Sizing up the Guatemalan scene in Stamford

I’m not really sure if it’s a function of an ever growing immigrant population from Guatemala, an increased confidence in the commercial viability of their home cuisine or a combination of the two, but Stamford has become home to a significant number of Guatemalan restaurants over the past few years.

By my count, there are at least four full Guatemalan restaurants in Stamford now:

  • Antojitos Chapines – 210 West Main
  • Quetzal Cafe – 262 Hope St.
  • Maya Restaurant – 166 Stillwater Ave.
  • Delicias Guatemaltecas – 163 Cove Rd.

By my count, that means there are now more authentic Guatemalan restaurants than there are authentic Mexican restaurants in Stamford (“authentic” being the operative word). That’s as much of a statement about the poor Mexican options as it is about the significance of the Guatemalan scene in Stamford. Regardless, it’s worth taking a closer look at the burgeoning local scene.

Antojitos Chapines was the first of the bunch, opening in early 2005 in the space of the then recently closed Trinidadian restaurant International Roti. Though it has now been two years since I last ate there, I always found it to be good and consistent. Of the four, it still offers the widest range of local foods from small dishes – as the restaurant name suggests – to full entrees and meals despite its tiny size.

Quetzal Cafe opened soon after Antojitos Chapines in 2005. It is smaller than Antojitos Chapines and only offers a small sampling of food. I have to confess it’s been three years since I was last there. When I was last at Quetzal they still didn’t have a kitchen of their own, requiring them to cook off premise and reheat the food on site. That necessarily limited both their selection and the freshness of the food, but it was satisfying nonetheless. However, I am long overdue for a revisit to see how Quetzal Cafe is doing these days.

Maya Restaurant only opened last month. At first, I was giddy at the proposition of what I thought was going to be a southern Mexican restaurant, focusing on Yucatecan food. I even went there on its opening day but was turned back because they weren’t quite ready. When I asked about the menu it became clear at the time that it wasn’t Mexican, but a quasi pan-Latin restaurant without much of a focus on “Mayan” food. They were offering some Guatemalan, some Peruvian and some Mexican food. With no menu at the time, the restaurant seemed to be offering whatever the cooks in the back room knew to make. So I was a bit disappointed. But, after reading a comment on Dave Cook’s blog about his recent experience at Maya, I have decided to go back and give it another try. It’s clear they are Guatemalan at the core of the restaurant and take some pride in their local cuisine and dishes. That makes makes all the difference. So maybe we’ll have a real Mayan restaurant after all. I’ll report back shortly.

Delicias Guatemaltecas is new, though I’m not sure when it opened as I only just noticed it yesterday as I was driving down Cove Rd. I haven’t even had a chance to pop in to grab a menu, but by the looks of it, it’s a typical Guatemalan deli, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here’s to hoping it’s a gem hidden in the chaos that is Cove Rd.

There are probably a few other Guatemalan places in the nearby environs hiding out, waiting to be discovered. I consider it my mission to uncover them all.


Finally, my empanada expedition is complete (sort of)

After more than two months of stringing together lunch hours and stealing away for random “errands” as much as possible, I feel I’ve finally tried enough places to put together a somewhat comprehensive guide to empanadas in Westchester County. One thing I’ve learned though is that as much as I might try, this list isn’t totally comprehensive. It seems like every day I find another place worth exploring. So rather than putting up a new blog post every time I find a new place, I’ve instead created a whole new page that can be updated at will. Here it is: The Empanada Lover’s Guide to Westchester County, complete with a detailed description of every place I tried, ranked by one, two or three stars, as well as a color-coded Google map showing all the locations.

My hope is that as I – or any of you – find new places I’ll continue to update this list. Just leave comments here or on that page if you have any suggestions, additions or edits. Your input will make it much more complete.

So, head over to that page to check out the complete list.

On this post I just want to share some overall impressions. First, the good news is that you can find some great empanadas here in Westchester county, spanning varieties from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. Not many places around the country can boast that kind of variety. In short, there are a lot of very good, very traditional, very diverse empanadas to be eaten in Westchester.

The biggest difference in quality from place to place was whether or not they made their empanadas on site, and whether you could easily order them freshly made. You simply can’t beat freshly made empanadas. Only a short amount of time separates great empanadas from mediocrity. So, of the places I’ve listed, only those who made them freshly (fried or baked) got three stars.

Now, I have to be totally honest. Looking back on all the places I tried, I’m still left wanting. It isn’t that I didn’t find great empanadas here and there. But I still feel like we can do better. I guess I feel like I still haven’t found the absolute empanada nirvana here. Maybe nostalgic feelings of meals with many South American friends in Australia and great food I’ve had in Buenos Aires, creates a bar impossible to reach.  Maybe I’m chasing something unattainable? But whatever the case, it’s good motivation for me to keep looking.

So, I hope you enjoy the list. And please, be sure to let me know if I’ve missed any places and your impressions of any of the ones you’ve already tried.


At the top of my to-do list

I’ve been on a Port Chester binge lately. And in delving deeper into PC goodness, I’ve been tripping over some new places that I’m dying to try. If only I didn’t have pesky work (or limited cash), I’d try them today. But in the meantime, here are the three places now at the top of my to do list:

  1. Rancho Grande, 8 Poningo Street, Port Chester, NY
    This is a little Mexican place that always seems so lonely I feel guilty not going in and trying it out. Every time I pass by, one of the owners is peering out the window like a puppy dog waiting for an owner. If for no other reason than to absolve myself of guilt, I need to try this place.
  2. Aqui es Santa Fe Cafe, 32 Broad Street, Port Chester, NY 10573 (914) 305 1060
    IMG00008-20081204-1323
    I wrote up more about this place here on Chowhound, but, briefly, it’s a nice, cozy little place for which I’m holding out a lot of promise.
  3. Keylee’s Restaurant, 11 Pearl St., Port Chester, NY
    Keylee's Guatemalteco Restaurant
    I snapped this photo as a friend and I drove down to Rinconcito Migueleño. I have no idea how long this has been around, but any place that references “guatemalteco” food is worth noticing. I’m hoping for some great hand-made tortillas. Here’s hoping.

