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Aug 2, 2014 11:18 AM

Mami's, a Latino Steam-table in White Plains

I've eaten in a vast number of Latino steam table take-out joints. Whatever figure you're imagining is probably a couple orders of magnitude under the actual number. I once flew a few thousand miles out of my way to scarf airport concession chicken/rice/beans/yuca <

And while I haven't experienced enough, after one single take-out order, to pronounce La Mamis (177 S. Lexington; White Plains, NY; 914-949-1823) my top pick, it's certainly in the running.

I've had my eye on this location (right near the hospital) for some time. It was previously called Anais, which was very good, though never quite great. But I returned the other day, and was immediately dismayed to observe that the steam table stuff looked way less vibrant than before. So I decided to stick with the simplest, less screw-up-able thing, roast chicken. Plus a chicharron.

My visual chow-dar has never been more off. The food may not look vibrant, but it's pretty much the dictionary definition of the word. If you'd served this chicken to me on china, I'd have imagined it was from fresh-kill free-range birds. It had the deep flavor and ample meatiness you only get from top quality poultry (though they surely buy it at the supermarket). And the rice and beans were even better. I struggle to describe them. Leff's Law #6 states that if you're able to analyze and describe what you're eating, that indicates that you're not eating something truly great. Ultimate deliciousness won't let you think, won't let you talk. The only thing one can do is stand too close to your friends, with wild eyes, begging them to TRY THIS. That's what the rice was (the beans were fine, but vestigial with rice this good).

As I waited, somewhat dubiously, for my takeout roast chicken, several young men passed on the sidewalk in front of the open door. Two different guys, at two different points, whistled licentiously, screaming "¡¡Mami!!". This definitely wasn't an expression of chaste admiration for cooking skill. They seethed with erotic passion. I looked around the room, figuring I'd discover a particularly attractive young waitress. But the only worker was the owner, "Mami", a perfectly nice looking late middle-aged woman with a radiant smile, who was less concerned with swiveling her hips than with deliberately spooning me the perfect proportion of rice to beans. Every move she was making reflected the carefulness of a karma yogi and the love of an archetypal grandmother.

As she apportioned, wrapped, and accepted payment for the food, I briefly wondered if I'd been recognized (for those who don't know, I've worked as a restaurant critic). I felt disproportionally IMPORTANT. She was paying way too much attention to me. Was she coming on to me? I couldn't tell. It was weird, though certainly anything but uncomfortable.

I rushed the food to my car, where I dipped in my fork for a quick taste, and that same brute force halo of attention and love roared forth. The young guys were correct. This is some extraordinarily sexy food. Oh my.

Click this link to view a photo:

Fine-looking though the food appears, I must stress, again, that its full goodness doesn't register visually. Just like Mami herself.

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  1. BTW, my assumption is that she's Dominican. If she were Puerto Rican, I'm figuring she'd make pasteles. Also, there were a ton of guisados on display.

    1. 51rich replied, in another thread:

      just got back from mami's on your rec- was good but i wish i knew what more of the items were.basically had the same chick and rice also a fried(?) pepper that was supposed to be spicy- was good but not spicy

      I wouldn't expect much spice anywhere in a Dominican/Puerto Rican place (it's one of many contradictions, e.g. why people living on islands eat no fish aside from dried frikkin' cod).

      As for identifying items, hey the great thing about steam tables is that you can point at stuff! I'm quite certain (though have no proof as of yet) that this isn't just a chef with a particular touch for chicken. I'd be happy eating anything she served me!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jim Leff

        the pernil (pork ) did look good,and they had what i thought was a vat of red sauce,but it may have been a soup *L*.nice to see they are open 7 days so may get back sooner rather than later

        1. re: 51rich

          Not red sauce. Either soup or maybe just the red beans. Report back what you find!

          Also, there's a new place sorta across the street called Caribbean Thyme that hardly googles, if you're feeling exploratory.

