Los Tacos No. 1

The origin of the taco is mostly unbeknownst to mankind, but one theory persists. According to the Smithsonian, the taco is believed to have originated from the 18th century silver mines of Mexico. “[T]he word “taco” referred to the little charges [the miners] would use to excavate the ore. These were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face.” Since then, the taco has made its way to the US—first through the migrants who came to work on the railroads and in the mines—and soon the ingredients were adapted to what was available locally such as lettuce and minced meat. Today, tacos are everywhere. From Taco Bell to Chipotle and fancified versions at high-end restaurants, the taco continues to win over the hearts of any who chance upon it. I mean, how many people do you know who absolutely hate tacos?

To celebrate our love for this wrapped delicacy, we headed over to Los Tacos No. 1 located in Chelsea Market. According to their website, Los Tacos No. 1 was founded by three close friends from Tijuana, Mexico, and Brawley, California whose goal was to bring the authentic taco to the East Coast. Right next to the spice shop in the middle of Chelsea Market, this small taco place is usually packed. When we arrived one evening, there was already a line forming with people fresh out of work looking for a quick bite before heading out. Luckily, the line moved fairly quickly and we soon found ourselves ordering the carne asada and chicken tacos, along with the especial quesadilla and a sweet hibiscus drink called Jamaica. Ordering is easy, but to actually get your food, you need to be quick and push your way through the throng of customers, either waiting for their food or eating at the counter, to hand your ticket to the cooks. Once our dishes arrived we quickly piled on some pico de gallo, spicy sauce and grabbed a few lime wedges and headed over to an empty corner. There are two options for the tortillas, flour and corn. We somehow ended up with corn (make sure to specify!), which and had a nice yellow hue with a slightly chunky texture. Our favorite was the carne asada taco which was filled with perfectly seasoned meat, green sauce, and fresh pico de gallo. All this was devoured in minutes. Yes, it was that good, but also the tacos were small, making us wish we had ordered a bit more. Next time!

Los Tacos No. 1
Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave
New York, NY
www.lostacos1.com

Hakata Tonton

Japan is a small island country, but within it lies a rich variety of cuisine. As odd as it sounds, despite growing up in Japan, I never got a chance to delve into or explore the many different faces of Japanese cuisine. I was always longing for “foreign” dishes that to me, were exotic and exciting. Now that I live in the US there’s a reversal of perspective—Japanese food has become my “longing,” to discover the many dishes each region has to offer.

For instance, take Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture, located in the southern region of Kyushu Japan. Hakata is widely known for their specialty ramen and also their ever popular “motsu nabe.” Motsu nabe is a Hakata-style hot pot that usually consists of either beef or pork intestines and a variety of vegetables simmered in a delicious broth. Yes, disgusting to some but for the adventurous, it’s a delightful and delicious discovery!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly out to Japan, but we did find a restaurant that serves a delicious spread of Hakata-style specialty dishes. Hakata Tonton located in the West Village on the corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue has brought to New York authentic Kyushu Japanese soul food. As described in their about page, some of these dishes may seem “strange to the eye, but are delicious renditions of the food made famous in Hakata, Japan.”

The main eating area is very small, but there is another secret entrance just around the block that takes you to the back where there is more space for seating. It was there that we were seated at a nice cozy corner and were offered steaming hot roll of wet towels to cleanse and warm up our hands. As we had done some research before, we were ready to order immediately. To start off we got three appetizers, the Foie Gras Inari Sushi, TONTON Famous Homemade Gyoza, and their Garlic Fried Rice. The inari sushi, sticky rice wrapped in sweet fried tofu skin, was topped off with a beautiful foie gras steak, which was melt-in-your mouth tender and oddly enough, paired well with the sweetness of the rice and tofu skin. The gyoza was served on a sizzling hot cast iron plate, perfectly crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. But the garlic fried rice might have been one of the best things there. Made with pork tonsoku (pork feet!), egg, and plenty of garlic aroma, the dish was topped off with scallion and fragrant cilantro. Finally for the star of the show, the Hakata Tonton Hot Pot that included their special collagen broth (beautifying for the skin!) tofu, chicken, dumplings, cabbage, chives, spinach, Berkshire pork belly, and pork feet. There was no heavy pork smell, the broth was clean and spicy, and surprisingly very light. We made sure to leave a bit of soup, vegetables, and meat for the rice bibimbap, which was the perfect finish to our meal.

We recommend making a reservation in advance and coming to Hakata Tonton famished! Trying a variety of dishes and exploring their menu will insure you get the full experience of Hakata cuisine this special restaurant has to offer.

