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Are there only 5 chowhounds? Why are Spicy Mina and Kebab Cafe empty?

  • f

I don’t get it. There seem to be three restaurants that chowhounds always love: Sripraphai (64-13 39th Ave, closed Wednesday), Spicy Mina (64-23 Broadway), and Kebab Café (25-12 Steinway St., closed Monday). And yet eight times out of ten, two of the three are empty (Sripraphai being the busy exception).

Kebab Café has so little business I don’t think it can survive much longer (despite the fact that the food is better than ever).

Spicy Mina is wonderful. But tonight we were the only ones there. It was delicious. We ordered far too much food—somewhat on purpose, but the portions are now much bigger than they used to be (with proportional prices to match). It’s still a wonderful bargain. And even if it weren’t…. everything is outstanding: Somosa Chat, Halim (saucy lamb and ginger dish), and Mustard Fish. The fish was the standout! Deep fried fish smothered in a onion and mustard seed and ginger sauce (perhaps?).

The food was wonderful. The bill was $78. We were three, but we ordered food for 7–8. We have a lot of food left to eat.

But Spicy Mina was empty. How can that be? And why should I ever eat alone at Kebab Café (of course, with Ali, you’re never really alone)? How can Chowhounds not support two of the three best places in Queens, perhaps all of New York?

Are people afraid they’re too busy? They’re not. Do people think these great chefs are already rich? I doubt it. Do you think such great food will always be there for you? Not if they don’t have business! Go out on a weeknight and spend your money for good food. For those who haven’t been to either… expect great food but have patience. Neither of these places are “professional” in the Manhattan sense. They’re both small places with character and great food you can’t get anywhere else.

Go to Spicy Mina and Kebab Café. They need us. And think of how sad we’ll be if they close.

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  1. I live in Queens, and I've personally tried to go to Spicy MIna's........the ONLY problem for me is that I must have plenty of time to wait, and I can't be overly hungry b/c the wait was long........and I KNOW it's because the food is freshly prepared.........and, delicious!!!!!!........as for the others, I've never been. I will though........

    4 Replies
    1. re: Devi

      If you're the only one dining in Mina's, the wait is only 15 minutes while your food cooks.

      1. re: Brian S

        perhaps there are other restaurants in queens, that are just as good, if not better, in more convenient locations than these 3 restuarants?

        1. re: hb
          James L. Rogan

          Spicy Mina convenient for many Queens folk, I should think--it like 30 feet away from the 65 ST subway exit on the R,V,G (G at night/weekend). As far as the difference in 'crowds' between it and Sriphraphri, 'Mina' is a new restaurant, while Srip has been around for a decade (and probably more?), so it makes little sense to compare the two (as far as crowds go)...

          1. re: James L. Rogan

            And Sri probably still does 70% business to Thai patrons, while the only non-Chowhound I've ever seen in probably a dozen visits to Mina's workplaces was a Nepali family at the original Mina. So I'd imagine Spicy Mina is probably 90% chowhound/eGullet and 10% locals...

    2. There is plenty of restaurant business in Queens. There are more than two million of us, after all, plus the odd dozen or so who intrepidly forage from Brooklyn and the City looking for good food. I still wonder why Chowhounds can’t support their own.

      True, everybody doesn’t love Mina, but enough people do. And you’d think that all the interesting posts would make everybody keen to try it. And sure, the food might take awhile to come (just as you might have to wait at Kebab Café), but these places aren’t In-N-Out Burger.

      All meals should be approached with time and a good attitude. Neither Mina nor Ali (at Kebab Café) will ever rush you out the door after your meal. And if you have to wait, you can’t beat the price of drinks when you’ve brought your own.

      Sure the unique and perhaps negative qualities of a place are worth a comment, but, if the food is great, I don’t have too much sympathy for people who complain about a place’s “personality.” One can always find a “nice” and “proper” place in Zagat. And I can’t help but think that many of the people (not Chowhounds, of course) who complain about waiting for food after they order don’t mind if they’re forced to wait before being sat in the first place.

