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Aug 29, 1997 04:18 PM

Hell's Kitchen/9th Ave.

  • d

I stopped at Island Burger yesterday to pick up a chicken sandwich at Island Burger and had to wait for more than 15 minutes, so I took a walk around the area. In the past, I've eaten only at Afghan restaurants and IB, but was intrigued by the many choices within a few blocks of 51st and 9th.
Among the many interesting choices were Uncle Nick's (Greek), Rice and Beans (Brazilian), Old San Juan (Puerto Rican) and many others. What would folks recommend?


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  1. rice and beans ain't bad...they serve Bahian
    stuff, which is very rare. I like Caravan a lot
    (can't compare with Queens places--like Speen
    Gar--but that's true of most every cuisine).

    I get bad vibes from the looks of uncle nick's and
    old san juan...they both seem too touristy.

    how was island burger?

    6 Replies
    1. re: Jim Leff
      Dave Feldman

      I've got good news to report on almost every front.

      Went to Uncle Nick's on Friday (and not before reading the review in the lastest edition of Robert Sietsema's invaluable "Good & Cheap Ethnic Eats in NYC" (is that a good enough plug? Oh yeah, only $16 and published by City & Company and available at fine bookstores near you -- and maybe even in nonfine bookstores).

      Uncle Nick's touristy? No, not in the least, IMO. It is a neighborhood joint, despite its looks. And it is typically Greek in some annoying ways. The service was absolutely horrendous. It took forever for anyone to wait on us, and yet the folks next to us, who sat after us, we being served an array of cool stuff. Meanwhile, gaggles of waiters seem to be occupied with an impromptu group therapy session.

      Still, I'd go back in a second. They DO know how to grill. The octopus and especially the grilled calamari (which was a special) were absolutely superb, and the garlicky roast potatoes that accompanied the fish were platonic in their perfection. The usual appetizer spreads were good, but unremarkable.

      Went to Old San Juan the next night. It's a little wan inside, but the food was remarkably good: the two of us had the Pasteles appetizer (what they call Puerto Rican tamales), which were fine, and split the Chicken "Puerto Rico" (moist, garlicky fried chicken) and best of all, the Asopao Camarones, or what they translate as "Shrimp Gumbo," which was a wet paella. It was tremendously flavorful, and the chicken or pigeon pea asopaos are great bargains at $8.25. You get a tub of food.

      The bread pudding was only so-so.

      Island Burgers is a treat, although I always have eaten the chicken rather than the hamburgers. I usually get the Bourbon Street, which is blackened chicken with all kinds of extra cholesterol added. It's great junk food, but the bread that ordinarily accompanies it is a soft sourdough bread that makes it impossible to eat with the hands. So I pay 50 cents extra for the harder ciabetta and am happier for the difference. The service folks there are funny and kind, and I've heard great things about both the burgers and shakes, neither of which I've had yet.

      This is a great food neighborhood.


      1. re: Dave Feldman

        "Uncle Nick's touristy? No, not in the least, IMO."

        remember, Dave, that I live in I'm
        pretty curmudgeonly about Manhattan Greek places. But
        this sounds great. I NEED platonic potatoes (did I
        ever tell you about my favorite dialectical pizza?)

        Old San Juan has pasteles, gandules, and asapao, huh?
        wow...real 'Eican food! Hard to find these days...

        "The bread pudding was only so-so"

        ...and properly so!

        Ok, I'm excited. Gotta go to all three places.
        Somehow I missed them in Robert's book...

      2. re: Jim Leff

        I work on 52nd & 10th so I frequent many 9th Ave.
        places. Uncle Nicks kebabs at lunch are a good value.(
        Avoid matinee day ). Good roasted chicken w/rice &
        beans at Old San Juan. For a little more upscale dining
        at a very reasonable price in a funky atmosphere try
        Julians at 53rd @ 9th. Hallo Berlin on 51st just west
        of 9th is also a good bargain with fresh dishes and
        great wursts. Just opened on 10th Ave @ 54th is a
        branch of the Burritoville chain. Had a HUGE Chicken
        burrito that was satisfying and fresh. Go explore !

        1. re: J.Knoesel

          I have to second JK on Hallo Berlin. The decor ain't
          much (think patio tables with umbrellas, but indoors),
          but it's kind of fun in its own way. The wursts are a
          great deal, especially if ordered as sandwiches.

          1. re: J.Knoesel

            I just came from attmepting to havelunch at Hallo Berlin with four co-workers. Although the restaurant was not busy, and we were seated immediately we waited over 1 hour and 15 mintues to be served only to find out that the chicken four of us had ordered was completely raw. The table of four that arrived about 15 minutes after we did - was served and had their check before we ever saw any food. Needless to say we explained the problem and walked out. The staff was not apologetic whatsoever and offerred no form of compensation. We will never go back and I recommend everyone do the same. PS I was the stupid one who didn't look at my chicken before I ate a bite. Salmonella here I come.

            1. re: susan

              Ug! Of course the question is, did you leave a tip?