Reading Eric Azimov's review in todays times made me
jump in my car after work and head out to Corona for
tacos. I'm glad to report that an Al Pastor, Beef and
Chorizo taco, washed down with two Jarrito's lime
sodas were as delicious as reported and came to a
grand total of $8.50. There were many other types of
tacos and tortas and the people next to me were eating
some mean looking chile rellenos. I'll be back.
As Eric himself would, I'm sure, be the first to admit, La Espiga ain't exactly a scoop (I wrote about it in Newsday four years ago, and it's been recommended in a number of books)...but it IS a real good place (there's a branch in Astoria that's also good; the two branches excel at different kinds of things).
Glad to hear they finally got their al pastor together; there's a long and tragic tale there...which I'll tell if anyone's interested.
re: Steve Plotnicki
"Sorry Jim, I wasn't trying to imply that Eric "scooped" you"
woops...and _I_ didn't mean to imply that it was I who got the scoop...Sylvia Carter and Robert Sietsema both also wrote it up at more or less the same time I did.
I ain't carping, either...Asimov's gotten some really good scoops lately, too. And since many of his readers didn't know about the place, I think it was absolutely a great idea for him to write it up.
I just wanted to make the point that this isn't a new chow "find" (and mostly just wanted to make the point that there's an Astoria branch...and to try to get y'all to want to hear the al pastor story).
Oh, one other thing--La Espiga makes panbasos, an ultra-rare treat available in only a tiny handful of local mexican restaurants; chorizo's fried with potatoes and a torta roll is fried along with the combo until it gets red and crunchy. You stuff the roll with the chorizo/potatoes and top with lettuce, cheese, and cream. Unbelievable.
re: pat hammond
"What's the al pastor story?"
oh, ok...since you asked (gg)...
Years ago, La Espiga hired a guy, Hernesto (I believe they brought him directly from Mexico) to cook al pastor.
For those who don't know, al pastor is a dish brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants: it's just like shwarma, gyro, or donner...shaggy logs of meat spinning over--or in front of--a heat source (ideally charcoal or wood flames, but usually either gas flame or electric heater element). There's an art to doing it right--not everyone knows how, it's very labor intensive, and the rotisserie machine costs a bunch, so very few restaurants here bother to make it. One distinctive mark of Mexican al pastor is the pineapple riding atop the meat. Border Mexicans spice the stuff subtly, but, further south, varying amounts of red adobo-type seasonings are added (which detract from the meaty purity, as far as I'm concerned)
Anyway, for a short while Hernesto made notable al pastor at La Espiga (which was at the time one of the best mexican restaurants in NY. It's still very good, though these days you can do even better). One day, he was gone. Gave no notice to the restaurant, just stopped showing up. The La Espiga owner was gracious about it, telling me he'd heard that Hernesto had opened his own restaurant, and he had no hard feelings for anyone trying to go into business and pursue his dream.
After extensive searching, I finally found the place, "Hernesto's" in East Harlem. Delighted, I screeched my chowmobile to a halt and went in. No al pastor ("it's coming in a few weeks"), but I sat down and ate a really not good meal.
Since then, I've been waiting and waiting for Hernesto to get an al pastor machine, but years have gone by and I suppose it's just not gonna happen. Apparently he's eeking out a living with bad tacos and tortas. It strikes me as slightly tragic: the king of New York al pastor, who was cooking in a landmark Mexican restaurant, quit it all to do shoddy work in an anonymous joint, forsaking the skill that made him great.
Anyway, Steve Plotnicki reports that La Espiga has finally found a new al pastor guy (no word about it in Asimov's review, however). I've heard he's pretty good, but haven't been by lately, especially since there's another La Espiga branch less than a mile from my apartment.
re: Jim Leff
re: Lisa Antinore
We just returned from La Espiga in Corona and had a
wonderful and incredibly cheap lunch. The tacos al
pastor were the best we have ever had -- succulent and
perfectly seasoned. The only disappointement was the
quesadilla with zucchinni blossoms. They tasted
canned, no surprise, I guess, given the season.
re: Alan Divack
Made my pilgrimage to La Espiga in Corona today after
the Blues Brothers 2000 with the kids. The tacos al
pastor will have me heading to Corona more often. One
question, the counterman added pieces of the pineapple
which sits atop the pork to the grill as he was
preparing my tacos, since these were my first al
pastors, are they always made like that?
re: Jim Leff
Sounds like serious chowhound territory. I'm definetly
going to check it out. Why did E.A. stick Azuri Cafe
into an article about Latin take-out? Couldn't figure
that one out.