      If you’re really in a rush or will simply fall-out if you don’t get food in your system within a half hour, perhaps dinner for six at Spicy Mina isn’t the best plan. But too many people (again, present company excluded) complain about waiting because they feel like it’s disrespectful. Or they’re no longer in control. Or “it’s just not right.”

      Isn’t Chowhounds about going out and seeking out good food? I mean, you can always get Chinese take-out delivered in a flash. But then you’d be eating mediocre wonton soup and fried frozen egg rolls for dinner.

      Spicy Mina is literally steps from the 65th Street Subway stop on the R and V (and sometimes G). So that makes it easy to get to from Queens and Manhattan (and sometimes Brooklyn).

      Kebab Café is a medium walk from the Astoria Blvd (N, W) and Steinway stops (R and V and sometimes G). And it’s a very interesting walk down Steinway Street.

      1 Reply
      1. re: fotaq

        Well, I'm in Tulsa now for the next few months, otherwise I'd be at Mina's tonight. One reason I went less often than I'd like is that if I wasn't looking my best I'd be scared I'd run into other chowhounds.

      2. Spicy Mina's positive reputation on Chowhound is hardly universal. There are plenty of Chowhounds with disappointing experiences there, with complaints about quality, consistency, value, and timeliness- just like any normal restaurant. And those reviews have been posted here...I've been there once myself. It was a good value for lunch and a few of the items were very good. But several were not (the curries were horrible). The place was empty and the food took a long time to arrive... As we all know, restaurants compete for our attention across several dimensions. Fortunately or unfortunately, reputation is one of them. In the case of Spicy Mina, there's plenty of "negative" reviews to lower its attractiveness when debating where to chow that night. Though the biggest knock on it has to be the consistency- a point often brought up even by supporters. Certainly, if I lived blocks away, I might consider it more often. But it's hardly destination dining- especially if you have to roll the dice to catch Mina on a good night......Sripraphai is another story. We drive there from Brooklyn.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay

          There has been literally no restaurant in the history of Chowhound.com so beloved as to draw no negatives. A loud minority blasts Difara's, Sripraphai, et al.. That's a given....and it's as it should be.

          Let me say this: I was the first to write about Sripraphai (well over a decade ago, in Newsday) and I know it and appreciate it as well as any hound out there. And I respect dissenting opinion and encourage everyone to say it as they taste it, always! But Sripraphai, to me, is not a shadow of the restaurant Mina's is.


          1. re: Jim Leff

            How can you compare a Thai restaurant to and Indian/Bangledishi one? Even if Sri is not a shadow of Mina's doesn't make it more enticing if Indian/Bangledeshi food is not what one is craving.

            If anything, I'm surprised native Indian patrons aren't bombarding Mina's...JH is only a stones throw away and Jackson Diner is packed.

        2. s

          The Sicy Mina situation is pretty bad. On Christmas day after driving back from Philly my plan was to have dinner at Mina as it is right off the highway and I pass it going home. At about 6 I called and Mina answered, and said she had no business and was about to close. I was surprised, with the limited choices on Christmas day I actually expected her to be busy. Instead I went over to Srip and it was crowded, and as always delicious. After dinner i drove by and Mina was indeed shuttered. I understand that Mina is not universally loved, but certainly things should be better then they are. I eat there once a week, and while I eat at an off time, I have never seen more then one other table with patrons. I'll enjoy it while it lasts and will miss it when its gone.

          2 Replies
          1. re: stuartlafonda

            Yeah, it's sad. We actually ate at Sri on Christmas Eve (fairly busy) and drove by Mina's. It looked empty, except for a person sitting in the window. My wife said, "Is that Mina sitting at the table?"...Maybe it's about location. In Williamsburg, we are in dire need of Indian food. Plenty of foot traffic in this neighborhood too. She should probably be running more of a counter service type place, rather than full on restaurant.

            1. re: Silverjay

              Mina is in a weird location. Not weird as it used to be in J-Heights, but weird -- no foot traffic really, and next to the highway. Then again, Srip isn't on a high-traffic block either... Let's just hope the buzz builds for Mina. The Times hasn't reviewed it yet I think... maybe that'll put it over the tipping point.