      2. Jeff,

        I enjoyed your review!

        I am a White Plains resident, so I had a chance to try this place out yesterday. One thing you didn't mention in your review was the location of this place, and I don't mean the address. I am familiar with the area so I had no issue, but others should be warned, this is not a particularly nice or safe area. Go during broad daylight and you should be fine as there is usually an officer around.

        I had the same meal you had as I always try the basics the first time I go somewhere. I have to say that the meal was nowhere as good as your review made it out to be, but it was enjoyable and a an airiness of grandeur to it. I don't know how to explain it exactly, it was a subtle taste of efficiency, as if the perfect balanced amount of ingredients or cooking were used.

        Yet the taste was not phenomenal and I would rate it as just good. Just as a comparison, I would rate it below the roasted chicken at Don Coqui but better than the baked chicken at Karamba (an easy accomplishment). Mami mentioned the chicken was baked, so I imagine a roasted chicken would tasted much better. Although the spanish word for baked could be easily misused to say roasted, I would think a roasted chicken would taste much better.

        I will definitely go back though and try some other things, the pernil and pork ribs looked good.

        I will also say that "mami" is most likely Puerto Rican. Her food doesn't have the explosion of taste and salt that I'm accustomed to from Dominican food.

        28 Replies
        1. re: sdhound

          sdhound, thanks for reading and trying! A few quibbles:

          1. I'm "Jim", not Jeff

          2. This is a bustling, highly-trafficked commercial area less than a block from the front door of a major hospital. There's a mix of people here way broader than is common in Westchester county, but that doesn't make it unsafe. And I can't imagine any other factor that might fuel such a judgement. Of course, it's a matter of opinion, and you're certainly entitled to yours.

          3. You're right, it was baked, not roasted chicken. My bad!

          4. I've never heard anyone, Dominican or Puerto Rican, observe that the former is tastier and saltier than the latter. I've been eating both for many years in hundreds of venues, have written specifically on the differences between the two cuisines for major media in NYC, played hundreds of (Puerto Rican) salsa and (Dominican) meringue gigs with bands across the tristate area, and am happy to have many friends (and adoptive great-cooking grandmas) of both nationalities....and I strongly disagree with that observation (which, of course, doesn't make me right and you wrong!).

          5. As for your opinion of not particularly liking the food, that's not an issue of qualifications, that's sacrosanct and unimpeachable. And I'm sorry you were disappointed!

          While I disagree with much of what you said, I'm really glad you posted. It's great to get a variety of opinions and data points! I hope you enjoy the pernil and ribs more!

          1. re: Jim Leff


            Sorry about confusing your name!

            About #4. You are probably right as my experience is with cheap places and I imagine the more afluent? restaurants offer a closer experience to traditional cooking. Although I didn't mean to say that Dominican food was tastier but that it had more spices and often in larger quantities.

            Any other suggestions for Latin food restaurants or "steam table take out" joints in the area? (Is that a real term or did you make it up?)

            1. re: sdhound

              It's a real term now!

              I don't know any place as good, but the two runners up in the area are:
              Punta Cana, 321 Elwood Ave, Hawthorne
              Adal Deli 240 N Saw Mill River Rd (aka 9A), Elmsford

              If you don't mind shifting over to Hispanic rather than Latino, this Mexican place:
              can still be real good, but I have yet to crack its code. I THINK it's a matter of visiting in early afternoons. And weekends are best. Also, the Jamaican steam table take out joint next door is primo.

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Have you tried Malecon Restaurant? They have several locations including one in Yonkers.

                1. re: sdhound

                  Note that "Malecon" is like "Blarney Stone"....a common restaurant name. Two in Manhat share the same owner

                  ....but the one in Yonkers is, I think (not 100% certain) separately owned. And I haven't tried it...but intend to.

                  The ones in Manhat are very good, but there's better. A topic for a different discussion on a different message board, though!

