This late night la pastor cart in Jackson Heights is culinary catnip for a food nerd like me.
In this era of clickbait and “eating for the Insta” it’s all too easy to lose sight of my joy for food exploration, which is why I’m grateful to be what my pal Andrew Zimmern calls a “food nerd.” And, I am especially grateful for fellow food nerds, like my good friends Greg and Jumi of Food & Footprints, whose Instagram page continues to be an inspiration. Without them I would never have have known about the late night al pastor torta man who sets up at the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue outside a check cashing store.
If my memory serves I first tried to visit the much-heralded street food icon in the winter. While I eagerly waited for Greg, the al pastor man gamely sampled me a taco, after seeing me snap photos and listening to me gush about trying his spit roasted pork. When Greg arrived I eagerly told him about how the guy sampled me a taco, only to learn that this was the wrong al pastor cart. That didn’t stop us from ordering a torta though. It was good, but Greg was quick to tell me that the other guys was even better. (more…)
Triple cooked Sinaloan style pork via Elmhurst enriched with chilies among other things.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to try Queens’ only Mexican restaurant specializing in foods from the Northwestern state of Sinaloa, a state that hitherto I’d only known as the birthplace of Mexican drug lord El Chapo. We only tried one dish from the aptly named Sinaloense, but what a dish. Chilorio estilo sinaloense is a heap of pork that’s been slowly cooked down for hours, then fried in lard, and lastly cooked in a ruddy concoction of chilies and other herbs and spices. The result is some of the most amazing Mexican pork I’ve ever had on Roosevelt Avenue. It had a glorious texture—not quite crunchy and not quite soft—and an amazing depth of flavor with notes of cumin, garlic, chilies and a not unpleasant vinegary acidity. “I’m coming back here for a torta estilo sinaloense,” I said to my pals as I perused the takeout menu between bites. (more…)
Bisteck a la Mexicana is the star of La Seleccion.
“I’m sorry my friend. After tomorrow, no more tortas for you,” Galdino “Tortas” Molinero said as I perused the menu of Tortas Neza. The six-month permit for his mobile temple of tortas and fútbol runs out on Halloween, but Tortas is closing shop the day before.
“But where shall I go to procure a Mexican soccer themed sandwich the size of my head in the middle of the night,” I thought. Actually that’s a lie my thoughts were more like, “Better try something I haven’t had before.” That’s how I wound up eating a not so little number called La Seleccion ($9). Like of all of his sandwiches it’s named after a Mexican fútbol club and is so messy that I took my watch off. (I also removed my jacket and did a warm up stretch.) (more…)
As I wrote earlier this week the ginormous Pumas from Corona’s Tortas Neza, is one of my favorite sandwiches in Queens. It’s named for the truck’s owner’s favorite soccer team. The truck offers many other slightly less titanic sandwiches, each named for a Mexican soccer team. About a month ago some pals and I met up with James Boo to help him produce the above video love letter “to the moment of celebration when your oversized, painstakingly assembled sandwich hits the counter, informing you that those dinner plans will have to be postponed.” Tortas Neza is also one of the many food trucks and vendors that will be at the upcoming Viva La Comida! festival in Jackson Heights.
One wonders what late cartoonist B. Kliban , author of “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head,” would make of the gargantuan Torta Puma ($14) at the Tortas Neza truck in Corona. One thing’s for sure, the group I took on a food tour of the 7 line this Sunday, including stops in Little Manila and Himalayan Heights were flabbergasted by it. “How do you eat that?” a Californian who I’d promised to show real Mexican food in New York asked. We marveled as the man who likes to call himself tortas built two of these dreadnoughts. Tortas piled the components high on the telera rolls. First the lettuce, then a chorizo omelet,fried hot dogs, a fried Milanesa cutlet, several slices of ham, head cheese, and a fistful of Mexican cheese.