          2. Lets all show our support and go there tonight!

            I will vow to drive in from CT with wife and baby in tow.

            Who else is in?

            It is open tonight ... right?

            1. f
              flip flop fly

              I live 5 blocks from Spicy Minas, and I've eaten there ten or eleven times so far. One pixie-dusted evening everything I got was phenomenal; A couple times everything was at least good; but overall, the boring or even downright bad dishes have been as numerous as the good ones. And from night to night, the same dish can be exceptional or crap - I got a tikka masala there one night that was honestly one of the two worst dishes I've ever had in a new york restaurant. The sauce tasted like canned tomato paste and raw onion.

              So that's why I've stopped going. I tried for a while to pretend that the randomness was all part of the fun, but for me, it's just not worth the time and money. Now here's my question: anybody know what gives?

              Clearly there's a lack of business sense here. Opening a restaurant with a price point way above what the location can bear (and raising the prices only after operating at cheaper rates for the first week). Charging those prices for food that's indifferent a large part of the time. Alienating customers by opening before things are really ready, with inexperienced servers and subpar ingredients (frozen spinach in the palak paneer?).

              Still, mere business incompetence doesn't seem sufficient to explain it all away. Any thoughts?

              1. Had our first meal at Spicy Mina's last Saturday. Although we were there rather early (6:30) we had a leisurely meal and left well after 8:00. In that time, someone came in for a large take-out order, and two women sat down at another table. That's all! On a Saturday! I have to say that it was the most wonderful food I have ever had - I can't understand why the place is not mobbed. The parking is very easy around there - we had no trouble parking right around the corner. No excuses 'hounds - go to Mina's! Now that I've finally tasted her food, I can't bear the thought that she might go away........!!

                6 Replies
                1. re: Scribbler

                  i second moymoy's comment - where are the native patrons? are they priced out? that cannot be the case, as places like jackson diner are not particularly cheap, either.

                  i always wondered that about this place. everytime i pass by, it's empty, and the only time i hear about this place is here at chowhound. if i see native patrons chowing down, it's a good sign to me that i'll be getting somewhat authentic cuisine.

                  of course, i still am looking forward to trying it, but i have to admit the inconsistencies i read about makes me nervous and not rushing to try spicy mina's.

                  1. re: Linda

                    GO IN AND EAT - what are you waiting for?

                    I think Mina's a la carte prices are simply out of line for south asian customers. I think she does catering business for them, however. Her location is also inconvenient for that community.

                      1. re: Linda

                        Every time I've been there, the bbq/grilled fish is awesome.

                      2. re: jen kalb

                        How is she inconvenient for South Asians? Jackson Heights is the mecca of Bengali's in NY. They go there for everything and anything; it's a 5-10 min walk from the shopping center. The whole zone of housing behind Mina's is also dominantly South Asian. The area facing out from the door step is dominantly Hispanic though. In the end it's just crazy expensive for the South Asian community though, especially when they get better at home.

                        1. re: JFores

                          shes not in the "mecca" - a few blocks, and across the hway in a place with no foot traffic to speak of is a disadvantage. But the main disadvantage is her pricing vs. the community preference for cheap. As good as her food is, even I was taken aback at the pricing of my last meal there - the price was not posted and I was surprised to pay around $25 for two dishes. This was ramadan food so maybe the "host" was employing two tier pricing - I cant believe that the breakfast eaters and fast breakers were paying that much for their halim, etc.

                  2. I live in Queens and am a frequent customer at Sri & Mina. I don't have a sure answer, but I will suggest one thing based on my own experience: I have very few friends who will come out to Queens to eat dinner with me. And none of these restaurants are ideal to visit alone. (Because you have to order family style.)

                    1. In realistic terms, their neighborhoods can't sustain them. Spicy Mina is frequented by very few neighborhood Bengalis because it is about 400 times more expensive than anything else in the area. Kebab Cafe is empty because it's highway robbery, but I won't get into that.

