in smoothie “frozen” form (personal preference, I just don’t like those as much). Very fairly priced, as well. Plus how many other spots can you get boba from on 14th St.? Exactly.
Give Vanessa’s a shot. But if you ask me, go to that other location. Shame on me for not listening to my friends and just waiting it out.
Vanessa’s Dumplings, 220 E. 14th St., New York City
Greenpoint is one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods that I wish I spent more time in, but honestly avoid because I don’t have a car right now and the G train is wild unreliable. So, most of Greenpoint remains uncharted territory to me. But luckily my mom came through NY with her car, and is shook to drive in the city, and put me in charge of driving. So off to Greenpoint I finally went.
If you never go there, like me, you may not know that Greenpoint is the place for Polish food. So it’s only right that I headed toward Lomzynianka, a tiny spot that gets great reviews, nestled in a retail area along Manhattan Ave. It was packed on a Sunday evening, a good sign.
Thanks to a recent cold spell in New York, we opted for soup as appetizers, and I ended up with the white borscht ($3) which got really good reviews. And good it was – served piping hot, full of sausage and something I think was hard boiled egg, but seasoned perfectly. A great deal considering the price. I could have eaten two bowls of this.
You know what else Polish people love besides borscht? Cabbage. The purple stuff happening (no Big Moe) up there is their red cabbage, and below that is the sauerkraut, which was suspiciously un-sour. I wasn’t sure which I liked more, deciding ultimately that eating the two together was the best way to answer this question. Both are served cold. Each was our choice of vegetable which was included with the following entrees, and this is where it gets most interesting..
This right here is the Polish Platter ($9), which consists of 3 pierogies (more to follow), keilbasa, stuffed cabbage, bigos (don’t ask me, I don’t know), and potatoes. The stuffed cabbage was probably the highlight of this, served as this oddly shaped mass, kind of like a flattened football. Within the cabbage was what had to be veal, with some rice, and spiced up to their standards. The keilbasa was also great, but too heavy for me at this point. I wasn’t even ridiculously hungry when I got there anyway.
…and here we have the Veal Balls in Dill Sauce ($7.50). These sounded a lot better than they actually were, only thanks to a matter of personal taste. The sauce was great, but the texture of ground veal was not doing it for me. It was ground too fine, to the point that it was almost pate-like. Like veal paste almost. I like my meatballs to have that, well, meatball consistency. This was also the problem with the pierogies, of which I ordered an entire plate of meat ones…oops. Also worth noting were that the potatoes were mashed and covered in fresh dill, which would have been cool, but I would have preferred them a bit creamier. Had I been thinking more I would have just mashed some of the dill sauce into them and solved that problem.
Should one order the pierogies, they do have the option of boiled or fried. I prefer boiled, so this is what showed up, served with some sauteed onion and a dollop of sour cream on the side. I usually avoid the sour cream but thanks to the odd meat texture happening the sour cream got used. Mom got a few fried ones on her polish platter, and they are not playing games with their deep fryer. Those can’t be healthy.
My favorite part about this place was the place itself. It was like walking into some Polish family’s kitchen. Nothing matched. Not the tablecloths, the silverware, the plates, nothing. And no one cared because they were just there to eat. The place is severely understaffed, with one waitress holding down the whole dining room, but shorty was sweet and her personality made up for the delay in service.
Sidenote: the pierogies were even better the next day, eaten cold. Just saying.
Lomzynianka, 646 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn
From time to time I find myself in areas of Jersey no one ever needs to discover. Most people who live in New York are used to places like Bayonne, Jersey City, Atlantic City, etc. coming to mind when they think of the Garden State, but truth be told, a lot of Jersey is really country. Eastampton, NJ is one of those places. There’s a few main roads and strip malls but most of your dining options consist of McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and sub shops.
Tucked away from this culinary wasteland is a gem of a bakery, though, and it’s not even too far removed from I-95 (exit 7 on the turnpike, if you’re coming from NYC). Even if I didn’t have to be around here, this place would be worth an occasional trip. What ensued was high calorie bliss.
Above is a peach turnover, perhaps one of the best turnovers I’ve ever had. Besides the peach flavor being uncommon, and also being one of my favorite fruits, the dough was flaky, fresh, and not sweet. The filling didn’t feel like solidified sugar syrup. It tasted as healthy as a turnover can be. It was fucking delicious, for lack of any better way to put it.
