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Archive for the ‘new york: mexican’ Category

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La Palapa Rockola
359 6th Avenue
New York, NY
(212) 243-6870

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La Palapa Rockola got a Critic’s Pick review by the NYT in 2003, so I decided to check it out. It was a slow Tuesday night when I went, and my waiter led my friend and I to a table snuggling a dark corner. We ordered guacamole to start, because regardless of how many times I am consistently shocked by $9 handful-sized portions of restaurant guacamole, I somehow cannot resist ordering it. La Palapa’s guac did not disappoint: true to my fears, it was served in a tiny bowl. But, it was spiked with sharp-sweet cumin, which accented the buttery avocados. It tasted like the guacamole we make at home, so I scraped up every last morsel of it with the warm corn chips.

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We decided to share two vegetarian dishes for our main meal. I ordered the Tamal de Rajas con Queso Cotija Anejo Y Pipian Verde, a corn cake baked in a green pumpkin seed and tomatillo sauce and topped with onions and cheese. My friend ordered the Crepas de Huitlacoche, baked crepes stuffed with “corn mushrooms,” that were smothered with cheese and poblano sauce. I didn’t take to my corn cake dish and at first I couldn’t figure out why. The pumpkin seed-tomatillo sauce overwhelmed the dish, but it was too nutty and creamy for my taste, and didn’t provide enough contrast to the thick corn cake. I couldn’t identify the onions or the cheese in the dish, and after a few bites, I realized that the corn cakes had an after taste of the freezer. I asked my friend to confirm and he agreed: they tasted like they had been thawed, topped with sauce, and served. Totally disappointing. The mushroom crepes were better, since the mushrooms were very sweet and fat. The smoky poblano sauce ran through the dish like an earthy river, but the amount of cheese topping the crepes was, again, overpowering and unnecessary. In fact, we were full after three bites but dutifully ate on, since we had ordered so much food.

Guacamole: $8.95; Tamal de Rajas: $8.95; Crepas: $11.95

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Caracas Arepas (to go)
91 East7th Street
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-5062

 

In the Belly: Gausacasa & Plantain Chips, La Del Gato, La Mulata, Chicha
Rating: excellent food and ambience

Caracas Arepas (to go) is a cramped but cheerful spot in the East Village that serves a taste of Venezuela in its fantastically stuffed arepas, or crispy-soft corn cake sandwiches. Next door is Caracas Arepas Bar, the newer, more elegant sit-down restaurant, but we opted for the take-out joint because of the charming mural adorned walls and the alluring glow emanating from the open kitchen.

The menu at Caracas Arepas is vegetarian friendly: 6 out of the 14 arepas are vegetarian, and a little note states that tofu can be substituted for meat at any time. I found this much more accommodating than other ethnic-cuisine menus, which generally have a separate section for vegetarians stuck at the very bottom of the menu and offer just 3-4 vegetarian options out of a selection of 25. The prices won’t put an arepa-sized hole in your wallet, either- the total for our meal, which included an appetizer, two entrees, and a dessert-like drink, was about $22.

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While I secured one of the five tables in the restaurant, Waqas ordered our meal at the counter. We decided on an appetizer of golden fried plantain chips and a creamy guasacaca, or Venezuelan avocado-salsa. The thick, slightly sweet plantain chips were a welcome change from the standard tortilla chip, and lightly dusted with salt, they acted as excellent dippers for the guacamole.

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Behind the counter is the open kitchen and we watched as steaming balls of the soft bready filling from disc-shaped corn arepas were scooped out. Our arepas- the La Del Gato and the La Mulata- were then packed immaculately, like suitcases back from a trip to Venezuela and full of delicious happiness. La Del Gato was crispy and warm and neatly filled with slices of pale, pretty avocado, plump, buttery plantains, and a pillow of salty cheese. With squirts of the tableside sauce- a mango-garlic concoction of some sort, this suitcase full of goodies was divine. I thought La Mulata worked even better: the combination of smoky black beans, plantains, sweet red peppers, saucy jalapeños, and a sprinkling of melted cheese made for a spicy, tasty package from abroad.

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Craving a sweet end to my meal, I ordered the chicha, which was described on the menu as a cinnamon-rice drink. I was expecting it to be like horchata, but while the cinnamon flavor was familiar, the consistency was not: instead of a watery-thin, refreshing drink, I was struggling to sip a heavy, gloopy shake up my straw. I guess next time I’ll have to go for the “Toddy”-a Venezuelan Chocolate Milkshake. I can’t wait!

Guasacaca and chips: $5.75; La Del Gato: $5.75; La Mulata: $5.75; Chicha: $4.75
http://www.caracasarepabar.com/

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I realized that maybe nachos weren’t Pio Maya’s specialty and, my second time there, decided to try a spinach burrito.

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The burrito was definitely better than the nachos, but that’s not saying much, since the nachos were basically just cheese with one black bean on the top.
The menu says that the burrito is “stuffed with beans, rice, guacamole, cheese” and in my case, spinach. But in reality, the burrito is STUFFED with rice and spinach and a little bit of cheese, and the beans and guacamole are on the top. I really dislike rice in burritos (I don’t eat rice folded up inside rotis) so I asked for it on the side. The man behind the counter smiled and said, we don’t do that. So I shrugged, and said fine and ate rice filled burrito. It was not bad, for a rice-filled burrito. The rice was mushy.
This burrito did not come close to an Anna’s burrito- no nice chopped up grilled veggies (onions, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes), no nice melty cheese (instead this weird crumbly white cheese that is so popular in NY Mexican restaurants) and no generosity in the portions of black beans. Oh well. Apparently, Pio Maya’s beef burrito is super good.

