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Dec 27, 2005 10:43 PM

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!!!!!! for the others, I've never been. I will though........

      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. 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.

      3. 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 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?