Aires de Colombia in White Plains

It took me a year from the time I first wrote this restaurant in my notebook to when I actually tried it, but at least I got there.

I first noticed Aires de Colombia while driving around aimlessly looking for Empanadas during my Empanada trek last year. I took note of it, but just didn’t have a chance to try it.

I finally went for lunch today. I was alone so my samplings were small, but I was very pleased with my meal.

I started off with my must-have Colombian drink, guanabana con leche. Man, I love that drink. I was a bit cash poor today, so I ordered only a few empanadas, then an appetizer of chorizo that came with an arepa con queso.

empanada from aires colombia restaurant-1 I actually ordered two empanadas. One came out immediately and had obviously been fried before I got there. It was still very good – a fat four-inch half moon with a crunchy orange crust, filled full of beef and some potato. And unlike so many Colombian empanadas, Aires’ empanada filling had a very high meat-to-potato ratio. When the second empanada came out – freshly fried, it was that much better. A great texture to the crackling crisp orange corn-based dough. At $1 each, you could easily leave there dropping only $2 for empanadas and feel satisfied.

choriz con arepa y queso with empanada at aires colombia-1 The chorizo and arepa came next ($3). Nice sausage. Lots of flavor, a bit of a spicy kick even, in what seemed to be a natural casing. All in all, quite pleasant, if not extraordinary. Similarly, the arepa was quite good. As is typical with Colombian arepas, it came flat , sprinkled with queso fresco. The arepa had a nice slight char on the outside from the griddle, but, importantly, inside it was pillowy soft with a a strong corn/hominy flavor and aroma once you bite into it. Coupled with the quite piquant vinegary salsa they offer, it was a good meal. Including the guanabana con leche, which was $3, my meal set me back $10.

It’s a nice addition to the long list of Colombian restaurants in Westchester.

Aires de Colombia Restaurant
64 W. Post Road,
White Plains, NY


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.


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…


Sunshine Deli now has tlacoyos!

Went by for lunch today and was about to order some tacos. But I saw a plate of, what looked like Tlacoyos. So I asked the guy behind the counter and he said they have them as a special fairly frequently. This is good news – I haven’t had tlacoyos out here in the tristate area. I’m sure they sell them somewhere – I just haven’t noticed.

Tlacoyos are sort of like huaraches, but thicker and smaller. Sort of a hybrid between a huarache and a Salvadoran pupusa. It’s a thick masa, stuffed with beans or chicharron, then flattened and griddle fried.

Sunshine’s were very good. Mine were filled with refried beans, slathered with their chipotle salsa, cotija cheese and topped with chicken (on my first) and beef (on my second). Very good. Crisp edges, chewy interior. I didn’t ask if they had chicharron, but probably should have. They were $2.50 each.

Like some of the other great food at Sunshine, it doesn’t appear on their menu. The problem there is that their specials aren’t listed anywhere, and there’s no regularity to when they make them (cochinita pibil is a perfect case in point). So when you go, just be sure to ask what their specials are.

[originally posted on chowhound]


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]


My Sunset Deli love affair continues – oaxacan tamales!

Sunshine Deli is just amazing. I know I’ve talked about them a lot already, but each time I go, I find new surprises.

This time, it was Oaxacan tamales (oaxaqueños). While these are not the best Oaxacan tamales I’ve ever had, just the fact that Sunshine Deli in White Plains sells them puts them in a different category altogether. I can’t remember what other tamales they have, I haven’t tried them yet, but I believe they also had rajas con queso, chicken and pork.

Anyhow, for anyone willing to venture there, here’s my summary of what to order:

Tacos

  • Cochinita Pibil. (achiote paste rubbed pork shoulder, roasted in banana leaves). I’ve only seen them there twice in the 10 or so times I’ve been there, but if they have them, DEFINITELY get them. Awesome.
  • Al pastor. It’s thin, deep-red chile/adobo marinated pork that is roasted on a vertical spit. It’s accompanied with pineapple. Very good.
  • Asada. Tasty beef, accompanied either by guacamole or sliced avocado, depending on the day. Good.
  • Carnitas. Quite good, though not as good as Los Gemelos in Port Chester or Michoacano in New Rochelle.
  • Chorizo. This was just OK in my opinion. Could be better.
  • Pollo. Also just OK, but it depends on what kind of chicken they’ve made that day.

Other goodies

  • Quesadilla con huitlacoche. Quesadilla made with corn masa, filled with oaxacan cheese (i think at least) and that wonderful inky black huitlacoche. I don’t know of another place around that sells anything with huitlacoche (the black truffle-like fungus that grows on corn).
  • Albondigas. Mexican meatballs in a rich chipotle-based broth. Excellent. These are the traditional mexican meatballs – with rice and hard boiled egg. Very satisfying on a cold day.
  • Oaxacan tamales. See above, but these are a treat. They aren’t superb, but they are the only ones to be found anywhere outside of brooklyn and queens.
  • Huaraches. Their huaraches are good, but not as great as some of the other foods there.
  • Tortas. These too are good. I like their carnitas torta, but, like the carnitas tacos, I think you can find better tortas around. But still very good.

Salsa
This comes with anything you buy, but their house salsa is a great smoky chipotle salsa. Awesome stuff with deep flavor. Got some kick, but not overwhelming and lots of complexity. Great with everything they sell.

Here’s the address:

Sunshine Deli
31 Lake St, White Plains, NY 10603, USA

[Originally posted on Chowhound]