Category Archives: Latin American

Coppelia: my new go-to for Latin American delivery

coppelia-nyc-14th-street

More often than not I’m craving some kind of Latin American food, so when I have the chance to eat alone, it’s my top choice given that few fellow rice and bean fans exist on this side of the country. Tonight, I finally had my opportunity to order from Coppelia, the 24-hour Cuban diner that’s known for its chicharron specials and brightly lit, casual atmosphere – the restaurant I’ve been passing on my walk from west side to east side for years. Since diner lighting isn’t my thing, I decided to order every dish that caught my fancy and eat from the comfort of my own couch.

There are a slew of hearty sandwiches and entrees on the menu (not to mention the entire all-day breakfast section, which includes a stack of thick blue-corn pancakes), but after a hefty brunch at Poco, I consciously ordered a medley “lighter” things, including the caesar salad with avocado, cotija cheese, and mojo garlic croutons, a chicken arepa, and a side of rice and beans. The order came within 30 minutes, and the pastry of the chicken arepa was still hot, flaky and sturdy enough to safely encompass the saucey chipotle chicken inside of it. With the green salsa, this was divine. They even do a great job making something so simple as rice and beans memorable – the rice is light and fluffy, and mixed with avocado and salty beans, it could be a ($3) meal in itself. The salad was cold, crispy and garlicky, a perfect balance to the starchy sides. Charging just $18 for my feast, Coppelia is one of New York’s best kept secrets.

IMG_2073

caesar salad to go

empanadas

empanadas – photo from SeriousEats.com

Next time, I’ll walk the five blocks to the place so I can take the whole experience in and eat the brownie sundae – not such a practical order for delivery.

Grade: A
Location: 207 West 14th Street btwn 7th and 8th Aves. 
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Filed under Cheap Eat, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American

Chavela’s

They should make a .gif animation for my reaction when someone suggests Mexican food for dinner. It would be something like “I’m all like” and then my arms would raise in gospel, somewhat like Praise the Lord!! I may not be able to clearly describe an image, but it’s true – I become overwhelmed with excitement to eat beans, cheese and rice. It could be the 8lb cheesy burritos from Fillmore Street’s Mi Burrito that my mom consumed while she was pregnant, or their gravy burritos she moved on to feed me as soon as I exited the womb. Or maybe it was the 300 Taco Bell Taco Supremes and Bean and Cheese burritos that sustained me throughout my adolescence. Or could it be that one chimichanga at Desperados in Sun Valley that stole my heart?

Whatever the reason, I have weekly cravings for a combination of fresh avocado, cheese, and carbs, and it’s no easy condition to have in this part of the country. There are of course my favorites that do the trick between my visits to California – Dos Toros, Mole and La Esquina. No, I do not like Empellon, and I rarely have time to venture to Queens for the real deal. But last night, after joining three others for a food-filled meeting at Chavela’s in Prospect Park, I came away mentally adding a fourth favorite to my list.

Don’t get confused when you search online – there’s a Chavella’s that is closed in Prospect Park  but still somehow searchable. Chavela’s is relatively spacious (something my New York favorites lack) and it serves margaritas in high balls – two things I instantly noticed that won me over.  I somehow mistakenly ordered a mango and salsa cocktail that tasted like I was drinking jarred salsa, but I blame the order, not the recipe, and was able to redeem it quickly with a donated (thanks Erica) margarita. The food is really the stand out at this place, and given that it’s ridiculously affordable (a quesadilla is $3, a large platter around $14), we went crazy by listing off pretty much every item we wanted. There’s no over-thinking here, just local ingredients and pure flavors at its core, so everything tastes good. I loved the squash blossom quesadilla, which was more like an empanada in thickness than a griddled tortilla. Covered in crema and Oaxaca cheese, I could have been satisfied with two of these. The jack cheese and corn tamale was another hearty appetizer option, and the massive Plato Don with veggies, beans, rice, guacamole, cheese, and salsa was an awesome alternative to a greasy, sizzling fajita. And for dessert, we asked for all three options – rice pudding, flan, and churros. I’m not a fan of any of these desserts usually, but the piping hot fried churros were impossible to deny.

reachin for that guac

baby quesadilla

delicious platter

Despite the two train transfers required to get to Chavela’s from my house, I definitely plan to be back to fulfill a random craving.  But now that I’m in California for the next two weeks, I see no problem doing that in the immediate future. Gordo’s baby, here I come!