                2. re: Jim Leff

                  Thanks for the Adal Deli suggestion. I have to try it out. I drive by that deli all the time on the way to Azteca Paradise, which by the way has a fantastic lunch value of entree, chips/salsa, and soda for $9.

                  I haven't found a "steam table take out" place that I like since El Zarape in Thornwood closed. I've been to Punta Cana a few times but didn't like the ratio of meat of rice/beans in their takeout.

                  I believe Sunsplash Caribbean in Elmsford has a steam table buffet but I haven't tried them yet.

                  Not exactly a steam table place, but Westchester Groceries (aka Khan’s Indian Kitchen) in Thornwood is a good place for takeout. They have food in a refrigerated case. You order from the case and they then heat it up for you. In addition, you can get takeout in many Indian places (like Mughal Palace in Valhalla) from their steam table buffet.

                  Finally, steam table places are not limited to Latin and Indian. Pat's Deli in Valhalla has an ever-changing variety of steam table dishes. I hesitate to recommend it because it's very inconsistent. I've had melt in the mouth brisket and bone dry pork loin. You really have to order carefully there.

                  I love to hear suggestions from other people. I work in the Valhalla area and am always looking for new places for lunch.

                  1. re: Robotron

                    I like Azteca Paradise, nice people, too. But the place I linked to above, at 257 Battle Ave, is a lot better cooking IMO (and certainly a wider, deeper menu).

                    Sunsplash (the Jamaican on 9A just north of 287) is perhaps the single most underrated place in the whole area. It's SO scuzzy looking that I understand why people avoid. It positively emanates disappointment. But the food's real good in spite of it all, and the staff, who also emanate fearsome vibes, are actually also super super cool. As with all steam tables, it's best at peak hours (though not bad at off hours, either, somehow).

                    El Zarape was great; I raved about it here
                    Has the new place in that location opened yet?

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      +1 for Sunsplash. We are never disappointed with their oxtails, mac and cheese (more of a kugel-style dish), jerk chicken, and sweet potatoes. Once or twice, the greens were a little off, but the cabbage is consistently crunchy and fresh.

                      1. re: foodiemom10583

                        Foodiemom or anyone else reading this, do you know anything about the crown chicken/Indian takeout place next door? I went in to pick up a bottle of water and noticed that they have an extensive printed menu of Indian food. The food on the steam table looked a bit dried out and unappealing it was a Saturday afternoon though. The man behind the counter couldn't have been nicer. I too like the food at Sunsplash. I suppose with the steam tables it best to go on a weekday at lunch time.

                        1. re: chowdom

                          Chowdom, my husband went in there once and didn't seem too impressed (they might have been out of chicken), but we will give it another shot. Let us know if you get there first.

                          1. re: foodiemom10583

                            I will...the chicken and biscuits actually looked better than the Indian food on the steam table the day I was there. I was tempted to pick up a biscuit but didn't. I am curious about the Indian food, either cooked to order or the steam table offerings. I can not believe how long it just took me to post this from my mobile. ...never again if I can help it.

                            1. re: chowdom

                              I'd suggest haleem as the smartest possible order in a South Asian-owned fried chicken joint serving paisano dishes on the side.

                              But if you want fried chicken, here's something nobody knows....yelp doesn't doesn't catalog....even the company's own web site apparently doesn't know about: there's a Popeye's in the rest stop on northbound Major Deegan just north of the Stew Leonards/Costco/Home Depot exit. And it's a good one. You're welcome.

                              1. re: Jim Leff

                                Jim, we found that Popeye's years ago and have made it a regular stop. The only problem we have with them is that they only have regular menu items, never any of the promotional food items.