                      To add to that, I can't even get my friends to try Mina's because of the distance but I happily trek from Bensonhurst. I do prefer Ghoroa due to the prices though.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JFores

                        I live in Sunnyside and have not been to Mina's yet...I have to do it soon.
                        More importantly, I'm so glad to read that someone does not love Kebab cafe. I went there and freaked out a little when apples and raisins showed up in my salad. No self-respecting middle eastern person would enjoy that. Also, it's totally overpriced for what it is. I love the way the place looks but the food is either not special or special in the wrong way.
                        I know this is a tangent, but I happen to thing Mangal on Queens Blvd in Sunnyside is the best ME food in the area. It's limited and it's a hole in the wall, but it's great and the bread is amazing. That place is the real deal.

                      2. The problem with Mina's is that Mina herself is often not cooking. When that happens the food is mediocre, good not great. If I am going to go all the way into Queens, which is not an altogether pleasant experience, I better get something GREAT. If not, then I will not do it again. I think that most chpwhounds are in the same situation.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: NYJewboy

                          I've been to Mina's various restaurants at least 50 times in total at this point, and I totally disagree with the various versions of "The problem with Mina's is that Mina herself is often not cooking" complaint that I've read on this board since way back to Mina Foods in Sunnyside. Over the years, Mina's assistant cooks use the same basic 'Mina' recipes and same fresh ingredients, so I think the criticism is more a superficial emotional response to the fact that 'Mina' isn't there than to any substantive difference in food quality. And if you've been to Mina enough, you know that even she has 'off' days, and--as is 'oft' repeated on this board--she rarely cooks the same dish the same exact way twice.

                          1. re: JRogan

                            There's a large segment of foodie culture that prizes uniformity and predictability over the mere possibility of an amazing meal. When I go to these places (with the exception of Sripraphai which is almost always great) I expect that my food will be exotic, delicious, and unique, and then I hold out for the chance that it will totally blow me away.

                            If Mina's is off, you can grab some Thai dessert from Sripraphai on the way home, unless it's Wednesday. If Kabab is closed for some reason, try something else around there--the neighborhood is crawling with Moroccan, Egyptian, Croatian, Greek, and Colombian food. Point being, it's not possible to waste a trip out to Astoria or Jackson Heights from Manhattan unless you're too unadventurous to try someplace else.

                            Toward the end of Shopsin's run on Bedford Street, I made the journey from Park Slope no less than three times to try to catch him open. Each time it was something different--rain, early closure, just darned closed. But I'd never eaten lunch at Blue Ribbon Bakery before, and it was thoroughly rewarding if not the trip that Shopsin's could be. I enjoyed a more than OK Korean meal at Do Hwa, and had a very pleasantly French breakfasty-lunch thing at Cafe Henri. And the Village doesn't offer a quarter of the possibilities of your typical neighborhood in Queens :-)

                            1. re: JRogan

                              I disagree. When the assistant cooks it is always worse. I have gone out there many times, and this has proven the case. The ONLY time the food is worth the trip into that neighborhood is when Mina is there, and more effort is put into making something good. And another thing, I have gone out there when Mina is there and her assistant is doing the cooking. This is not an emotional reaction my friend. He guy tries harder when the boss is watching. Ask around, this is just what happens. And by the way, when it is off it can sometimes actually be bad. I defend consistency because getting out there is such a burden, and the neighborhood is so seedy. It question si whether or not it is worth it. If there were more consistency the answer would be yes. At this point I am uncertain. I hope it gets better. I would like to giver her my buisness, and her food can be truly great, as you would conceed.

                              1. re: NYJewboy

                                My fellow MOT, I have not experienced the bad food at Mina you describe, as I've always seen her personally at the stove. But I don't doubt you about that...just like in the movie Ratatouille, some people just ain't got it no matter what. So yes, I'd be disappointed if I got bad food at Mina's, but I know things like that happen, and I'd try to make the most of it by, I don't know, bagging most of my meal to go, walking through the totally (by "outer borough" standards) safe, unseedy neighborhood to the Burmese Cafe, stopping en route at a Philipino grocery--maybe scarfing down a lumpia or some purple dessert--and having a ginger salad. That wouldn't make the trip successful in my mind, but at least I'd have sampled something I couldn't get back in Brooklyn.