Grade: A-
Location: 736 Franklin Avenue @ Sterling Place
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Filed under Beans and Rice, Brooklyn, Cheap Eat, Latin American, Mexican, Vegetarian / Vegan

Bar Americain

Bar Americain

It’s not easy finding restaurants with character in midtown. You have your steakhouses, your power lunch spots, the hotel restaurants, and the chains. Today, I decided on Bar American, Bobby Flay’s Southwestern take on a typical French brasserie menu. With crab and coconut and mussels and fries with a green chile broth, Bar American is almost like a Tex Mix Balthazar, but without the young and scene-y atmosphere. Despite the flair, however, ambience is characteristic of the area – think business suits and Gen-X-ers.

Though the old-school Madison Avenue atmosphere isn’t my favorite, the food at Bobby’s restaurant is actually quite good. Lunch comes with a basket of hot and crispy cornbread (it’s got to be fried), and the menu has a wide range of interesting options. Just don’t expect to eat too lightly here.

Cornbread

"hot" chips with dip

We started with the tuna tartare andhot potato chip with blue cheese dipping sauce. The tuna was basic and well prepared with finely chopped garnishes, and the hot chips were incredibly thin, light, and delicious. With the oozing chunky blue cheese dip, they were highly addictive.

tuna tartare

I attempted to order healthily and had the Southwestern Cobb Salad for my main course, but with bacon, egg, cheese, and avocado, I felt like I had eaten a burger by the end of my meal. That said, it was a solid salad and definitely classically prepared.

cobb salad

Dessert was the major show-stopper. I could have made a meal out of the red velvet brownie with homemade cream cheese soft ice cream and the profiteroles with vanilla soft serve and pralines. David Chang, move over – Bobby would definitely win the contest of best chef-created soft serve. The red velvet brownie somehow incorporated the classic flavors of a perfect red velvet cake, but had the density and chocolate richness of a delicious brownie. Just as I had imagined, my two favorite desserts combined transformed into something out of this world.

red velvet brownie

profiteroles

I left much fuller than I should be after lunch, but I was actually quite pleased with my overall meal at Bar Americain. I wouldn’t come back from an intimate or particularly unique dining experience, but it’s a perfect fit for client or older-crowd entertaining.

Grade: A-

Location: 152 West 52nd Street between 6th and 7th Ave

Website: http://www.baramericain.com

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Filed under Business Meal, Cajun, Latin American, Midtown West, New American, Parents in Town, Southern

Habana Outpost: Fort Greene

A five mile bike ride and a few moments of shopping are quite an appetite builder, so I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to eat Cuban food after some browsing at the Brooklyn Flea. I’ve had Cafe Habana in Soho on my “to-go” list since I moved to NY, but the constant crowds have been quite discouraging. Habana Outpost is a more casual, stand-up-and-order version of the cafe with a limited menu and a huge outdoor seating area. All food is distributed via a stationary truck with a chef that yells your name to pick up the order. Apparently the place becomes quite the outside party during the summer, but we were able to beat the crowds right at noon.

Anna with a smile

I decided on a plato, which seemed the most substantial of all the menu options. The plate came piled high with grilled chicken, rice, black beans and lime. Grilled chicken runs the risk of being boring but this rendition was spicy, moist, and zesty with the lime juice and buttery rice. The beans were perfect – just like I remember them in Brazil. Yes, this place is Cuban but Brazilians and Cubans alike take their beans pretty seriously.

With no side salad option available, I ordered a main jicama mango salad that came next to a side of deliciously creamy and garlicky dressing that I ended up using for my chicken. The salad was simple, refreshing and absolutely essential with my protein-carb laden main dish.