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Tulcingo Del Valle is a small deli converted to a restaurant with awesome mole sauce. We were seated after about 10 minutes and we ordered beer. Sandy got a Sol (which tastes just like Corona- is it the same thing?) and I got a Tecate, because in the restaurant window, a large red neon light flashed Tecate! Tecate! Tecate is YUMMY. Anyway, the beers came with little “beer ponchos” on them- to keep your hands from getting wet. They were cute because it really looked like the beer was a little person wearing a mini raincoat.
Anyway, the food was decent, despite the wonderful reviews I had been reading- but the one sauce I tried lived up to the hype. (I asked for salsa about 6 times- it is famous- but we never got any). I got cheese enchiladas with mole sauce:

Unfortunately, these turned out to be CHICKEN enchiladas, not cheese enchiladas, as I had ordered. I was into my fourth bite before I thought to ask my omnivorous dining companions why the cheese looked and felt so funny. I reordered with cheese but the cheese was really gross (think: oily, heavy, thick, NON-MELTY american cheese) so I didn’t eat it. I did lap up all the sauce though. It was chocolately and nutty and savory and so incredibly tasty that I’m sure they put chicken stock or something into it. Maybe beef stock. Whatever, I won’t go back, but I’ll lick my lips to memories…

Tulcingo Del Valle is on 10th avenue, between 46 & 47 streets.

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Ok, I think I ordered the wrong thing. I read rave reviews of Pio Maya on Yelp and then I googled it and read even more rave reviews: the thing is, I couldn’t believe that I was finally reading about a cheap Mexican place that people kept praising for its excellent, fresh food. And, it wasn’t in Brooklyn or way uptown somewhere- it was on 8th street, right in between Ali Babas and Union Square. So we went on Monday. While my friend did LOVE his steak burrito (he says its the best he’s had on the east coast, aside from Anna’s), I wasn’t too thrilled with my nachos.

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So cheesy!! And I love cheese! But seriously, this plate of nachos was about 5 chips and 5 pounds of cheese. And I got the “Super Nachos” because they came with black beans…but I only had a handful of black beans. The beans were good, the guac was really tasty, and the jalapenos were spicy. But the dish was completely disproportionate, with cheese comprising about 75% of it, and the chips, beans, guac, and jalapenos scrambling for some face time in the other 25%. But I really want to go again and order something different, because with so many people loving this place, I need to give it another chance…because I am desperate to find cheap and delicious Mexican in this city.

Pio Maya is a nice enough place to eat in, though. It’s not kind of gross and dingy, like the take-out Mexican places run by people who are not at all Mexican. It’s clean, and had about 10 tables, and nice big windows that let in the sunlight. If I like the next thing I eat from here, I’ll be happy, because then I will have finally reached a middle ground between the take-out Mexican made by Asians and the super over-priced trendy Mexican places I haven’t eaten at yet because I’m too scared the food won’t be excellent and then I’ll have wasted a bunch of money on trendiness.

Pio Maya is at 40 west 8th street. (near the west 4th street stop).

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Maria and I had dinner at La Esquina tonight. We got these really tasty margaritas, which I guess were worth the $8. Then we ordered two dishes to share: the Quesadilla de Huitlacoche, a quesadilla filled with Mexican truffle, roasted corn, epazole (an herb), mushrooms, and cheese) and the Aguacate con Queso, a sandwich that was stuffed with avocado, red onion, cheese, black beans, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo, and came with a side of salad and potato chips. YUM! The quesadilla was good but nothing spectacular- I didn’t see any corn and didn’t taste much besides the cheese and mushrooms (still good things to taste) but the “traditional Mexican street sandwich,” served on a crusty wedge of bread, was full of garlic and the sharp onion and cheese and avocado deliciousness! A picture of the sandwich (whenever I hear “street food” I immediately love it…)

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And a few nights ago, I went back to Zen Palate for the second time, with my cousin who was visiting from India. While he claimed that the food was “bland,” I think it’s really flavorful, healthy, and reasonably priced. Zen Palate serves a variety of fare- mainly Asian-influenced foods, like burgers, sandwiches, salads, pasta, and veggie medleys. Oh, and they are a vegetarian restaurant, which rocks- they have a ton of great fake meat and I never wonder if I am tasting the flavor chicken stock in a delicious soup or something. We got the Tex Mex Moo Shoo, which is kidney beans, barley, and soy protein (it’s actually really good) in a spinach tortilla, served with this really yummy guac and a side salad of carrot peanut cole slaw.

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Oh, and it comes with two crunchy spring rolls, so the meal feels very complete. It’s in Union Sq, so central-ish and convenient and the waiters are very sweet.

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Mercadito is tiny but totally worth it. We started with a three guacamole sampler and goodness, was it good.
1. traditional guacamole
2. guacamole made with mango, jicama, and chili chipotle
3. guacamole made with pineapple, tomatillo, chile habanero, and mint
Sounds like a good appetizer, right? right! Then I got cactus tacos, Waqas got fish tacos, and I got excited so I ordered another appetizer- the Queso Fundido:

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Which is baked oaxaca, (a cheese), smoked gouda and machego cheeses with wild mushrooms, and small soft corn tortillas and a bowl of smoky salsa on the side. Ah! So good.
And here are a picture of my tacos, which were good to try- but I don’t think I’d order them again. Cactus has an interesting texture-minimal flavor combination- but not so much my style. But take a look-

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These sexy things were called Napolitos and contained: grilled cactus, caramelized onions, chipotle-tomatillo salsa, and cheese.
Mercadito is far east, but the walk there is through lovely neighborhoods: Ave B b/w 11 & 12 streets.

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