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.

Omar Restaurant (Comida Peruana Omar) in Stamford


This little Peruvian restaurant is in the same space formerly occupied by Rolando’s Tacos, which closed back in 2004 (sniff), and then Al’s Texas Chili, which closed in 2007-ish (hooray). Sitting next door to the Guatemalan Antojitos Chapines and just up the hill from the Mexican Casa Villa, it forms a nice trifecta of Latin food in this little corner of Stamford.

Ever since it opened about a year ago, I’ve been meaning to stop in and see how it fares compared with some of the other Peruvian places in Stamford. I decided to try the Peruvian standard, Lomo Saltado ($7) and was very impressed. The beef was freshly cooked, served piping hot with the usual stir-fried onions and tomatoes, topped with fresh cilantro, all sitting atop a huge mound of rice and french fries. Overall, this lomo saltado was quite good. A bit salty, but certainly up to par with any other lomo saltado in Stamford. Oh, and don’t fret when they bring you a red ketchup bottle. It’s actually filled with that wonderful spicy green aji sauce.

The restaurant has English menus, which is good because as far as I can tell, the staff speaks none. But the nice older lady manning the counter was very attentive and endearingly sweet. I’d like to go back and try all the other options on their menus, which seems to cover all the usual Peruvian suspects (Lomo saltado, pollo saltado, papas a la huancaina, caldo de gallina, pollo ala brasa, etc., etc….).

Definitely worth a return visit.

Some Thoughts on Jamaican in Fairfield and Westchester Counties

So, over time I’ve tried a lot (certainly not all) of the Jamaican places in lower FF county (Norwalk to Greenwich) and a few in Westchester as well (mostly around the White Plains area).

I’ll list them below, but here’s my question… are there any truly good beef patties out there? I liked the ones at le petit pattisserie (sp?) in WP before it closed, though I still didn’t think they were tremendous. But even at places that have good jamaican otherwise, I have found all their patties to be average. What’s worse is that a lot of the places are selling pre-made patties. Where can you get a great beef patty around here north of the city? (or in manhattan for that matter… but I’ll repost there)

Anyhow, here’s my list of places.

Ruth’s (White Plains)
I was tipped off on this place 3 or 4 years ago on this board. Thanks to whoever that was. They have really great jerk chicken and pork (when they have it). Shockingly, their chicken isn’t dried out… very flavorful, with some kick (could be more). Patties are OK (see above). I need to try more there though. I’m a creature of habit.

Top of the Hill (Stamford)
Best Jerk in Stamford… maybe the best in FF county. Ever since they redid the place a few years ago, their food has improved. It’s probably been 8 months since I last went there, so I’m hoping that it remains unchanged. Their jerk has great flavor and great kick. Long live the scotch bonnet.

Caribbean Market (Stamford)
This used to be the best jerk anywhere around… until about 4 years ago. Not sure what happened, but it never recovered. I still wish I could get the jerk pork like they used to serve… it was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in CT in the 8 years I’ve been here. Now their jerk is just OK (only chicken and fish, I believe). However, I do still really like their goat curry. Highlighy recommended. Plus, I’ve liked their patties better than Top of the Hill… and you can get them with coco bread.

Jeff’s Southern Cuisine (Norwalk)
This is a actually a southern BBQ place. But I don’t like their BBQ there much at all. However, he does a really good jerk chicken. It’s cooked in their smoker (I’m presuming since it has a nice smokiness to it) and the jerk rub is very good. It’s a dry rub and it makes the chicken.

So, that’s my list. I’ve tried a few others too (e.g., Scotty’s in Stamford), but these are my places. But what about yours? What am I missing? Where else should I try? And… if course… where can I get a GREAT beef patty?

  • K & S Top of the Hill
    114 W Broad St Stamford CT
  • Brown’s Caribbean Market
    135 W Main St Stamford CT
  • Ruth’s Jamaican Hot & Cold Deli
    255 Battle Ave White Plains NY
  • Jeff’s Cuisine
    54 N Main St Norwalk CT

[Originally posted on Chowhound]

El Charrito: Taco truck in Stamford. We have arrived!