                                1. re: NYJewboy

                                  Isn't she basically always there? I have never been there when she wasn't.

                                  1. re: NYJewboy

                                    The neighborhood is sort of sleepy, sure, but it's harmless. And Mina's is across the street from an R/G/V stop and like 200 yards from a BQE offramp.

                                    It's a long subway ride from most of Brooklyn, sure, but it's not exactly one of the less-accessible parts of the city. Us Queens residents feel the same way about Park Slope and Sunset Park.

                                    1. re: NYJewboy

                                      there is NOTHING bad or scary about that neighborhood FWIW. walk up to Krystles for some cheery dessert and it gets better.

                                      1. re: jen kalb

                                        I did not mean it was 'scary', just grim in the way that only Queens can be. However, being a true hound, I would go anywhere if the food was worth it. Mina's often is. I don't mean to malign her fine establishment. I am just out for a bit more consistency to make the trip worthwhile.

                                        1. re: NYJewboy

                                          Where are you from? "...grim in a way only Queens can be."? You have to get out of your bubble. I just finished takeout from Mina and it was excellent. Nine veg curry, chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo and a couple of naan. Cost was $36. At 6:00 the place was empty and I had a few minutes to talk to Mina, she said business was just fair, not what I wanted to hear.

                                          1. re: stuartlafonda

                                            That's one (of the many) funny things about Mina's. Takeout and delivery prices are a fraction of the prices on the eat-in menu. Are the portions a fraction of the size or do they just charge a lot more for eating in? I mean, I love eating there and all, but it's not like you're paying for a beautiful setting or anything.

                                            1. re: hatless

                                              I just pulled a plastic container from the garbage and filled it with liquid, it measured 1and 1/3 cup. You can even mix and match. I had a plastic cup of the tikka but the full standard size aluminium plate for the veg curry and lamb.

                                              1. re: stuartlafonda

                                                Neat. Definitely going to try ordering in, even with the $30 minimumthey quoted to where I live. Sounds like that'll leave us with a couple of lunches' worth of leftovers.

                                                Digging through garbage. That's hardcore. Thanks.

                                                1. re: hatless

                                                  Just like in Seinfeld, it was sitting on top. I'm always happy to help smk from fla. When you do order from Mina, if you want the small plastic containers you have to really emphasize it with each item, it does not always sink in with the guy who answers the phone. Enjoy.

                                2. I made a special trip from Manhattan out to Kebab Café. I double checked the opening times to be sure. But when I got there the door was open but the place was closed. A man who I took to be the owner said they would be open in an hour. That would mean they open for lunch at 2pm. I was also greeted with the sight of meat, un-wrapped, lying around on tables. No hurry to head back out.

                                  1. Do you really want Mina to be packed? It would take hours to get the food. Perhaps folks have figured out not to go in if more than a few tables are occupied. I know I did when two of us were the only diners, but a medium sized take out order caused us to wait 45 minutes for the food.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Joe MacBu

                                      at least u know it wasn't microwaved.

                                    2. Ok. I have been critical on this board of Mina for some time due to consistency issues. I have griped about going to Queens and not getting amazing meals. But, as you chowhounds all know, we take risks for the truly great meals that do not come along every day or in a logical manner. Last night was such a meal. I took a couple friends to Mina's and we had what we all thought was one of the great eating experiences of our lives. This is what we had:

                                      A chicken biryani: the distinctive sourness, tempered by a little heat, perfectly balanced. Masterful. A chana masala: quite spicy, thicker than usual, which completelt saturated the chickpeas. Each bite was tender and very flavorful. It was not sauce 'over' chickpeas; the chickpeas 'became' the sauce and it thickened it in an amazing way. A shaag panir: The spinach was absolutely fresh and the cheese was slightly salty, the chiles slightly smokey. Suprising. Aam daal with mango: this is a great dish. so much going on its hard to sum it all up. Texture, flavor, aroma...what can I say. maybe the best one she has ever made me. Tikka masala: one of those really memorable almost glazed sauces with very marinated chicken. The flavors really sang as a unit. The various naans, kulcha, and paratha were highly spiced and not formulaic.

