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Cafe Ollin

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I stopped by Cafe Ollin today, on 108th between 1st and 2nd, after reading several posts here about it, and their cemitas.

I ordered 2 cemitas - one Milanesa (breaded beef) and the other chorizo. They were out of chorizo, so I went with spicy pork instead. Wow - what an excellent sandwich, particularly the Milanesa!

They are on the spicy side, and definitely on the large side. I found the Milanesa to be a spicier than the spicy pork - perhaps the breading on the beef soaks up some of the pepper and other flavors and helps concentrate it. They have slivers of avocado, bean paste, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, chipotle pepper, some papalo, and warm, stringy cheese, all sitting inside a soft sesame seed bun. The papalo makes the sandwich, IMHO - it, along with the chipotle, gives a smokey flavor, offset by the sweetness from the tomato and onion.

The people are friendly as well. I'm definitely looking forward to my next visit!

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Cafe Ollin
339 E 108th St, New York, NY 10029

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  1. I've been wanting to go there for so long. Thanks for the great review; you tempt me even more! Did you notice what the vegetarian options were like? That'll help me know who I can drag along with me. And what's papalo?

    5 Replies
    1. re: rose water

      Heres the menu,

      http://www.cafeollin.com/menu.html

      It is really excellent. Papalo is a Mexican herb that is hard to describe. I would say its a cross between oregano and mint.

      1. re: rose water

        Their vegetarian options are far better than most Mexican restaurants. They have a vegetarian platter featuring potatoes, stewed cactus and Oaxaca cheese that you can get as a burrito/torta filling if the typical beans, cheese or mushrooms don’t interest you. The specials board may also yield some interesting options for pescatarians; my particular favorite at the momentare the fluffy cakes made from dried shrimp served in red salsa.

        As for the spice level of the milanesa, I don’t think it’s seasoned with chilies as it is mild when I get it on a torta. Likely the chipotles in the cemita were the source of the extra kick. The papalo is an interesting herb; it has a sharp flavor somewhere between basil or licorice and cilantro with an earthy undertone like arugula.

        1. re: JungMann

          This place is *awesome* and yes, their veg options are far more varied and interesting than most. the interesting thing is that i didn't really notice/couldn't really tell what the papalo was; the rich/smokey/spicy chipotle sauce and all the other goodies were just much more prominent.

          my one word of warning for people as gluttonous as me is to put away half your sandwich first. it's so delicious that i just kept going and going. no way should i have ingested that much in one sitting!

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          Cafe Ollin
          339 E 108th St, New York, NY 10029

          1. re: rose water

            Did you have anything besides the vegetarian cemita?

            1. re: JungMann

              The vegetarian cemita was for my partner. I got the spicy pork cemita. Both awesome. Next time I think I'll go for the milanesa for me, and the azteca (Potatoes, Tender Cactus, Onions, Tomatoes, Epazote, Jalapenos, And Oaxacan Cheese) for my partner. There are lots of tantalizing things calling out to me for the time after that... But I'd love to get help prioritizing, given that I hope to be back there lots.

      2. Thanks for the tip about Cafe Ollin. I tried the cemita with pollo as I've been avoiding pork lately. It was great with the addition of some of their tomatillo table salsa, a delicious blend of creamy, acidic, spicy, crunchy, smoky, and meaty, sandwiched within slightly sweet, soft and chewy bread. Mr. diva and I came to the NE by way of TX, so I've had oodles of TX-style tortas before, but had never tried papalo. By itself this herb is pretty strong, but with the other sandwich components it is delicious. I'd describe it as earthy, woodsy, and piney, with a slightly citrus note.

        Mr. diva was happy to eat the tender lengua taco--something he's missed since leaving Austin--topped with only cilantro, onions, and salsa, as they should be. Thanks again, as we never would have found this cute little hole-in-the-wall without the help of Chowhound. Hoping to repay the favor in one of our upcoming NY adventures.

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        Cafe Ollin
        339 E 108th St, New York, NY 10029

        2 Replies
        1. re: diva360

          Right on, Diva. Glad you enjoyed it.

          Ooh, lengua - I might follow Mr. Diva's lead on my next visit!

          Funny how people have so many different impressions of papalo. So flavorful that it reminds people of so many things. To me, it's almost cinammon-like, but like you said - earthy and woodsy..

          1. re: diva360

            Mr Diva should try the tacos at Taco Mix on E. 116th St.

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            Taco Mix
            234 E 116th St, New York, NY 10029

          2. Their pork cemita is something that I would request as my hypothetical "last supper." It's freakin' phenomenal.