I also indulged in this wonderful tiramisu…
Usually a light and fluffy option, this was the richest tiramisu I’ve ever tasted. It was still light, but that was real whipped cream right there. The kind you can feel traveling straight to your ass while you eat it. Those lady fingers at the bottom? Soaked in amazingness. The flavor was good, but this was intense. I shared half with my mom, there was no way I was eating this all.
My fat ass also partook in their lunch menu. Yep, they serve real food – pasta, pizza, sandwiches, etc. As if fresh tiramisu wasn’t any indicator, jars of Nutella and boxes of pasta for sale by the door were an obvious sign that this place was Italian-influenced, so naturally I opted for one of my favorite Italian lunch options: the sausage and pepper sub. The sausage and peppers were great, surprisingly I wasn’t too impressed with the bread on this sandwich (for it being a bakery and the sweets being so good, I expected more), but it still wasn’t bad.
In a nutshell, if you’re ever stuck in this area of Jersey, buy a dozen peach turnovers, and thank me later. Seriously.
Bonus: random trivia? They sell specialty cakes wholesale to various restaurants throughout Jersey and beyond. It’s quite an impressive array of flavors, too. I’m most fascinated by the cannoli cake – a layer cake featuring cannoli filling between the layers and a mini cannoli atop each slice. YUM!
Olde World Bakery, 1000 Smithville Rd., Eastampton, NJ
Recently one of my favorite women in the whole wide world moved back to New York City. Besides this meaning that my alcohol tolerance is going to get put to the test while we prowl the depths of the Lower East Side, creeping on the indigenous Alphabet City boys who run around shirtless in the basketball courts, taunting us with their exotic, anti-gentrification glory, this also means the coming of a fellow food aficionado into my life once again. Thank the deities for that!
My wallet hates me, but my stomach has been in love with some of the shit she and I have found during our random trips through the city. Recent finds include a half price sushi deal at a Japanese spot with the most intriguing octopus dumplings I’ve ever eaten, a hole-in-the-wall Spanish bar reminiscent of a bad acid trip, and a very solid cafe in East Harlem, which somehow managed to wedge itself in between the plethora of project buildings in the neighborhood. Seriously, there has to be more projects in East Harlem than regular apartment buildings. “That shit cray.”
The weather has finally started turning cold on us, and there’s nothing to warm the soul quite like a Thai curry. That’s when we came across Tara Thai, and decided to head on in. Curry isn’t really my thing, but I had the ill craving for a Thai Iced Tea (pictured above, $3). I haven’t had one of these in years, I kid you not, even though they’re like crack to me. This one was really good – not overly sweet and you could still taste the tea flavor. Craving satisfied.
Entree decisions led me to one of their specials of the season, a spicy fried rice dish laden with a variety of seafood including mussels, squid, and shrimp. I have no idea the name of this dish, or even recall the price, though I believe it was about $11. It wasn’t skimpy on the seafood and also had a nice amount of bell pepper which makes me happy. Downside? I’m positive it was described as having basil stir-fried into it, and I found no wilted strands of basil in my rice, as I’m accustomed to finding when I order this type of dish at Thai restaurants. Bummer, because basil is like crack to me. But this was pleasantly spicy and filling. I wasn’t too hungry though, and if I was, I probably wouldn’t have left with leftovers. For eleven bucks, my broke ass wants guaranteed leftovers.
It’s not the best Thai I’ve found in NYC, honestly, and I recall my friend not being the most satisfied with her curry noodles either. But the Thai Iced Tea is a winner, the people watching at this place was fucking fantastic, and it was a nice, cozy escape from the hustle-bustle of the streets outside. If I lived here I would return, but alas I can’t afford to eat this every day, let alone pay the rent prices in that hood. A girl can dream, though.
Tara Thai, 137 1st Ave, New York City
A few people have called me out on how I’ve been slacking on Untitled Bites. Obviously I’ve been eating but duty calls other places for me to actually have the time to write about my culinary explorations.
I apparently drift toward natural disaster like a magnet, evidenced by my presence in Virginia during the earthquake(s) and return to New York the night before Hurricane Irene hit. It’s cool, it makes for some good stories, but it makes it somewhat hard to dine as I intend to dine. While aftershocks were still hitting the D.C. area my family and I tried to go out for a meal, only to have our original destination end up being closed due to earthquake damage in their kitchen. Not too far away was Hong Kong Palace, a place I’ve been before but haven’t been to lately.