                                      I think Mina was really considering the food and put tremendous love into it. She is a great talent, and we should all go see her as often as possible.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: NYJewboy

                                        Strange. I was at Mina's for the first time ever on Saturday, and if I hadn't known that she can be very inconsistent, I might not go back (even though I'm in walking distance, at least in nice weather). Everything we had was fine, and definitely freshly made and in that sense a step up from the steam table Jackson Heights joints I've been mostly going to lately, but nothing was particularly exciting. Nothing made me go "now, that's delicious." We had halim, foksa (did I misspell that?), special dal fry, achar ghosht with goat, bhindi masala, and they gave us gratis a dessert of a sour pudding type thing. The okra was fresh and nicely cooked and the dal fry surprisingly reminded me of an amazing dal I had in Mumbai a few years ago (though nowhere near the depth of flavor).

                                        It certainly wasn't a meal I would travel for, and I might not even walk the mile from Eastern Jackson Heights again if I wasn't sure that based on reports of people whose taste I trust that the kitchen can turn out much better. But, with those reports, I will certainly try it again. Since it was an ok meal, I'd probably take it more in stride if I hadn't gambled on taking a friend there for a farewell meal, and since she's off to do research for 18 months in an African forest where she'll get boring food (she knows, having been there before), she was hoping for something really yummy to send her off properly. Oh well - we knew Mina's reported to be inconsistent going in.

                                        1. re: The Turtle Bay Dove

                                          Funny that 3 of us were there on Saturday - I don't think she is hurting for business in the same way that the original poster was seeing in 2005!
                                          We had our usual good experience - we had a friend and her parents with us and asked for less spicy for the parents. Mina obliged and the food was still flavorful if not the usual spicy that we go for.
                                          One note - a poster above mentioned something about the lack of South Asians as being indicative of priciness as well as having better food at home. I would beg to differ - there was a crowd of about ten 20-something Bengali guys at one table and we often see Bengali customers, either eating in or taking out. And my husband's mother would love to see tha day when he doesn't complain that her cooking isn't as good as Mina's!

                                        2. re: NYJewboy

                                          OK, I eat my words! I had an atrociously bad meal there tonite. Inedible. I am not going back.

                                          1. re: NYJewboy

                                            Can you expand on that a little more? That's shockingly fast (and strong) change of mind... having never been before, tell me: how bad does it get? what was wrong?

                                            1. re: jdream

                                              Mina is very talented, no doubt. However I assume that sometimes she doesn't care about cooking or maintaining a business. Maybe she has personal problems, or financial concerns...whatever. It's not my problem. I am a customer. The end result is that the food was inedible. The meat was pure gristle, fat, and bone. The sauce was slapped together and had no balance. The bread was undercooked. She was literally sleeping with her face on the table when we came in.

                                              1. re: NYJewboy

                                                On Sept. 2, didn't you write

                                                "I think Mina was really considering the food and put tremendous love into it. She is a great talent, and we should all go see her as often as possible."?

                                                1. re: dimples

                                                  Pay attention! The first thing I said in the last post was that she is very talented. However I can only accept so many bad meals before I change my mind.

                                                  1. re: dimples

                                                    I gave ample reasons. Adjust to the public or loose them!

                                          2. They're empty because the food isn't good. Simple. In spite of what a few diehard fans think, People vote with their stomachs.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Buddha Belly

                                              i'm from philly. i spent the weekend with a friend who'd just moved to astoria, and we made it to many delicious places on our stay.

