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…
I was heading to lunch elsewhere in Port Chester today, but when I saw that the old Los Paisanos place was now gone and in its place was a new, bright little brazilian place, I slammed on my brakes, made an illegal u-turn and headed there for lunch (thank me later for sacrificing my life on a rainy afternoon for the sake of my chowhound friends…).
The place does a good little lunch buffet for $3.99 a pound. The buffet is about 10 feet long, with about 4 or 5 different salads, about 4 entree type dishes, and the standard, rice, beans and soups.
I got some good roast pork, a nice herb-y cabbage salad, rice, beans (pinto, not black), pork, some pasta, chicken, etc. I tried to sample as much as I could. The best way I’d describe this is brazilian comfort food. It was nice, homey food that was very satisfying for lunch. Plus, my dinner, plus a can of guarana was less than $6.
The pork had great flavor, if a bit overcooked. The chicken was very good. The beans, sprinkled with farofa, was earthy and comforting – perfect for the cold, rainy day.
They didn’t have feijoada, but they said that they make it on Saturdays.
Anyhow, it’s a nice little place. I wouldn’t call it a destination place, by any means, but nice brazilian comfort food akin to what you find at Brasil Cafe on Main. I haven’t been there in quite some time, but it would be worthwhile to do a side by side compare…
Hmm. That’s a good idea. I think I have my marching orders for the coming week…
Brazileirinho Cafe Restaurant
118 Westchester Ave., Port Chester, NY 10573
[originally published on Chowhound]