HKP (for short, because I’m in a rush over here) specializes in Sichuan-style Chinese food (or so I’ve been told, who knows), which means spiciness abounds. It’s always packed out with Chinese families having dinner and is a low key hole in the wall hiding in one of the many strip malls of Northern VA. Hot tea is served upon seating, and then the fun begins.
Appetizers are cheap and interesting – above are the spicy wontons, and we also got an order of Beef & Beef Tendon With Spicy Szechwan Spicy Sauce [sic], which unfortunately due to a misinformed server I was unable to eat. I asked for it without sesame which they assured me wasn’t in the dish, but…well, like always, it was.
The dumplings, however, were great. Something about the peppercorns they use in these sauces still doesn’t quite do it for me, so I still give superiority to the wontons in hot and sour sauce from A&J Restaurant in Annandale, but such is life. A wonton is a wonton, and they will always make me happy.
My entree for the night was the Braised Beef Tenderloin with Beer Sauce. Made with Chinese beer (I believe the server said it was a Tsingtao), it’s filled with tender chunks of beef in a spicy soup-like sauce with undertones of beer flavor. Way too much cilantro piled on top for my taste, but this wasn’t too bad. Again though, that weird peppercorn aftertaste which is signature in this style of Chinese cuisine. I gotta stop ordering saucy shit when I go to these spots. But if that’s your thing, this is a hard-to-find dish that you’ll probably enjoy.
The star of the show was the Salt and Pepper Shrimp, which unfortunately I didn’t go in on because I’m trying to avoid deep fried food (baby steps!), but I had one or two and they are as good as they always are. Deep fried salty peppery, simple-yet-mind-blowing amazingness. Yum.
This spot is worth your time if you dig authentic Chinese food. I’ve heard good things about the Dan Dan Noodles here as well. But you know one thing they lack? Dessert. Which is where this bonus piece of grub comes into play…
These are Qatayef from Jerusalem Restaurant, also nearby in Falls Church. It’s a dessert commonly served during Ramadan, which of course at the time we were dining was going on. Eid mubarak, by the way. These little pancake looking things are filled with a “cheese” (it’s more of an unsweetened custard kind of deal, hard to explain), and then drizzled in rose water or honey or whatever type of super sticky sweetness they have on hand. Then of course there’s a bunch of crushed nuts on top. They are booooooooomb when made right and are definitely a special treat this time of year. I need to find these in Brooklyn. This place is legit. Trust me. All my Arab fam goes there. And they are picky and have wives who can cook all the good stuff at home anyway. When a place is a suitable substitute for those days when wifey dearest is too lazy to get in the kitchen and cook enough food to feed an army (moderation does not exist in their lifestyles), it’s also worth your time.
Hong Kong Palace, 6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA
Jerusalem Restaurant, 3405 Payne St., Falls Church, VA
This is the only picture I have of my meal from Tiffin Wallah, and it’s not even something I ordered. Usually that would be a bad thing – in this case it’s fucking amazing.
I’m not the biggest fan of Indian food, but lately I frequently find myself in that little area in the high 20′s on the East side of Manhattan that perpetually smells of curry, and I had to succumb to the smell. My first destination was Tiffin Wallah – a decently priced yet very nice looking spot near the corner of E. 28th and Lexington Ave. I cheated on this one – I didn’t actually eat there. But in the five or so minutes I was sitting around waiting for my order, they managed to impress me perhaps more than any restaurant’s service I’ve been to since I’ve lived in this city, save for the guy at the Italian spot next to the Blind Barber in Alphabet City the other night who laced me with some free food for no good reason at all.
See, I ordered one of their weekend specials to go – the Curried Fried Rice (their version of Chinese fried rice with onion, carrot, cabbage, bell pepper, soy sauce, & spice, $9) and sat down like usual near the back to wait for my food. The guy brings me my check. It’s cheaper than the price listed on the menu. No complaints there, that’s for sure. And then it got better.
They brought me that big ass mango lassi in a wine glass. Not as a mistake. They plopped it down and said “here, while you wait.”
I love a good mango lassi. LOVE. I drink that shit like it’s water. Can’t tell me nothin’. It’s like Low Key to Egg Nog. And to get one free of charge?!?!? Man, that’s the key to my heart. That, and Mobb Deep over Alchemist beats.
