As I first mentioned back on this thread I’ve been wanting to go to Rancho Grande since I first noticed it late last year. To say Rancho Grande is unassuming would be a huge understatement considering I’ve walked right by it at least 25 times over the past year without realizing it was a restaurant until a few months ago. No one goes in or out and the signage is virtually nonexistent. But my strange compulsion to try every Mexican place I see in hopes of uncovering hidden gems too over and I made a note to come back.
I finally stopped in for lunch a few weeks ago. As I expected, I was the only person in the restaurant. In fact, I wonder whether I am the only person who has ever gone to the restaurant. OK, that might be an exaggeration, I’m pretty confident I’m the only gringo to ever step foot in the place. The interior is clean but bare. To keep things simple, I ordered three tacos – chorizo, carnitas, and bistek – and followed it up with an horchata chaser.
After I made my order, the waitress quietly placed a phone call. I didn’t think much of it until two minutes later, a woman came through the door, made a comment to the waitress, and went straight to the kitchen to start making the food. Hmm… any place that needs to call their cook back to work when a customer comes in probably doesn’t do a lot of volume business. Now, in their defense, I’m guessing the cook was on her own lunch break. Nevertheless, it doesn’t dissuade my impression that customers don’t flow through their door with a lot of regularity.
The positive side of this, of course, is that the tacos (all $2.75) were freshly made and quite good. The bistek was the best with typically little chunks of thin beef steak, nicely charred from a hot griddle. The carnitas also had good flavor, and was appropriately fatty, but not as tender, rich or juicy as I would have liked. The chorizo was the weakest of the three. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary either.
So, all in all, I liked that my food was cooked to order and the food itself wasn’t bad either. But given the choice for tacos in Port Chester, I’d head 50 yards around the corner to Tortilleria Los Gemelos, where tacos are far superior, and now only $2 each.
8 Poningo St.,
Port Chester, NY 10573
(I’ve also updated my ongoing Google map of Port Chester Latin food)
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.
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:
- 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.
- Aqui es Santa Fe Cafe, 32 Broad Street, Port Chester, NY 10573 (914) 305 1060
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.
- Keylee’s Restaurant, 11 Pearl St., Port Chester, NY
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…
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.
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.
118 Westchester Ave.,
Port Chester, NY
If there’s one thing that’s in short commodity out here in the North East when it comes to Mexican food, it’s consistency. A place that is good one week seems to be terrible the next. So a restaurant or taqueria that can consistenly turn out great tacos, month after month, year after year, is a real treasure.
Which is why, of all the tacos places I’ve tried in the NY Metro area, Tortilleria Los Gemelos in Port Chester is the one I’ve been going back to most consistently since I first tried it back in 2002.
I’ve seen this place go through a lot of changes. At first – when it was named Tortilleria El Paisano (if I remember correctly) – it was just a bare-bones tortilla factory with tables and chairs that served basic taqueria food. The walls were white and bare and the ceiling looked like an old factory ceiling. Slowly they’ve transformed – painting the walls a festive color, redoing the ceiling, changing the name, expanding their menu, redesigning the seating to have permanent booths (which, by the way, are the most uncomfortable booths known to man). They’ve gotten a little more expensive, but their food has remained consistently good.
About a year ago they started offering taquitos, which are nothing more than small tacos (hence, the name), similar to what you find throughout Mexico. Since I usually order regular tacos, sopes or tortas there, I’ve avoided the taquitos. But on Tuesday this week, I decided to order three taquitos – carnitas, al pastor, and cecina.
Most importantly, the tortillas were perfect. I know they don’t hand make their tortillas, but they do “housemade” them. In other words, this place always have fresh tortillas because they make them there and you can see them running off their conveyor belt. These small tortillas were more tender, and more toothsome than I ever remember their tortillas being. They were slightly thicker and cooked to perfection on the griddle with a little oil to give them tender flavor and texture.
And the fillings were done perfectly. Their al pastor, which has never been their strong suit, was well flavored and slightly charred – a nice touch since they don’t use a spit. Their carnitas, always their best choice, was perfectly tender, moist and flavorful without any hint dryness. And yet, it wasn’t overly rich either. And the cecina taco was good too, though not as memorable as the other two.
So, while Los Gemelos isn’t new by any stretch, it’s good to know that some places are still producing great Mexican food, seven years on.
Tortilla Los Gemelos
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…