I take back all my badmouthing of Stamford’s Mexican places. I take back my cursing of Mexican food in general in Connecticut. And, temporarily, I take back all the bad things I’ve muttered about living in this cold Mexican wasteland these past 7 years.

At least for now

Because today as I was doing errands, I found El Charrito, a taco truck parked in West Stamford.

I actually first ate at this truck about a year ago. I saw it parked in the Shop Rite parking lot and had a good taco. Then I never saw it again.

Today, I drove by and slammed on my breaks when I saw it parked there. It’s hard to miss – a big yellow truck with a big old sign on the side that says, “El Charrito.”

The husband and wife that own the truck are extremely friendly. The wife, a Stateside born Puerto Rican, who speaks perfect english takes the orders and will help you navigate what’s good that particular day. The husband, from Mexico, does all the cooking. And he’s good.

Today I had a huarache with carnitas. Man, it was awesome. Not just passable, but truly good. Think of a huarache as a thick tortilla, pan fried, about a foot long and 5 inches wide, topped with black refried beans, meat of your choice, shredded lettuce, crema and salsa. Man it was good. the carnitas was good and tender (not as rich as the best carnitas, but better than any other that I’ve had in Stamford). The huarache is all hand made from fresh masa, as are the sopes. For only $4.50, the huarache makes a great lunch. As far as I know, it’s the only place in Stamford that sells huaraches.

Huaraches and sopes were the special today.

Their regular items include tacos, tortas hot dogs, hamburgers, quesadillas, etc. Plus, they have horchata too. Tacos are $2.50… not sure what some of the other items are priced. They also sell something called sincronisadas, which is something like a big old ham, cheese, beans quesadilla.

They said they are there from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. And, you can call ahead and order your food so it’s ready when you get there. 203-940-0922.

They said the truck is parked in the same spot each day – across from Sachs Plumbing, on the side of that triangular jackie robinson park. For the address below, I’m going to approximate…

I hope it’s as good next time I go.

[Originally posted on Chowhound]

Casa Villa in Stamford – An Update

I thought I had posted about this, but apparently hadn’t. not enough sleep in this household, clearly.

anyhow, I finally made it back to casa villa for the first time since they reopened following a car going through their front window.

See, I’ve been going to casa villa for at least 7 years, when it was called Favi’s. I actually think it was better then, but all along the problem with this place is that it’s so darned inconsistent. I’ve actually had a few great tacos, mostly mediocre, and some decidedly poor ones there. But, even given that, if someone pins me down and asks where to go for tacos in Stamford, I’m afraid I still have to answer Casa Villa (oh how I miss rolando’s). (oh, and while ole mole has some good things – albeit tailored to an american palate – their tacos totally suck).

So, I was hopeful that following the reopening, Casa Villa would have upped their game in the kitchen. So, with the middle daughter (4 yrs old) in tow, we went there a few weeks ago. I ordered two tacos – al pastor and carnitas – and my daughter ordered a chicken taco.

The al pastor taco wasn’t bad. It was a little overly salty, which always ticks me off. Mexican places do this to al pastor to compensate for the fact that they are using a weak adobo for the pork. It was pretty good, but being a little overly salty really annoys me.

I honestly can’t remember my carnitas taco. That means that it was OK, but not great. Around here, an OK carnitas isn’t a bad thing, frankly.

But I have to say I was pretty surprised with the chicken taco. It wasn’t dry at all and had really good flavor. Shocking. I NEVER order chicken tacos because those two things never seem to come about. But I found myself pawning my al pastor taco on my 4 year old while I ate her chicken taco (dad’s prerogative). Though, she got the better of me when she spilled her water on my taco. so there you go.

Anyhow, Casa Villa remains as it always has been. A decent local place for an authentic taco. Just don’t expect the same taco from visit to visit. But if my last visit was a guide, go for chicken.

Some day before I leave this part of the country to head back home to my motherland (so. cal) I will see a great taqueria pop up in Stamford… even if I have to open it myself. Until then, I’ll go to casa villa… or, actually, drive down to Port Chester.