                                1. re: foodiemom10583

                                  Don't know where you are in westchester,but i'm in New Rochelle and when i need a fix of popeyes I just head over the pelham/bronx border,there is a regular popeyes that is easy to get to

                                  1. re: 51rich

                                    Thanks, 51rich. I'm in Edgemont In four minutes, I could be in their parking lot if not for a solitary barrier that we are often tempted to remove some dark night. I will remember the other location for when we are in New Rochelle again.

                                2. re: Jim Leff

                                  Funny story about the Thruway rest stop Popeye's. During that massive blackout in 2003 we dined there on freshly fried chicken and several of our favorite sides. It was very romantic due to the dim lights and lack of any other customers. When we were through eating we filled our gas tanks and cautiously drove home.
                                  I am surprised at how few people realize that state run rest stops run on back up generators during power outages. They go until they run out of food and gas.
                                  Thank you for the haleem tip.

                                  1. re: Jim Leff

                                    There is also a Popeyes in Mount Vernon near the Mount Vernon East Train Station at 65 East Prospect Avenue. I have not been there yet but it looks new.

                                  2. re: chowdom

                                    Thanks for the heads up, Chowdom. We will have to get over there soon.

                            2. re: Jim Leff

                              As far as I know, the new place hasn't opened yet where Zarape used to be.

                              I've been to Cholula's Deli once and found the food interesting. I'll try to go back when I'm dining by myself. When I dine with my coworkers, they prefer Azteca Paradise's endless chips and unlimited refills. For only $9, I can't argue with that.

                              1. re: Robotron

                                I'm not swayed by endless chips. Give me one single chip with feeling.

                                Jamaican next door to chualas on battle ave is great, too. As is Dante's Deli down the hill on Central Ave (get fancy special panini...not everything's good here - e.g. mediocre rice balls - but what's good is very very good)

                                One more to toss into the mix: Thai Shack, on the west service road of Deegan in Yonkers:

                                It's a few notches more "together" (presentation and general deftness-wise) than you'd expect, but also a notch or two below the level of homespun care you'd hope for. But great side-of-the-road, you-ARE-in-Bangkok vibe, and certainly convenient.

                        2. re: sdhound

                          I've been singing the praises of elita's deli in ossining for years:


                        3. re: Jim Leff

                          Jim, I will need to disagree with you about safety issues. I was told a couple of years ago by a White Plains cop that drunken knife fights were a common occurrence at the weekend around
                          the Post Rd/Hospital area. Saying that, we have eaten at a couple of restaurants there in the early evening and have never had any problems.

                          1. re: Maryld

                            That sounds awful enough, but the picture it paints - of pedestrians risking collateral stabbing amid constant indiscriminate knife fights in the streets - doesn't pass the sanity test.

                            People stabbing each other doesn't particularly concern me. People stabbing random strangers certainly would. And even classy bars are prey to fights on weekends.

                            If you spot a fight or other gurgling public commotion - here or on Park Avenue - my suggestion is to walk the other way. ;)

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              I've been in that area many times at night. No problem at all.

                            2. re: Maryld

                              On a recent evening I drove to WP hospital via one of the streets where there are still projects. I asked a couple of hospital employees what they thought of the neighborhood regarding safety during the evening hours because it appeared to have become a bit more dicey than I remember. I made sure to ask the question to a diverse group. Everyone I asked emphatically stated they felt perfectly safe and reassured me they had not encountered any problems.
                              I worked in the neighborhood for years albeit during the day and never encountered any problems or heard of any more incidents occurring there in the evenings than most other parts of White Plains. I miss my lunches there.

                          2. re: sdhound

                            Hey, +1 on that portmanteau of Jim's name !!!

                            1. re: sdhound

                              I can't think of any place in White Plains or nearby, that I wouldn't feel safe at all hours, day or night.

                            2. Jim, I went today. I thought it was good. The chicken wasn't dry. But I only thought the food and rice was very nice. My experience wasn't even in the same general part of the universe as yours. Although the tiny, 2.5" long fried fish were very tasty.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: JMF

                                I'm experiencing deja vu. This sort of situation comes up a lot for me: I praise a place lavishly for the feeling of the food, the soulfulness of the food, the care in the food, the love in the food. Then people go there and expect fireworks in their mouth. They expect rice to not just feel like more than rice, but to TASTE like more than rice. They expect a whole new flavor experience.