And just for fun, I ordered a frozen mojito, which was subtly sweet and a life saver in the heat. With no intention of getting tipsy before a bike ride in 80 degree weather, I stopped at a couple of sips once I fully assessed the alcohol content. Gotta love a strong frozen cocktail – such a rare commodity.

frozen mojito

The experience at Habana Outpost is straight forward – pick your meat, pick the style, wait in line to order, and sit on a bench until your name is called. Service is minimal, and with the live DJ mixing Latin tunes, you really feel like you’re in the quintessential Summer backyard barbecue. If you want no frills and a casual setting (and you happen to be in Fort Greene), look no further!

Grade: A-

Location: 757 Fulton Street at South Portland Ave

Website: www.ecoeatery.com

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Filed under Brooklyn, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American

La Esquina

Restaurant in disguise

The success rate for reserving a table at La Esquina is about 1 in every 20 attempts. Up until last week, I’ve spoken to a live voice on the reservation line only twice, and each time I’ve heard the same old chorus: nothing available. I began to suspect La Esquina was a cult, similar to Waverly Inn, where you really didn’t stand a chance to enter unless you were or knew someone famous.

I just recently discovered the recipe for success: Monday nights at 6pm. Who else goes out at 6pm on Mondays but those desperately wanted to try a hot spot like this one? Fortunately, I and three of my colleagues had an excuse to celebrate, and we decided to seal the deal tonight.

Like many of the mysterious, highly acclaimed restaurants in downtown New York, La Esquina masks itself as a run down taco shop in the middle of an abandoned intersection in Soho. The restaurant below it is accessible via an entry way labeled as “Private: Employees Only” and guarded by the host – so grounds are completely invisible by the surrounding laymen lacking reservations. The trends are all too familiar: disguise and intrigue leads to intense curiosity, which transforms into great publicity, which generates seriously high demand for tables. The seductive, Speakeasy-style restaurants may not be worth the allure in actuality, but I can shamelessly admit that being an insider for a night feels damn right satisfying.

After being led downstairs and through the kitchen, we entered the underground dining area, so dimly lit that even the excessive stereotypical Mexican decor was difficult to see. Visibility had no affect on service, and our drink orders were taken immediately – I had the Diablo with cucumber puree and jalapeno tequila. Hankering for some noshes, I asked for chips and salsa but was saddened (though not surprised) by our waiter’s response, which she had obviously recited many times before: “La Esquina does not have guacamole or chips, or burritos for that matter.” What a great ploy to force the hungry to over-order!

Pepino Diablo

We started with the quesadilla de huitlacoche with mexican truffle, roasted corn, mushrooms, and queso oaxaca. You can never go wrong with a quesadilla, but I could hardly taste the truffle, and would have loved a fresher pico de gallo over the smokey salsa that was served on the side.

Mushroom Quesadilla

I expected the crab tostada to be one large fried corn tortilla; instead, it came out as three tapas on small round chips. The piled crab was awesomely fresh and light nonetheless, and easy to eat in one swoop.

Next came the salad mixta, which came with a slew of vegetables ranging from string beans to brussels sprouts, queso fresco, and large chunks of avocado. Fresh, crunchy, and flavorful, and relatively generous in portion, this was definitely a stand out of the appetizers.

ensalada mixta

For our main course, we ordered two “taquitos”: the char grilled steak and the grilled skewered fish, along with a side of rice, beans, and swiss chard. The taquitos were served on soft corn tortillas, and were therefore identical to what I consider a taco except served a la carte, and minuscule compared to the bountiful tacos I’ve grown to love at Mole. Still, they tasted fresh, and the steak was well seasoned and tender. One order per person is a must.

pescado taquitos

After finishing up our first round, we supplemented our order with another quesadilla and the chicken tostadas, which had a little more zing with crema and avocado. The smokiness of the chicken meshed well with the crispy corn tortilla, but the fresh crab still reigned as the winner.

