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Pio Pio To Go: Awful

This is the fourth in a series of pans of disastrous dinners

I'd not previously been to Pio Pio To Go, which is paradoxically a sit down restaurant down the block from Pio Pio in Jackson Heights. Pio Pio itself takes knocks from people who wrongheadedly stray from the Approved Dishes: chicken, tostones, french fries, avocado salad, and NOTHING ELSE.

But, man, this place was a catastrophe. I tried to order the chicken combo with french fries. Waiter repeated back: chicken with rice and beans. No, french fries. Ay! yes, of course! French fries!

It arrived with rice and beans. I asked for french fries. Looking put upon, he dragged my plate back to the kitchen to actually scrape off the beans and plop on some fries.

The rice had been cooked in a pot that had massively burned. This rice itself wasn't burnt, but tasted like the day after an electrical fire. Inedible. And the fries seemed to have been fried in motor oil. Lukewarm motor oil.

My wine came toward the end of the meal (I was the only customer), and was unrdrinkable.

Chicken was good, salad was good.

Totally unsatisfied, I went across the street for an arepa at the little fast food arepa place. It was deserted, and it took forever for the manager to notice me from the kitchen. He started walking toward me, slowly, and stopped to take a minute or two to joke with the cook.

I walked out and moved on to the tapas joint on northern between 86 and 87. This used to be a terrific place, with an owner really into food and wine. But lately, ditzy bartenders rule the roost. Nobody could give me a list of wines by the glass. I was told "we have merlot...cabernet", you know, the run-down you expect in, like, diners that have 3 cheap bottles. I asked, incredulously, if they have only one wine for each grape. Uh, no. Awkwardly, she turned around, and started dictating wines to me, inaudible over the loud music (some Latin pop diva covering "I Will Survive" with gnashing anguish and wide vibrato), with her back to me.

I keep having the experience that I'm the only person ever using the restaurant for its explicit purpose....and that by doing so I'm driving everyone crazy. I feel like a visitor from outer space.

I selected a wine (not bad) and got grilled calamari, which was good but chintzy in portion for the price. The music was awful, nobody was there, the bartender looked totally bored, nobody gave a damn about anything at any point.

I need to go back to Newfoundland...

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  1. One of things you do NOT order at Pio PIo is the french fries. BTW the combo comes with rice and beans not french fries. My other question would be why eat there when there is a nice PIO PIO two store fronts down. Where you ate is called PIO PIO to go for a reason. You gotta love that green sauce.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Gregory500

      Thanks for the update. Back in "the day" (when they first opened), Pio Pio made slamming french fries.

      FYI, I hit Pio Pio To Go out of the insatiable curiosity that drives me to be a chowhound. I don't just "settle in" at places, because I've seen so many favorites go downhill or out of business, so I choose to constantly investigate my chowscape so as to always be armed with a multitude of options.

    2. Hi Jim, ...the Pio Pio on Woodhaven does a pretty decent job at takeout since this is it's main function. There are only about 6 or 7 small tables, and when eating there, it's always cramped and uncomfortable, and they are not baby friendly at all. They are also kinda nasty there, too...when I want to sit down and eat, I only go to the full restaurant on Northern, otherwise, I get takeout fairly regularly from the Woodhaven branch and deal with their attitude, because there isn't that much choice for takeout in this area...I tend to just get chicken (I get several breasts) and usually their rice can be dried out, so I just make some Near East spanish rice to go with it, and I'll make tomato and avocado slices...But, yea, it's a real drag when people just don't care at all..takes all the fun out of eating. Have you ever tried Corfu on Austin Street? Because George really cares about his food, this gives the place a good vibe.

      1. the Pio Pio-to-go store has been on the mark for all of my take outs...it's the same great chicken - same great avocado salad - and you're in and out in no time without an advance call...

        I dig it...

        I'm guessin' their take-out/delivery business out of the main shop two doors down was so brisk, it made sense to run that side of it of a separate space...

        1. I still don't understand why Jeff would go to a take out place, sit down and complain that the waiter didn't understand him and then order wine??

          6 Replies
          1. re: Gregory500

            It's called a takeout place, but there is seating and waiter service. And any place that offers seating, regardless of its name, is, I think it's safe to say, eligible for sitting down and eating in - and eligible for being reviewed both professionally and informally.

            The waiter understood me fine, he just kept screwing up. And I always try to have wine with dinner (for cholesterol reasons). i didn't expect the wine to be great, but it was quite possibly the worst I ever had.

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Jeff you gotta know that you do not order french fries there with or without the hot dogs. They just are not good. Again the combo does not come with fries.

              You need to go back and then tell us how great the chicken is and the green sauce is to die for. Maybe you will get a different waiter who will understand that you want to substitute french fries for rice and beans. Instead of wine what about the great Pio Pio sangria?

                1. re: E Eto

                  Hi Eric,
                  What's your recommendation for roasted chicken and ceviche these days?
                  Haven't had since Laura closed.
                  Regards,
                  JK

                2. re: Jim Leff

                  I think I remember the same experience with the house red wine at Pio Pio -- my bet is they serve the same cheap wine they use for their sangria.

              1. My one experience at Pio Pio to Go was very good. I ordered Chicken and that's it. For my wife and I, one chicken is enough. There was no messing up that order, I guess. We also had a pitcher of sangria. I swear the pitcher was quite a bit fuller (and stronger) than the ones I've had it the main restaurant--a plus in my book.

                On the way out we got another chicken for takeout, and asked if we could get a sauce and not small--lots of sauce. The waiter responded that it was $5 extra. Sounded like a lot, but when the takeout came I discovered a takeout container filled with about a pound of the famous green sauce. Now I go back once every few weeks to replentish my supply - it's great in omlettes, or just about anything.

                I like to tell people that percentage-wise there are more people in Montreal that speak english than my neighborhood in Queens. If that means that sometimes the waiter won't understand and you have to play a little charades to get your meal, I really don't mind. If Pio Pio to Go has bad service, terrible secondary dishes and all you can get there is one of the best chickens you'll ever have, awesome green sauce and very good sangria, then it's still a destination in my book.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Dave_G

                  This is sort of like the telephone game. :)

                  To repeat: the waiter understood me perfectly. And I speak fluent Spanish, anyway. The problem wasn't misunderstanding, it was multiple screwing up.

                  BTW, he didn't bring green sauce with my chicken, either. It was a disaster. And the condition of the rice (as described in my posting at top) wasn't an indicator of a poor side dish. It was an indicator of an awful uncaring kitchen.

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    Anyone aware of which Pio Pio handles delivery -- is it the "to-go" or the "regular" restaurant? In Pio-Pio proper, I've always had really moist chicken, but the couple times I've had it delivered, results were much less consistent -- sometimes good, but other times very dried-out chicken.

                    I'd like to submit another winner on their menu: the maduros... which I find to be great, if you're into that sort of thing. Also, the pisco sours.

                    1. re: danoots

                      Yeah, Pio Pio chicken never has worked to go in my experience.

                      and a big thumbs up to the pisco sours. As for maduros, tostones always used to be the superior order in the main restaurant. If they share kitchens with the To Go place, though, I wouldn't order anything fried anymore. That oil was creepy.