So many places, so little time…


Mapping the best Latin food in Port Chester

I’ve decided to start using Google Maps much more to visually lay out the best food around. I’ll probably do this by topic and by location. So, first on the docket is charting all the good Latin restaurants in Port Chester. Here’s a start. This map will grow as I get around to loading it up with all the places I’ve been to. Right now, this represents about half of the places I’ve been to in PC.


Pupusa nirvana, finally

IMG00005-20081204-1249

Sometimes, you just have a hunch.

As I drove down the street a few weeks ago in search of empanadas, I passed a new addition to this restaurant-packed stretch of Westchester Ave. It’s in the same location two other restaurants have occupied in just the last year. But something about that spiffy new blue awning told me it would be great.

After my taquito experience a few days ago, I took the opportunity to walk down the street and scout the blue awning restaurant – Rinconcito Migueleño – more properly. Grabbing a card, I vowed to return as soon as I could.

So today I made my way back, nestled into my seat and took a long look at their short menu. Migueleño is a Salvadoran-Guatemalan restaurant though the menu feels more of the former than the latter.

As tacos are the quality benchmark for any Mexican taqueria, pupusas are my benchmark for any Salvadoran restaurant. So I ordered two pupusas – queso con loroco and chicharrón. I threw in a chorizo taco to check out the Guatemalan side of the menu.

The pupusas were fantastic. They had a mildly crisp exterior, not tough, heavy, chewy or greasy – the usual culprits in a sub-par pupusa. The interior was soft with a strong masa flavor. The queso con loroco pupusa is comfort food at its best: a half-inch thick masa tortilla filled with hot stringy cheese punctuated with the herby loroco. The chicharrón pupusa was equally satisfying.

The vinegary slaw and tomato sauce/salsa that accompanied the pupusas were perfect too. providing the requisite sharpness to cut the richness of the pupusas. All in all, these were the best pupusas I’ve had anywhere around these parts – and every bit on par with the great ones I had from some of the pupuserias in San Francisco’s Mission District a few weeks ago.

Needless to say, this beats its Port Chester Salvadoran neighbors – Rinconcito Salvadoreño, El Tesoro II and Pupusa Loco – hands down.

The taco, on the other hand, was a disappointment. My favorite part about Guatemalan tacos is that they are usually thick, hand made tortillas. But Migueleño’s were made with standard Mexican tortillas. And while the chorizo filling is distinctly different from a Mexican chorizo, it’s just not worth going there when the pupusas are so good and you can get truly outstanding tacos only a few doors up the road.

All told, the pupusas will set you back $1.50 each, and the tacos another $2.50 each. The best bet is to get the $6.50 special, which comes with 2 pupusas, beans and plantains.

Rinconcito Migueleno
118 Westchester Ave.,
Port Chester, NY


Scouting the best empanadas in Westchester County – an interim report

Med Empanadas - low res

Lately I’ve had a hankering to do some deep food exploration in Westchester. It has now been nearly a year since I wrote up the report for Westchester Magazine’s “Eater” blog about the State of the Taco in White Plains.

Feeling the itch to go much deeper in the exploration, I’ve decided to take it on myself to try every empanada humanly possible in Westchester County to find where – or if – greatness exists in the realm of the wonderful Latin American turnover.

As usual, I started this quest with a query to Chowhound. Based on some previous notes, and some of the suggestions coming from that thread, these are the places currently on my target list.

  • Los Andes Bakery, Sleepy Hollow, NY (map)
  • Asi es Colombia, Port Chester, NY (map)
  • Pollo Ala Brasa Misti Restaurant, Port Chester, NY (map)
  • Quimbaya, Ossining, NY (map)
  • Med, Briarcliff Manor, NY (map)
  • Chapines Deli, Mt. Kisco, NY (map)
  • Inca y Gaucho, Port Chester, NY (map)
  • Panaderia Uruguaya, Port Chester, NY (map)
  • La Nueva Puebla, White Plains, NY (map)
  • Little Paraguay Deli, White Plains, NY (map)
  • Tango Grill, White Plains, NY (map)

I know there are more places with empanadas in Westchester County (afterall, pretty much every Latin restaurant of any kind has them), but these are the ones I’m focusing on right now.

Sadly, I’m less than half way through the list. In the past three weeks, I’ve tried Panaderia Uruguaya, La Nueva Puebla, Inca y Gaucho, Los Andes Bakery and Med.

I won’t go into specific notes, but here are a few observations.

There is simply no replacing empanadas that are cooked on site. And based on my recent excursions and prior visits, only about 1/4 of the restaurants around here actually make their empanadas on site. Quality suffers dramatically as a result. Also, I’ve noticed a distinction within this phenomenon. In general, fried empanadas are made on site, while baked empanadas are cooked somewhere else. As a result, the baked empanadas are really coming up short. That’s too bad, because a great baked empanada is one of the best treats in life.

So, I’ll have much more detail to my notes in a few weeks. In the meantime, I’m sampling the untested places on my list, as well as exploring if I’ve missed some places on the list altogether. Ideas? Let me know…