I found myself in Chelsea for a late lunch today, and
wanted to do it cheap, so I tried Sam Chinita on 8th
and 19th. I had vaca frita, which I think literally
means fried cow, and which was very good. It was
tender piece of braised beef, a stringy cut like flank
or brisket, which was fried to carmelize it and make it
crusty, and then topped with stir fried peppers and
onions. (It needed a bit of salt, but nothing that a
sprinle of soy couldn't cure.) It came with nicely
cooked white rice (grains separate, but not greasy, and
not from converted rice) and delicious porky black
beans, some of the best that I have had in a while.
Quite a bargain at $5.75.
The best place to compare it to is the Upper WEst
Side's La Caridad, and Sam Chinita came out way ahead,
based on this admittedly limited sample. Caridad's
beans and rice are inferior, and their vaca frita is
tough, almost desiccated, and topped with some chopped
garlic that tastes like it is straight from the jar. I
love La Caridad's version, but I know that my affection
for it cannot be rational. Also, the depressed minimal
diner decor at Sam Chinita was a pleasant (?) change
from the ruthless glare of La Caridad. The cafe con
leche wasn't as good , though.
I have been a big fan of this place back to the days
that it was called "Mi Chinita" (some family breakup
involved, I think; there is now another "Chinita"
right up the street), though I don't get there often.
When I do, I go for the tripe, which is great,
among the best tripe dishes in town, soft and chewy in
a winey tomato sauce.