Hakata Tonton
61 Grove St, New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-3699
www.tontonnyc.com

Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings

“Who can cook like Mom?” Often enough, these thoughts are felt the strongest when we move away from home. And when we do finally come home and sit down to a meal mother has prepared, we are overwhelmed with a comfort that makes us sigh and melt in our seats. Taiwanese restaurant Mimi Cheng’s is a direct answer to this question. After an extensive search for authentic and delicious Taiwanese food in New York City, the Cheng sisters decided to open up their own restaurant to share their family favorites like dumplings, noodles, and veggie dishes. And the best part is, Mimi Cheng’s strives to serve the best ingredients that are locally and organically sourced. Because ultimately that’s what mothers want—they want only the best for their children.

At one glance at the menu, you’ll notice each item is packed with vegetable goodness (i.e. Green Energy, Mighty Veggie, Taiwanese Street-Cart Greens) We decided to share a noodle soup and two types of dumplings, the Mimi Cheng and the Reinvented Classic. The 12 Hour Chicken Noodle Soup was on the lighter side—we recommend ordering a side of their Housemade Garlic Chili Oil if you’re looking to add more flavor. But the rice noodles were chewy and firm, the chicken balls fluffy and sumptuous, and the bokchoy added crunch and a nice green element to the dish. The dumplings featured delicate, thin wrappers that achieved that perfectly browned crispy skin, which is so essential to pan-fried dumplings. We enjoyed both types of dumplings, but favored the Mimi Cheng chicken over the Reinvented Classic pork as it was much more juicier and included a lovely twist on traditional ingredients. And of course, the dumplings doused in their secret sauce were absolutely delicious.

Mimi Cheng’s Dumplings
East Village
179 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
NoLita
380 Broome St, New York, NY 10013
www.mimichengs.com

Domo Williamsburg

2017 is finally here and we decided to celebrate the new year with a traditional Japanese dish, mochi. Mochi can be eaten all year round in many different forms, but it plays a huge role especially during New Year’s Day. On this special day, kagami mochi decorations are put on display at homes all across Japan. These ornaments comprise of two flattened circular mochi patties stacked on top of the other, and finished off with a mandarin orange at the very top. We also cook a special clear broth soup called ozoni that includes toasted mochi. Unfortunately, we did not decorate our apartments with kagami mochi nor did we cook ozoni. Rather, we headed over to Domo Williamsburg for a different kind of mochi that you don’t usually eat on New Year’s Day, but is equally as delicious.

Domo Williamsburg located on the corner of Jackson Street and Manhattan Avenue is a small Japanese eatery/grocery store that stocks everything from candy to cup ramen, and of course, a menu consisting of homemade rice balls, sandwiches, an array of teas, and dangos. For those who are not familiar, dango are little mochi balls that are usually served with wood or bamboo skewers. At this particular eatery, you can order from a variety of red bean paste, sesame, and mitarashi (soy sauce flavor). We had to go with two orders of the mitarashi dango, because as little girls we had fond memories of this sweet and savory snacks. Originating from Kamo Mitarashi Tea House in Kyoto, Japan, the mitarashi dango is made with a thick, sweet soy sauce glaze that also has a deep toasted flavor. Often times, a sheet of nori seaweed is carefully wrapped around the dango, providing a little bit of texture and enhancing that toasty quality of the dish. At Domo Williamsburg, the dangos come in nice paper coverings and served on a beautiful wooden platter.

If you love dangos as much as we do or have never eaten one and want to try out some traditional dangos, we highly recommend dropping by Domo Williamsburg. While you’re there, make sure to pick up a few snacks for later!

Domo Williamsburg
359 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
domowilliamsburg.com

Veselka

After inciting shock, despair, anger, and sadness in many, this year’s election has revealed a great divide in our county. With all this in mind, a restless, anxiety ridden day at work left us in much need of each other’s company and a comforting meal. Naomi and I headed over to the famous Veselka for a bowl of their sweet and sour borscht, perogies, and meatballs. You might know Veselka as simply the delicious East Village Ukrainian pierogi and borscht restaurant, but believe it or not, it’s more than that. Today, we would like to dedicate this post to the immigrants and minorities who have been helping to create and support local communities right here in New York City and across America.

Current Veselka owner Tom Birchard married Marta who was the daughter of Wolodymyr Darmochwal, an agronomist who was expelled from Ukraine after World War II during the Soviet rule and housed in a displaced-persons camp in Germany for two years. After settling in New Jersey, Darmochwal opened Veselka in 1954 as a newsstand, canteen, and community center. Now the sole owner of the restaurant, Birchard has throughout the years welcomed the diverse community of the East Village, from sponsoring performance artists to offering jobs to Polish immigrants, opening up its doors to both hippies and punks for hot coffee and free challah. Veselka was and is today a safe haven, providing good food as well as comfort and a sense of community.

It’s in times like these that we must come together as a community for strength and remind ourselves who we are, where it is we come from, what we will and will not stand for. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

Veselka
144 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
www.veselka.com