                                Mami isn't an innovator, using revolutionary techniques to craft fresh flavor experiences from hoary old recipes. Her rice and beans taste like rice and beans. They don't taste like more. They don't even taste all that different.

                                The difference is that her level of caring and talent impart soulfulness. It's right-brain; intuitive, not material. If you eat hastily, or you approach it clinically, sniffing and probing and holding rice grains up to the light for foodie examination, nothing special will be apparent. If you expect new wrinkles and fresh takes, you'll be disappointed.

                                What is soulfulness? It's one of those things that's hard to express. To some people, it's woo-woo nonsense. Others only notice it under certain conditions. And some of us absolutely live for it. I'm one of those people, and, for me, Mami's is the essence of soulful cooking.

                                Miles Davis was not a great technical trumpet player. He missed notes a lot! But he, unlike most of his peers, could make you cry via his honesty, his intensity....lots of things that don't have much to do with tooting a horn - even though it all expressed via that tooting, as abstract, complex signals can express through a copper wire. This is like that!

                                1. re: Jim Leff

                                  And what I said was that my experience wasn't like yours. I am a very intuitive person, who balances that out with objective and supportive facts.

                                  I interacted with someone who was bored, just helping another customer. I tried to chat, but to no avail. I was practically told I wouldn't like the small fish, tail and all, and I thought they were they best part of the meal. I would go back just for them.

                                  We each have different experiences. Mine will be different from yours, even if we are there at the same time, interacting the same way, because we each have a different background and knowledge. Which means a different way we perceive situations.

                                  Yours is much inclined to your life as a musician, and as a person who appreciates food of all types.And whatever else plays a major role in who you are.

                                  Mine to three parts of my life. Situational awareness from my many years in personal and corporate security. My many years as a psychologist. And my many years as a food & beverage professional.

                                  1. re: JMF

                                    One more thing....make sure to get the yellow (not white) rice. I'd think that would be clear from the photo, but just making sure.

                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                      That's what I got. Very well prepared. Light, fluffy, and flavorful. That style of rice can be a thick, carb bomb. But not this.

                                  2. re: Jim Leff


                                    I didn't expect fireworks. I expected a place I could go to 3 or 4 times a month for a quick bite. At best, I hoped for something like Malecon. The first visit didn't do it for me, but I am hopeful the next one will be better.

                                    BTW Malecon in Yonkers should be the same as in Manhattan. They also have a location in the Bronx.

                                    Also, why did this turn into a conversation about popeyes? This made me wonder if this was a joke thread or something? Is popeyes at a rest stop a good comparison for Mamis? That is very disappointing if it is. I don't go to popeyes often, but I imagine its similar to KFC. What's next, a thread about something similar to a Wendys?

                                    1. re: sdhound

                                      I believe the progression went something like this.

                                      => steam table takeout
                                      => nearby steam table places
                                      => Sunsplash
                                      => Crown Chicken/Indian takeout next to Sunsplash
                                      => fried chicken and biscuits
                                      => Popeye's
                                      => Kevin Bacon

                                      Personally, I don't mind when things go off on a tangent. That's what make these boards interesting.

                                      1. re: Robotron

                                        Mmmm, Bacon!

                                        How many degrees of separation do you cook it at?

                                      2. re: sdhound

                                        Popeye's IMO is far superior to KFC. The popeye's chicken I have eaten in Texas is far superior to the Popeye's in NY.

                                        1. re: chowdom

                                          Popeyes all the way! Spicy Louisiana, dark meat only.

                                          Bacon and Popeyes in the same thread? Dreams do come true!

                                  3. The original comment has been removed