Many of my best dining experiences never make it to the page: If an eating establishment doesn’t merit a first look, dish of the week, point on a map, or paragraph in a feature story, it often disappears. Those fleeting encounters with restaurants are often the most enjoyable. Accordingly, I resolved to keep an informal diary reflecting my unvarnished daily experiences. Here’s the sixth installment and here’s last week’s edition.
Owner and Iranian Navy veteran Ray Alvarez survived a brutal attack recently but is recovering and again working the fryers in the back of Ray’s Candy Store, the cherished soda fountain that he took over in 1974, but which is doubtlessly much older judging by the vintage soda pulls and a green linoleum counter so old and worn it looks like a photo of a supernova. As you probably know, the former newsstand and continuing soda fountain —famous for its classic chocolate egg creams — is now foremost a frying emporium, as hand-lettered signs plastered on every square inch of the interior attest.
You can get their signature fried Oreos, and even a hot dog or two, but my favorite is their french fries, which Ray is pleased to identify as Belgian. They are often twice fried, but they are served with a paper coffee cup of ketchup rather than fritessaus. At $7, they may seem a little expensive — until you see the size of the carryout container, which you should carry across the street to Tompkins Square Park. If you can’t get into Superiority Burger just up the block, this is a great vegan alternative. 113 Avenue A, between 7th Street and St. Marks Place, East Village
A new stretch to snack
Some of you may remember when the LIRR underpass on Flushing’s Main Street was lined with windows selling snacks seemingly aimed at railroad travelers, things you could hold in your hand and nibble without much mess: scallion pancakes the size of dinner plates fried to order and folded in a glassine envelope, steamed bao bulging not only with char siu pork but with fillings like mustard greens and salted egg yolk, and fish balls on a stick in several flavors.
When renovation banished the windows a couple of years ago, I mourned their loss, but now a similar collection of vendors has appeared on the block of Roosevelt Avenue just west of Main on the north side of the street. I snacked my way down it recently and here are a few of the things I ate.
Lao Jie Shi Fang (135-45 Roosevelt Avenue) sports a black awning that reads: “Main business: fried buns, fried dumplings, breakfast. Attached: spicy hot pot, noodles.” Indeed the display of buns, sausages, and skewered items like turnip cakes and fish balls in buckets is so beguiling that I was drawn to the window like a pair of plyers to a magnet. A few types of plump pink links were available, labeled Taiwanese sausages ($3), and I chose the one dusted with red spice powder. The worker behind the counter grabbed one with a gloved hand and thrust it onto a wooden stick. It was grainy and porky, with maybe a little star anise flavor — and irresistible.
Later, as I passed the stall again working my way uphill, I grabbed the squarish pastry popular in northern China sometimes called chive box (jiu cai he zi). Its stout outer crust is something like an empanada and bursts with scrambled eggs and flowering chives for a very pungent taste sensation ($3). Next door is a stall called Jojo Duck, with all sorts of duck parts — feet, wings, and such, displayed in the window — flavored with a spice mixture.
A little further downhill find Kwafood Fried Skewer (135-05 Roosevelt Avenue), which allows you to pick ingredients from the window that are then fried or steamed, including corn on the cob, tubular rice cakes, green-stemmed cauliflower, and white sweet potato. If you’re looking for something healthy, this may be the window to hit. 135-45 to 135-05 Roosevelt Avenue, near Main Street, Flushing
An Ethiopian Eritrean truck parks at Columbia University
There has always been a line of food trucks parked right on Broadway around Columbia University’s main gate. Seven years ago many of the carts were Chinese, now there’s a real international mix. My favorite currently is Makina, a bright yellow truck fielded by Eden G. Egziabher that sells Ethiopian and Eritrean food of very high quality.
The menu forces you to assemble dishes by selecting from columns; luckily there are no bad choices. Always have the food with injera rather than rice. I picked chicken tibs with collard greens and the red lentil stew called misir. All the components were relatively spicy, and this isn’t one of those places that holds back on account of tender-tongued consumers. There are sauces, too, but you can do without them. At $16, it’s one hell of a great plate of food. Broadway and 115th Street, Morningside Heights