                                              i was most excited about spicy mina's. i was there on saturday the 1st (did anyone notice the painting on the wall, which was signed sept 2 '07? that was weird) for lunch. for a late lunch, business looked OK. the food was pretty good. we had the fuska and another dish shaped differently with similar ingredients, which i cannot remember the name of. one was pieces of samosa in a yogurt-chutney mix; the other was little fried shells filled with potato (i think), yogurt and chutneys. similar and equally delicious. for entrees... we shared four things: a malai kofta, the saag/paneer dish, aloo gobhi and the dal/mango dish. i loved the freshness of the spinach and the sourness of the aloo gobhi (and the freshness of its cauliflower as well). the malai kofta was delicious as well with bits of raisins and nuts. the dal/mango was probably the only non-memorable bit, it lacked a really distinctive flavor. it's definitely different from most other indian places, given the way the spinach and cauliflower did not appear as if they'd been stewing for days on end. i'd rank it as ~5th best of the places i've tried (the western suburbs of philly, a few miles off the main line, house a disproportionately high number of indian places, some of which are surprisingly excellent despite their locations in strip malls, next to chain steakhouses, etc).

                                              yesterday made it in for a late lunch at ali's kabab house - walking by it the night before, it smelled fabulous. while spicy mina's may be well-hidden, this place on a busy street calls to you from blocks away with such an enticing smell. not sure why we walked in to an empty restaurant. ali was very nice. we ended up getting the felafel/apple/hummus platter, the egyptian potato salad, all three vegetarian specials and the wild chicken (the only thing i didn't try, which the meat-eater did say was fabulous). the hummus platter was tasty, set apart from others by the sweet green apples and the spicy pepper mix brought separately to the table. lots of delicious oil on everything, and a spice mix i want to copy for my cooking at home! (the egyptian potato salad is exactly how i serve my breakfast potatoes - potato, garlic, onion, bell peppers, hot peppers sauteed in oil with spices - I just use different spices, apparently). vegetarian plate #1 consisted of okra in a tomato sauce, which i did not like, and neither did the rest of the table. i guess we are not that into okra. vegetarian plate #2 was cubes of something potato-like (i don't think it was potato, but i could not understand what he had said) in a green sauce made with swiss chard. delicious as it was but i wouldn't have minded more spices, either. still, i couldn't put my fork down. vegetarian plate #3 was a hodgepodge of rice, macaroni, onion, peppers, tomato, potato; basically all vegetables with another mysterious spice combination. also delicious. overall a very satisfying meal. wish they took credit card; i would have ordered dessert.

                                              we tried two other neighborhood places, a thai place a block down from the kabab house (standard-issue thai, no real complaints) and a colombian place i can't remember the name of, but from googling i think it was, polos a la brosa mario. not too much to eat for a vegetarian in a colombian restaurant, i have learned. but their fried plantains, corn cake and scrambled eggs with tomatoes and scallions were tasty.

                                              1. re: rabidog

                                                i just got back from another day in astoria (was up for a show last night). for lunch today we hit sripraphai for its high praise here. the majority opinion on this board has never steered me wrong, so we must have ordered wrong, or caught them on a bad day: i'd rank this among the worst thai food i've had, right down there with that train wreck of a place i went to in louisville (i should have known better, but two weeks in the midwest and i was desperate). i got my favorite dish, drunken noodles. didn't like the way the noodles were cooked, didn't like the sauce, didn't like the excessive use of peppers (and i like things hot, but i like other flavors, too!). my two dining companions ordered curries, with tofu and chicken respectively, and the kitchen mixed up the two different curries so the one who ordered tofu in red curry got tofu in penang instead. our apps, bean curd and spring rolls, were nothing out of the ordinary. getting drink refills was near-impossible. we all agreed we much preferred the other thai place we went to last week, a block down from ali's kabab. should we have ordered the whole fish? (that was one of original orders, but we were steered away from it by our server because it contained a lot of bones) where did we go wrong??

                                                1. re: rabidog

                                                  Last time I went to Sri, I also had a problem with the panang (with duck). Duck was fabulous, penang was inedible. Tasted like a concentrated sauce they'd forgotten to thin. Disgusting. The other stuff we ordered wasn't that great either. I also thought maybe we'd ordered wrong. I've had other excellent meals there, including one with a huge group so lots to taste. Best dish was something brought to the table by mistake.

                                                  1. re: rabidog

                                                    sri is not neccessarly good at same things as other thai places. I like their many salads best of all the dishes and their musaman best of the curries.Was the panang curry b ad or was it just the wrong paste?.