Chicken taquito

It definitely took a series of dishes to satisfy our hunger, but fortunately I find joy in trying a little bit of a large variety. When I think Mexican food, I tend to envision large plates with many components. La Esquina is definitely not the norm in that respect – with a focus on a la carte (very) small plates, dim lighting, and strong drinks, it’s definitely New York’s swanked out twist on Mexican authenticity.

The light portion sizes at least serve a purpose to free up room for dessert, and I was thrilled to see a dense warm chocolate cake with cinnamon and creme fraiche ice cream on the list. I couldn’t taste a lick of cinnamon, but the cake was warm and consistently smooth. Per our server’s recommendation, we also tried the three-cheese cheesecake with caramelized walnuts and pomegranate seeds. A richer, creamier version of flan, this resembled the desserts I’m accustomed to seeing, and avoiding, at Mexican restaurants. Not my favorite, but would definitely be a crowd pleaser for the non-chocolate-dessert lovers (bless your hearts).

Mexican cheesecake

 

chocolate cake

I loved having the chance to make my dream of eating at La Esquina a reality, but taken out of context, the food was, simply put, fine. Not far ahead of Dos Caminos on the list of acceptable Mexican. A trip to La Esquina is not warranted, as one would expect, by food alone. You should come with high expectations of the overall experience – sharing tapas with friends, while feeling on top of the world in an underground scene. And shamelessly, it’s for this reason that I’ll attempt to return when I next have guests in town who are simply looking for stiff cocktails, some New York absurdity, and a good time.

Grade: B+

Location: 114 Kenmare @ Lafayette Street

Website: http://www.laesquinanyc.com

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Filed under Beans and Rice, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American, Lower East Side, Mexican, Sex & The City Swank, Soho, Tapas

Rayuela: LES Latin American fare

I’ve only heard great things about this Nuevo Latino restaurant, interestingly enough hidden on an insignificant block in the Lower East side, and after tonight’s meal I can understand why. Its food is inventive, enlivening, and filled with flavor, its ambiance cool, collected, and modern; the plentiful drink options are vibrant and eclectic; and the service, from what I could tell, is seamless. Its uniqueness is best represented in the first sight upon entering the space: a young sprawling tree bursting through the roof of the first floor. With all of these attractive qualities, I was surprised to see Rayuela practically empty until about 8pm, but I can understand that its swank and spunk feel make it more of an appeal to the younger, more adventurous nocturnal crowd.

Crowd or no crowd, I sincerely enjoyed every dish at Rayuela, because each contained an element of bright and invigorating flavors so quintessential in Latin America cuisine, and so representative of Latin American culture.

Before diving into the dishes we ordered, I have to give special praise to Rayuela’s complimentary serving of bread. I’ve always said a restaurant is only as good as its bread. While this usually doesn’t apply to Latin American spots, which typically serve tortilla chips (or nothing) to curb the appetite, I was ecstatic to learn that it applied to Rayuela. And it wasn’t enough that they served bread; they served the most delicious, moist, dense and cheesy breads I’ve ever had…served hot out of the oven. This little nugget of dough accompanied by chilled sweet cream olive butter is worth being sold as an appetizer on its own. Or even a main! I’d go back just to have another.
For our actual appetizers, we actually didn’t order any ceviche, and they had quite a variety. Instead, we shared the special: spicy guacamole mixed with tomatoes, crab, and shrimp, which couldn’t have been more simultaneously light and luscious. The chips were even worthy of praise – crispy, salty, and light, they were a perfect side to the rich and creamy avocado dip.
We then split two refreshing, tasty ensaladas: Cangrejo con Esparrago with jumbo lump crab meat, white asparagus, spinach, tomatoes and bacon in a grapefruit ginger vinaigrette, and the Pera Peral with spice and rioja wine infused pear, watercress, la peral cheese, toasted walnuts and a guindilla-agave vinaigrette. Both were light, citrusy, and flavorful, and I was particularly and pleasantly surprised by the generous portion of crab in such a dainty salad. Another wonderful and easily sharable appetizer was the Jalea: a mix of tempura seafood with mango-aji amarillo aioli, served with red onions and yucca fries. While I would have appreciated a larger share of my favorite part, the yucca fries, the meaty pile of delicately fried seafood in the center of the plate was a fair distraction.
For my main course, I ordered perfectly: grilled chilean seabass with a delicious sweet corn mash and a chorizo-salsa verde salad. The seabass was perfectly velvety, buttery and flakey; it practically melted in my mouth.

