Long live the quest for that authentically great tasting cubano in Astoria. The highly coveted sandwich rarely makes an appearance in the neighborhood, but I found one that is sure to please even the pickiest of taste buds. I have passed by Havana Express many times before I noticed their vast array of grilled sandwiches. Being a sweet fanatic I usually fix my eyes on the cupcakes. However, today was an exception. I sauntered into the tiny cafe and decided to try their cubano. And to cure my sleepy state, I washed it all down with a cortadito. While they don’t have outdoor seating, Havana Express offers an open store front, so it is much like sitting outside in the shade. Being a sunny afternoon I picked a spot near the front (great for people watching). The spot has a real neighborhood appeal to it. Diners chat merrily with the servers and everyone seems to know the owner by name. The red bar stools give the place a touch of that 1950s diner ambience. Shortly after placing my order a sweet young woman gracefully placed the giant cubano on my table. Another server brought me my drink. Fearing that the beverage would tumble onto my laptop computer, she strategically positioned the drinks so the had little chance of spilling. Now that is what I call customer service! Not only were they prompt and friendly, but also highly aware of their patrons’ needs. The cubano consisted of grilled pork and ham smothered in melted cheese, with mustard and thinly sliced pickles. The bread was crispy and warm with a soft fluffy center. I gobbled-up the delicacy within minutes. The only remains were the crumbs that covered my lap. Havana Express is a great spot for casual and cheap neighborhood dining. They have free wifi for those workaholics who want a quiet place to log-on while they dine.
Havana Express Cafe & Bakery 21-37 31st Street Astoria 718-545-9344
After passing by El Sitio (37-01 31st Street Long Island City/ Astoria 718-278-7694) a few times, a friend and I were inspired to finally sample this Cuban restaurant, endorsed by Astoria Knife and Fork. The humble little gem that sits nestled under the train tracks is not to be missed. From the authentic inexpensive ($6-$11) food to the jukeboxes perched on the wall over every table– this eatery is truly unique. For more casual dining, bar service is available- serving various wines, sangria, El Presidente, XX , Jupina and the popular herbal cuban soda- Materva. El Sitio offers an array of traditional hearty Cuban entrees that start off with a free basket of buttered garlic bread and a modest plate of ham croquets. The drunken chicken begs for a moment of sobriety. The bird drowns mercilessly in a rich tomato base accompanied by potatoes, onions, olives, mushrooms and carrots. The beef stew is large cuts of tender beef sauteed in a brown sauce with potatoes on the side. The famous Cuban sandwich can be elusive in these parts of country. At El Sitio it is made to perfection. The buttered cuban bread is topped with thick slices of ham, pork, swiss cheese, mustard and pickles- then pressed to a crispy-melted artery clogging festival for your taste-buds. Skip the flan for dessert and ask for one thing that’s not on the menu, the corda dito- a small Cuban espresso- the grinds are sweetened before the water hits them- making a deep, rich and sweet tasting drink that’s mixed with foam milk and sprinkled with cinnamon. Besides the tasty fare, it’s easy to see why “the place” is a real neighborhood hang-out for Astoria’s Latin American community and then some. At El Sitio no face goes unrecognized and if you’re new, the staff treats you like a regular. The dining area offers a not-so-contemporary DIY choice of Latin American music on the personal juke-boxes, a jungle of ivy vines plastered to the ceiling, a bathroom that requires you to be buzzed in with a doorbell and a kind-spirited waitress heavy on the eyeliner.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Mojitos 52-20 Roosevelt Ave Wooside, NY 11377 718-672-3158
Mojitos is a modest place to get great cuban food, even if it isn’t entirely authentic. This new restaurant is humble in decor, but big in taste. The inexpensive and tasty cuisine is not quite gourmet, but better than street food. Entrees run about $10 and come with a large arugula and olive salad and bread- not so Cuban precursors to a hearty meal. Pernil- a dish offering a tender cut of roasted pork, is crispy on the edges and juicy in the middle, served with rice, beans and yucca. Chuletas is just as satisfying-a dish of pork chops marinated in citrus juices. There are also chicken dishes and skirt steak for a little more in cost. The shrimp marinated in garlic, Camarones al Ajillo, has a pungent sauce that is not easy on the taste buds. Dessert generally consists of pastel de tres leches– a modified version of the traditional Latin American sweet. Although Mojito’s version is merely a giant slice of bakery birthday cake soaked in sweet milk- authentic it is not- but delicious it is! Friendly service makes-up where the ambiance falls short- but overall the place is festive in its own way, with the voice Gloria Estefan echoing off the barren walls and lights strewn on the windows. Mojitos offers free delivery, private parties and catering.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 8 so far )
La Flor (52-02 Roosevelt Ave 718-426-8023)
La Flor has that certain…je ne sais quoi. It’s not the most sophisticated restaurant and drinks are absent mindedly not listed on the menu. Service is friendly and attentive, though spacey at times…but it is the meticulous care in the preparation of food that will keep you coming back. The moment you walk into La Flor, its charm over takes you. From the broken ceramic dishes pieced together to create decorative mosaics on the walls, to the faux stained glass flowers painted on the windows to the brightly colored walls, the ever-changing ambiance is cozy and unique. This is a great place to do brunch or dinner. The menu is comprised of tasty Mexican fusion dishes. Each dish is meticulously assembled into an impressive display. The french toast come drenched in maple syrup with a small fruit salad toppled over it. The chocolate cake has little pieces of fruit nestled beside it and instead of onions, the breakfast potatoes have small slices of zucchini and summer squash mixed in them. If a brie omelet doesn’t suit you, try the traditional fare like steak & eggs or for something different a portabella salad. The lunch/dinner menu has either traditional Mexican sandwiches and entrees or more creative dishes like quiche or crab cakes on a bed of corn salad. The hearty plate of ribs comes drenched in a tomato based sauce with mountains of home-made mashed potatoes. The daily specials, like fig salad cinnamon squash soup are one-of-a-kind dishes overflowing with flavor. The only alcohol available is a small selection of wine and the muffins and pastries are not labled, so asking what each item is during busy hours can be a challenge. This place is perfectly imperfect, charming atmosphere with unique food at reasonable prices. La Flor is well worth the trip to Sunnyside.
Fattys– 25-01 Ditmars Blvd (corner of Crescent)……(718)267-7071
This is one of my favorite places for dinner and brunch. And their mojitos?…faaghettaboutit! Introducing many a friend to this gem has practically become a hobby. Fatty’s gets 100% better during the warm months too, thanks to their lovely outdoor garden area. The tunes are always audible at this hip joint that also displays the (pricey) ever-changing work of local artists on the walls. The food is tasty and innovative, leaving you feeling satisfied. The fish n chips, jalapeno turkey burger, chofan (stir fry), fattata (brunch), salmon burger, and Chavorrayo and Cubano sandwiches are all a must. The owner, el Fatty is what we call him, is the nicest and coolest guy around who recently opened a sultry wine bar next door, Crescent and Vine.
–Adam NaillRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )