Park Street, Hartford
Okay, I'm ready to venture in for some serious ethnic food. The problem is I am really intimidated to go. I've ventured down to Park Street one time to buy banana leaves in the big spanish store, but that is it. I looked around for 'approachable' restaurants but I couldn't see any with easy parking. So I would love to get an assignment from someone in the know - give me 1 restaurant ( sit down or takeout) and name the best item on the menu to sample. I'll eat anything and I would love to try something I've never had before.
In no particular order:
1. I highly recommend Pho Legal, on the south side of Park about 2 blocks east of Prospect Street. The place gets my vote for best Vietnamese in the area. My wife and I have eaten there several times, and we have been thrilled each time. I have to admit that I've only ordered tofu dishes, which are fragrant, extremely flavorful, steaming hot and low in price. Try the Tofu with lemongrass, for example. Wow! Prices are very low, service is professional and fast, and there is often Vietnamese television programming, which makes for a nice neighborhoody feel.
I should also note that the Vietnamese place directly across the street is also good-- I've been for lunch a few times and have been quite happy. The menu is a little more limited for vegetarians, though.
2. We have also tried 'O Camelo', which is a Portuguese restaurant on Park near S. Whitney. We've tried it twice, and it's one of those places that you _want_ to like, because the service is friendly and sweet and they certainly try hard. The french fries are great and the grilled seafood is pretty tasty, but the salad is iceberg/white onion and the bread is terrible (this indicates my bias against Portuguese bread-- it seems to generally resemble a hot dog bun, even at the terrific O Porto). To be fair, there is a lot of meat on the O Camelo menu, and I think it's impossible for me to give a full review of this (or any) restaurant without disclosing that I don't eat meat (although I do eat fish).
3. We have also tried The King and I Thai Restaurant on Park, and although it's fine, it has no chance in the competition against Thai Room (in Shields Plaza), which is absolutely the finest Thai in the area, or East West Grill, which is also excellent.
4. Additionally, I'm pretty sure that I went to a place on the corner of Park and Broad [?]-- much further east, toward downtown-- that has a cool selection of pre-made marinated seafood salads (and other food). It's usually crowded, but there is a counter facing the side street and it's a fun place to sit and eat and listen to the buzz.
Hope this is helpful.
I think many people share your feeling of intimidation about Park Street for two reasons. One, Frog Hollow had a lot of crime problems during the early to mid nineties, but they have cleaned up the neighborhood and I have never had any problems there. Frog Hollow of 2007 is totally different than how it used to be. The other issue is if you enter Park st from Main Street you encounter some urban blight, but once you pass that block you will encounter one of the most vibrant areas of Hartford. Park St is a major shopping destination for Latino's in CT.
The Spanish American Merchant Association www.samact.org is trying to address the parking situation. All the merchants on Park Street taxed themselves and they are using that money to fix the street up, that is why you see a lot of construction there now. At one point they had plans to put a free trolley that would loop from downtown all the way down the length of Park Street, I don't know if this is still in the works.
A good way to start off is to try El Mercado 704 Park St. If I remember correctly there is parking on the side. They have a food court with Colombian, Dominican, Mexican, and more.. Also a friend recently told me a few blocks away there is a bus service that runs direct to the Bronx. Always good to know.
Another place with plenty of parking is La Casita del Sabor 1405 Park St. I was told the owners are Salvadoran but the woman cooking was Ecuadorian. She told me sometimes the Salvadorans are there cooking. When I was there I just had time for a snack, but I was talking to some guys there and they all told me the soups that are available on the weekend are the best.
Real artways published a guide to restaurants in the Parkville section of Park Street. There is a lot of interesting stuff I want to try, especially Nicoles (Peruvian-Chinese restaurant).
Here is another small list of restaurants from the Spanish yellowpages:
Brazil Pizza and Grill on ParK St is one of my favorite places in Hartford. you simply choose which meat you want and they take it out of the fire spit and carve it for you. make sure you ask for "red" so you can get medium rare. it's good cheap eats. Ive been to El Caribe in Frog Hollow for mofongo which was really good. I had a bad experience at El Mercado (the food was good), but a random guy came up to me and my boyfriend and started harassing us for no reason (he wanted to take our food!). He probably had some mental health issues.. the food was good though. It's like a hispanic food court there.
I highly recommend that you visit Shield St. Plaza (From Park heading toward Htfd, take New Park to the end, then a left on New Britain and the plaza is a short distance on your right). Visit A. Dong Market, a large asian grocery, and you'll be fascinated. Then eat at either the fine Thai restuarant next door, or at the Vietnamese place, Pho Boston. If you're totally new to this food, then I would definitely suggest that you try a big bowl of that wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho. Pho Boston is a nice big welcoming restaurant, and even though at least 80% of the diners will be asian, it's not intiimidating.