I couldn’t resist ordering the arepas con queso as a side dish, and I am glad! Dense, subtly sweet, and creamy, they were a delicious partner for the light fish. Also notable was the Asian style Paella, or paella de coco with lemongrass, coconutmilk, shrimp, calamari, scallops, octopus, manila clams and peas, which basically looked like a fiesta on a plate. The grilled beef tenderloin was also well liked by all. Essentially, every dish was an inventive mix of contrasting yet complimentary flavors that brought me straight back to warm nights in Brazil (though I’ve only experienced a few). Party on a plate (above)
The dessert list was not as enticing as the main menu, but considering my sweet tooth I couldn’t resist. Most delicious was the Chocolate Cortazar, a white, bittersweet and milk chocolate mousse, with mate ice cream and both chocolate and macadamia sauce. Desserts rarely surprise me with new flavors, but this particular one brought to life an unfamiliar, yet delicious sweetness – similar to honey but with more of a nutty flavor, which I assume was the “mate.” The overall dish was scrumptious and deceptively light after a load of savory food. The other desserts we ordered were, while beautifully plated, not too exciting as they didn’t involve ice cream or chocolate…and close friends know about my passion for those two things.Despite the scarce amount of appealing dessert choices, and an overly sweet and practically fruitless sangria, I had a great experience for Rayuela and would be back there again in a heartbeat. Whether just to have an inventive cocktail and a tasty appetizer, or to have a fun night with a group of friends, Rayuela is an awesome choice in a fun area – a posh restaurant positioned perfectly before a night out in the not so posh Lower East Side.

Grade: A-
Location: 165 allen street between rivington & stanton
Website: http://www.rayuelanyc.com

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Filed under Latin American, Lower East Side, Romantic Date

Yerba Buena – definitely a new favorite

My meal and experience at Yerba Buena Perry last night was excellent. In a nutshell, I had exceptionally friendly and accommodating service, incredible and inventive Latin American food, and an awesome time amidst the loud and inebriated tables surrounding me. In fact, it’s worth just coming here for the cocktails themselves – very rarely do I have trouble deciding which drink to pair with my food. Their long list of light, not overly sweet varietals could appeal to any cocktail palette.

I’m thrilled that I was finally able to locate a West Village restaurant with both impeccable service and food. While I would suggest waiting to order your courses after receiving your drinks (ours appetizers came out too soon), I can say that their waitstaff is likely to honor absolutely any request you may have. They’re incredibly friendly, that even after I had switched an appetizer choice just seconds after ordering, they brought the original one on the house, and get this – with a huge smile! Hence the order of croquettes below.
These were melt-in-your-mouth incredible. The lightest, crispiest version of fried food, the manchego cheese croquettes were a show-stopper. I’m so glad the waiter proceeded to bring them out despite canceling our order. Just as delicious was the vegetarian empanadas filled with spinach, manchego cheese, beside huge pieces of peruvian corn and a fig vinagrette. While some in the past have described these as pita pockets, I found them unique, flavorful, and deliciously cheesy. I loved the oversized kernels of peruvian corn on the plate, too.
The Yerba Buena salad, served with jicama, tomatoes, avocado and a sherry vinaigrette was very light and tangy – perfect as a refreshing appetizer and a great excuse to order carbs and proteins for the rest of your meal.
The meal got better as it progressed, though the entree portions could have been larger. The grilled black cod was amazing and served beside a wonderfully smooth and rich Peruvian corn puree. The cod itself tasted just like the cod you can find in Asian restaurants – buttery, soft, and delicate. I would definitely return to Yerba Buena just to have this again. The arroz con pollo also had somewhat of an Asian touch as well – the rice beneath the chicken tasted similar to Benihana Japanese rice, but was buttery, light, and deliciously garlicky nonetheless. The chicken, served with a generous portion of avocado salad, was quite tasty, but paled in comparison to the cod.
Overall, though, the entrees were awesome and I would recommend both to those planning to visit Yerba Buena. Dessert was also a hit, but then again, how can one fail with a Dulce de Leche sundae. Despite the big scoops of caramel ice cream, sprinkling of candied pecans and bananas, and heap of whipped cream, this dessert was surprisingly only delicately sweet, and not overpowering in the slightest. A great end to a consistently tasty meal.
Needless to say, I loved Yerba Buena Perry and would return in a heartbeat. It’s tough to find reservations here Thursdays through Sundays, but (patient) walk-in parties generally get lucky. It’s a perfect spot for a fun group dinner, or a date before going out on the town, but be prepared to talk louder than normal, as the space is quite small and crowded. Can’t wait to go back, and thank you Mike for supplying the meal!!
Address: 1 Perry Street at Greenwich Ave