So in a nutshell, I spent a dollar less than what I had planned to spend, and walked away with a free beverage on top of that. WINNING.
But how was the food? Well, it was amazing enough that I forgot to take a picture. They employed basmati rice as the weapon of choice in this Indian version of fried rice, and it had a spicy kick to it, yet not overwhelmingly so. It’s served with a yogurt sauce that cools the spice to a pleasant summertime level, and it has veggies and amazingness in there. I had leftovers for the next day, too, which is nice. It wasn’t overly greasy or anything. The whole thing was just…pleasant.
Their service is top notch. Eating there would be dope too, because it’s a really cool looking spot (painted shades of cool greens and shit, or something, I don’t know, this was like a week ago and I have a terrible memory), and of all things they were playing Dancehall in the restaurant for Sunday evening dinner. Didn’t make too much sense to me either but I love Dancehall, so I ain’t mad at that.
Also important to note – they have an all you can eat lunch buffet. Now, because I suck at taking pics, feast upon these that I stole borrowed from Tiffin Wallah’s Yelp page.
Tiffin Wallah, 127 E. 28th St., New York, NY
Oh man. Nothing makes my day more than when I find a good 24-hour food offering in my area, and that’s exactly what happened to me recently when I stumbled upon Empanada Mama. After a long day of trekking around the city during that heat wave only to eventually end up at a very interesting showcase of musical talent about which the guys at ItsTheReal probably also have quite a bit to say, I decided I was hungry. Really hungry. As I walked to the train and realized nothing in my neighborhood would be open when I got home, I thought it best to take the L (the loss, not the train I had to transfer to) and pay some Midtown prices for some decent food. I hit the iPhone and looked up nearby spots that were open, and got led to Empanada Mama.
It was packed at midnight, always a good sign. So packed, and so tiny, that I had to wait about twenty minutes for a table for two. Also a good sign. And it was worth the wait. Sure, I can get equally as amazing pastelitos on the block for like $1 or $1.50, but it’s late at night and the cuchifritos spot around the way isn’t nearly as good as the spots open during the daytime. So fuck it, I’ll have fusion empanadas, and I’ll be happy about them. And an empanada feast ensued. I think I split about six of them with the person who joined me for this meal – including the Reggaeton ($2.80, caribbean style roast pork with sofrito seasoned yellow rice and gandules), Shredded chicken ($2.55, all-white chicken breast slowly cooked with sofrito sauce), Viagra ($3.00, mama’s seafood stew with shrimps, scallops, and crab meat), Cheeseburger ($2.55, ground beef cooked in traditional Latin spices with cheddar cheese), and Greek Spinach Pie ($2.65, classic Greek style empanada with spinach and feta cheese).
If I had to choose a winner it would be either the Reggaeton or the Viagra, and the loser of the bunch was definitely the shredded chicken. Way too plain. Way too white meat and all dry and shit. Interesting to note is certain empanadas are made with different dough or cooked in different ways – there are whole wheat and corn flour ones, as well as ones that are baked and ones that are fried. There are even dessert empanadas. Breakfast empanadas. AKA, these really aren’t traditional empanadas at all, just dough shaped like empanadas filled with anything and everything they could possibly think of. Authenticity does not present itself in this concept, but tastiness does. It’s almost like Hot Pockets, except with real ingredients inside and about a hundred times better.
Downside: they’re not very big. Take your average Washington Heights empanada and divide it in half – that’s what you’re fucking with, for double the price. But they don’t skimp on meats, seafood, and cheeses in the filling, and they do taste damn good. Waiting for a seat when you’re mad hungry is also a bummer but the place is smaller than my apartment, so I can’t expect too much. Pluses – the 24 hour aspect (they also deliver all hours to you lucky bastards who live within the area), their plantain chips and salsas, and their 3-6pm and 1-4am Happy Hour $5 frozen margarita and sangria special which runs Monday-Thursday. Things that could be either good or bad, but I don’t really know? They have actual entrees and shit other than empanadas – think arroz con pollo, sancocho, pollo guisado, tamales, and some random tapas and arepas. But I can’t speak on those. If you’re going to name your places after empanadas, obviously I’m going to order the empanadas. I don’t go to a steakhouse and fuck around and order chicken, ya dig?
If you got the money to blow, trust me, this is a way better option than drunkenly eating dollar pizza slices at 4:30am on your way home from the club.
Empanada Mama, 763 9th Ave., New York City