As I stated in my posting of 11/23/97 in What's My
Craving? Ezra Cohen is serving up some nice chow in his
closet sized cafe in Hell's Kitchen. If you are into al
pastor you have to check out Ezra's shwarma. I have at
least one or two a week.
If you go tell Ezra Mr. Shwarma sent you.
re: Jim Leff
Jim-we should have an offline at La Espiga. Let's pick
a day/evening where we all meet there and order/try
everything in sight. With 10-12 people, we could plow
through the entire menu. As for La Espiga II, I have
been there on a number of occasions and it is nowhere
as good as this one. In my opinion.
re: Steve Plotnicki
"As for La Espiga II, I have been there on a number of occasions and it is nowhere as good as this one"
The owner of the Espigas (he also owns a pan-latino bread shop on broadway just west of steinway) is a real wheeler-dealer, and he keeps tweaking and changing. The Corona and Astoria stores keep switching position in this horse race...for over a year, the Corona one was pretty mediocre while the Astoria thrived. Lately, Astoria's the second runner. It's very confusing. But the things I like (panbasos, the huitlacoche on weekends, enchiladas suizas) are pretty consistently good in Astoria. But it's hard to make a general rule (I'm presently angsting over how to present these places in my book)
As for the get-together idea, y'all go ahead. I'm eating 3-4 restuarant meals per day for the book, and can't even think of a purely recreational eat for another month and a half (yikes...the deadline's closing in...)
Last night, a friend and I decided to try out the Astoria location. Let's say things didn't go well.
It was relatively early in the evening but they were out of the first couple of things that my friend wanted to try -- he eventually ordered the enchiladas suizas which he said were very good. I stuck with my original order of pambazo. It was OK but nothing special I found.
The waitress [essentially] refused to serve us tap water by saying it was "dirty". She made rather a production about it with the cooks along the lines of "THESE guys want TAP water!" She then tried to interest me in buying a bottle of Mexican water; I tactfully said I wasn't interested as it was carbonated only. So we went without water -- my friend broke down and bought a small bottle at a grocer nearby after we left.
While we waited for our food, we were entertained watching several roaches scamper through the bread display case until the waitress ended the show by smooshing them with her fingers.
I am willing (though not soon) to give the Corona place a try. My friend is dead set against the idea.
re: John Speer
hmmm...I started reading your message with great interest, since it's been over a year since I've eaten in the Astoria branch and I thought maybe you'd be reporting that it'd gone downhill. But it seems that--in spite of passing quickly by your friend's enjoyment of his enchiladas--you guys had a good meal (perhaps you just don't like pambazos...they're not to everyone's taste). As for reluctance to serve tap water, that happens in many places in Manhattan, and while it pisses me off there, too, I'm not so shocked that a Mexican place would follow the trend. They charge little enough for their food, so they're apparently desperate to get people to spring for soda and stuff (otherwise probably 75% of the customers here would probably ask for water). I mind that a lot less than when I'm paying $35/head in Midtown and am given pressure to spring for San Pellegrino.
as for the roach...it's funny, you never hear people reporting roaches in places they LIKE. It's always the final slur finishing a negative critique. Understand this, everybody: in every restaurant (even "nice" ones...even Lutece) you're either dining with roaches or with pesticide. Either is unpleasant. If you think about what goes on in a kitchen (food scraps and water EVERYWHERE, at least during meals, even if the place is thoroughly cleaned afterward), you'll realize that either pests or chemicals are necessary. And in some ways I prefer the former...pesticides are ghastly, and must be laid on frequently, super-thick, and EVERYWHERE to nuke every single critter in such an environment.
I'm grossed out when I see 'em, too, but it's a fact of life. Mankind hasn't yet managed to completely seal nature outside the bubble yet. And--one last cheery note--bugs are NOT the biggest health threat one faces in restaurants. Not by a longshot.
yech...back to food, please!