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American, Sex & The City Swank, Spanish, West Village

Paladar – want to host a festive dinner on a budget?

I attribute finding this awesome restaurant to…myself. It was April 30th, my birthday was coming up, and I was looking to invite 8 or so friends to a restaurant with a fun and laid back environment, good food, large-group accommodations, and not-break the bank prices. I did extensive research online, and found Paladar – a lovely Mexican restaurant that seemed to fill every criteria I had. Vibrant atmosphere – brightly colored walls and funky latin music, awesome margaritas (drink 2 and you’re gone), great service, and…get this… a family style menu fit for a king at just $30 a person! By pre-ordering my choice of 3 delicious appetizers and 3 entrees, I was able to save the pain of having each individual order and divide the check accordingly. People came in knowing what they were eating and what they were paying – no surprises! Most importantly, the food was awesome! With such a great deal, I expected paltry portions or at least lack of flavor. But no, huge platters fit to feed at least 12 people filled the table, and not one of us left unfulfilled.

Choosing the pre-order menu was a tough job, but the manager I spoke to over the phone (just an hour before our reservation) patiently suggested all of his recommendations. For apps, I decided on Tacos de Pescado – marinated fish tacos with chipotle-lime glaze and mango salsa, an Ensalada Verde with mango & jicama, and a delicious wild mushroom quesadilla. They served huge plates of each and everyone was able to get a second helping if they needed. My only complaint would have to be that the fish in the fish tacos was a little tough, but all things considered they executed the family style plates perfectly. My fave was the mushroom quesadilla, and I could have ordered at least 10 other things from the menu and still been happy.

For main dishes, they have something for everyone. I played it safe and ordered a steak, a chicken, and a seafood. The carne asada came with an awesome salsa and a light green salad – and honestly the best yucca sticks I have ever tasted. The meat was excellent – buttery, tender, so flavorful – slightly charred on the outside but beautifully juicy and rare on the inside. The lime-chipotle marinated chicken was also a great staple for those a little less adventurous, and it came with potatoes and salad as well. Lastly, the market fish was served pan seared with garlic, lemon, chiles, and seasonal vegetables. It was definitely a step up from the fish in the tacos – I was sad to see so much extra food go to waste! The waiters even brought me a complimentary chocolate cake slice (though wasn’t too tasty, don’t order it).

All this great food accompanied by killer drinks, friendly & accommodating service, great company, and a fun-upbeat yet airy and comfortable atmosophere made my birthday the best. I will most definitely have my next large group dinner at Paladar, and will even consider it to get my Mexican craving fix with a smaller group. Don’t fear the Lower East Side – come check out Paladar!

Website: http://www.paladarrestaurant.com
Location: 161 Ludlow btwn East Houston and Stanton

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Filed under Affordable Date, Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American, Lower East Side, Spanish