“You can’t leave until you’ve finished the sandwiches,” I joked. The Pumas, of course, were for someone else. There’s no way we could have eaten any of Tortas’ overstuffed creations after eating our way from one end of the 7 train to the other. We opted for someting slightly daintier: tacos de carnitas ($2.50) . Usually when I go there by myself he’s out of carnitas. I made sure to savor the nose to tail porcine taco as the 7 train rumbled overhead. By the way, the Californian loved his taco.
A Mexican cocktail of a different kind for Cinco de Mayo.
Sometimes I’m convinced that Cinco de Mayo was invented by Cervecería Modelo to promote Corona. That’s just one reason why I’m spending it in the Bronx eating Bengali food. For those of you who don’t have plans yet or don’t like drinking frozen margaritas and dining on rice, beans, and mystery meat covered in cheese I have a suggestion. Grab a few friends and take a nice walk in the spring sunshine on La Roosie, as the locals like to call the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that runs through Jackson Heights and Corona.
Start out with a Mexican style ceviche from La Esquina de Camaron Mexicano, Roosevelt Ave. and 80th St. Watch as Pedro the ceviche mixologist fills a plastic cup with your choice of seafood: shrimp, octopus, or both. To the protein he adds a pour of a tomato-based concoction, olive oil, diced onions, avocado, salt, and hot sauce. Don’t forget to crumble some saltines over the top before digging in. If ceviche, or a “coktel,” as Pedro calls it, isn’t your thing head over to the nearby Taqueria Coatzingo, 76-05 Roosevelt Ave. for a weekend special: barbacoa de chivo, slow roasted young goat available in a taco or a platter with consommé and rice and beans. Stop by Panaderia Coatzingo next door for a cinnamon and sugar dusted concha to munch on your walk.
Sweet and cold, El Bohio’s shaved ice is a harbinger of even warmer days.
As you continue down La Roosie with shafts of light dancing on the street from the elevated train you’ll soon enter Little Ecuador. Its epicenter is Warren Street and Roosevelt Avenue, right by the Junction Boulevard stop on the 7. The corner and Warren Street are lined with food trucks and carts offering a staggering amount of pork, both roasted and fried. The ladies who run the cart called La Esquina del Sabor—the corner of flavor—will gladly offer up a sample of fritada, toothsome fried pork. Ten bucks buys a plate of pork with potatoes, fat starchy kernels of mote corn, and crunchy toasted maiz cancha. Need to cool off? Hit up El Bohio, 98-17 Roosevelt Ave, Corona, for an old school Dominican shaved ice. My go-to is the fresa or raspberry ice ($3.50 for a large cup) with leche condensada. If you’re still in need of refreshment there’s a Dominican dude who hangs out around 104th St. selling fresh tropical fruits and drinks. These include ginormous young coconuts ($5) that he will gladly hack open with his trusty machete. (more…)
Only in Queens can one find a Thai-Mexican fish sandwich.
Fish tortas are a rarity in my experience. And the Thai sardine torta is a new one on me. Leave it to Boyd Vic, owner of Tea Cup Cafe, a shop that sells everything from espresso and Thai desserts to Thai dumplings and Furbys to create a Southeast Asian spin on a Mexican sandwich. As soon as I saw the sign that read “Spicy Sardine Torta Sandwich $4.50” I ordered one.
“Can you eat spicy?”Vic asked as he assembled what is surely the only Thai torta in Queens. “Everybody makes ham sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches. I wanted to do something different,” Vic said. This Thai torta is indeed something different. Really the only thing that makes it a torta is the bread. The roll is filled with sardines that have been warmed in the toaster oven, lettuce, tomato, fresh jalapenos, garlic, and a generous squirt of Japanese mayo mixed with pickled chilies.
It is of course the best—and only—Thai torta I have ever had. As sandwiches go it is pleasant enough, with a nice hit of spice and umami from the chili-spiked Japanese mayo. It is also apparently quite nutritious. When asked about the canned sardines Vic said, “I use a good one, with a lot of Omega-3s.”