                                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                                      Penang curry was the correct penang sauce, but it tasted like it had been concentrated for storage and they'd forgotten to water it down. It was totally inedible. The duck in it was superb.

                                                      1. re: KateC.

                                                        Interesting. Duck is the one meat I think they never get right. And the Penang Curry (with chicken, pork or shrimp) is my wife's favorite dish. I think she's ordered it the last 20 times we've been there. Neither of us have ever thought there was a problem with it. But we also never go on weekends.

                                                      2. re: jen kalb

                                                        Right - I've been a couple of times now and spent a lot of time culling the posts about it on this board to trying and figure out what dishes people recommended. We've stayed away from the noodle dishes based on that research. That fried watercress salad is amazing, and we enjoyed the soft shell crab last weekend as well.

                                                2. I was at Spicy Mina's with a friend last night and we were wondering why it was empty. We found that part of the answer may have been in the odd service--the cook was our waiter--and the fact that even though they say they take credit cards, the cook/waiter (who was very nice and made us some excellent Saag Paneer and Lamb) had to walk to a doctor's office next door and run our credit card. Neither of us had cash and we couldn't leave a tip. There was only one other table occupied. Things like that do affect whether people come back or not. I'll just be ordering in Spicy Mina's excellent food rather than sitting in the somewhat dingy, depressing restaurant.

                                                  As for Kebab, one reason may be that going to dinner there is often a time-consuming experience. One has to be willing to make dinner a longer experience. Not a problem for people who love Ali's great food and who want to sit and savor it, but maybe a problem for people who want their food fast and want to eat it quickly. It's also on the pricey side considering the ambiance, etc. I love the mezze plate. I'll be going back for that soon, so thanks for the nudge.

                                                  1. I know there have a handful of posts that discuss why native Indian diners aren't packing Spicy Mina, and why it generally is so empty - as it was the night we went. Having finally made it there for a dinner myself, I (a native Indian eater) can guess - it's terrible. I understand some of the appeal: it's obviously off the beaten path; everything is very fresh and quite clearly freshly prepared in front of you; there's less of the cream and heaviness that is standard in the Northern Indian food in most Indian restaurants.

                                                    But it was also nearly totally tasteless, at least the six dishes we tried (including some of the Chowhound greatest hits). Her food is not spicy at all, to the point that we were wondering if she just forgot to put any spices in. I mean, ANY spices - like salt and pepper, much less the masalas that would make it good food. I can honestly say that given my one trip, I could never take anyone else there. I could definitely NEVER take my (less Americanized) relatives there, because that would be a total disaster.

                                                    I have to think that's a big reason it's empty all the time.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: ngdinerboy

                                                      I've only had spicy Bengali food at in house hold and they were straight out of the village (and Sylheti.) All the Dhaka Bengali homes I've ever eaten at cook veeery mild.

                                                      1. re: ngdinerboy

                                                        This is what I have been saying for months. I am not Indian, but I have had home cooked Bengali food several times, and it wasn't bland! Maybe not super spicy, but definitely not bland (as I think Mina tends to be). Mina puts spice in, but not enough for my humble Hebrew taste buds.

                                                        1. re: ngdinerboy

                                                          Where do you go for good South Asian cuisine? Please don't tell me about home cooking or places no longer in existence, give me name address and favorite dishes. Lack of spice has rarely been a problem for me at Mina's. Thanks

                                                          1. re: stuartlafonda

                                                            Unfortunately I don't have a 'great' one for you stuart. I usually go to Pongal, which is good not great.

                                                            1. re: NYJewboy

                                                              Sorry, my question was directed at "nqdinerboy", you and I have been down this road before, but thanks for trying.

                                                            2. re: stuartlafonda

                                                              As far as non home cooking, I go to Ghoroa or Sagor or Deshi Biryani. Ghoroa is my favorite by a lot because they know me, the prices, I don't feel weird trying to practice Bangla there, I eat with my hand without getting odd looks, the food is great, a meal can cost as little as 2.50, etc. It also helps that my ex's family owns Sagor so her and I were never able to in there for fear of being spotted together.