La Flor

Legend has it that La Flor, a beautiful restaurant on a less-than-beautiful corner in Woodside, was meant to only offer coffee and pastries from the start. Chef Viko Ortega, master of the art of pastry, opened La Flor with this intention in mind. Fate took the reins and soon Ortega began serving Mexican-inspired culinary creations to eager patrons, many of whom had traveled from as far away as Manhattan (can you believe it?). The rest is history. La Flor has been reviewed and highly rated by all the important critics in the land, and yours truly joins the chorus of positivity in celebrating this unique establishment.

When you approach La Flor, the first thing you’ll notice are the gorgeous mosaics decorating the restaurant’s exterior. The echo of the charging 7 train urges you inside where you’ll find a minimally lit space and minimal decor, with the mosaics forming accents near the kitchen.

la flor pastry basket housemade

pastry basket

Unlike some places, La Flor is a very comfortable, casual environment. The staff are even willing to allow your party of two to sit at a table for four. Some may argue this is inefficient, but I say it reflects the level of hospitality deep-seated in La Flor’s approach to business.

The menu itself is a thing of beauty. It’s handmade and features the list of dishes in delicate handwriting. I’ve been to La Flor many times, and I have to say, anything you order will be some of the best food you’ve tried.

Most recently (i.e. this morning), I stopped in for brunch. The helpful waitress handed us our menus and a list of specials. La Flor uses the same menu for every meal, so we turned to the very first page to find the breakfast and brunch options. My eyes were immediately drawn to the basket of housemade pastries listed at the top of the page. A true bang for your buck, this basket contains some of the most delicious pastries I’ve tried to date: chocolate chip brioche, tiny rolls, a selection of muffins, scones and more. I nibbled on just about every pastry and found them to be categorically superb. In particular, I enjoyed the lone berry scone. Reluctantly, I broke off a piece to share with MDP.

For my entree, I ordered the huevos Mexicana, while MDP opted for the roasted butternut squash frittata from the specials list.

la flor huevos mexicana

huevos mexicana

Rife with jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and red peppers, the scrambled eggs sat upon a bed of beans and warmed tortillas. The eggs were perfectly cooked, with no dense or crisp parts to speak of. My only complaint is that I wish the tortillas were not underneath the rest of the food; you know how I love to make sandwiches. However, this is a small qualm in the grand scheme of this delightful breakfast.

MDP’s perfectly round frittata contained sweet potato and manchego cheese (my favorite), in addition to the butternut squash. It was a well-crafted dish, although MDP argued that the flavor of the butternut squash was not as pronounced as he may have liked.

la flor butternut squash frittata

butternut squash frittata

The waitress offered us hot sauce. I expected her to bring over a bottle of Tabasco or another brand, but she surprised me. Instead, she put on the table two adorable dishes of sauces: one green (mild) and one red (hot). This detail demonstrates the thorough authenticity of La Flor.

I recommend you try this restaurant for brunch or dinner (the pasta dish on the menu is surprisingly good), but remember to stop at the ATM before you go. La Flor is cash only, which is probably its only drawback.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a landmark to help you remember where La Flor is found, see below.

lucky hair

La Flor

53-02 Roosevelt Avenue (on the corner)

Woodside, NY

Take the 7 to 52nd Street. Walk to the very end of the platform (toward 53rd Street) and take the stairs. La Flor will be at the bottom of the steps.

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The Red Cadillac (Union, NJ)

The weather forecast promised snow, but we decided to trek to New Jersey anyway. My Dining Partner (MDP) and I were dead set on delivering a brand new TV to my mom, a week before the Super Bowl, snow be damned. The TV was meant to be a gift for my mother’s birthday, which is in February, and we wanted to cap off the evening with a special dinner at The Red Cadillac, a Mexican restaurant located on Morris Avenue.

red cadillac nachos

Cadillac nachos

Situated among big box pharmacies and 7-11 outposts, The Red Cadillac features a genuine red cadillac out front. It’s no wonder the owner decided to park his car there; in the back, parking is spare. I pulled into the slosh-filled driveway and parked my car in what was probably a handicap spot, but the blanket of white and grey muck obscured the wheelchair figure that was certain to be painted on the macadam. “This okay here?” I shouted to someone who seemed to work there. “It’s valet parking, but that’s fine,” he said. And so we entered.

A sign beckoning “no sports caps” welcomed us as we walked through the double doors of the entrance. Dim lighting washes the spacious interior and helpful hostesses greeted us and sat us at a table in the back. MDP observed that there were plenty more seats available at The Red Cadillac than parking spots behind the joint. We received plastic-covered menus on clipboards and proceeded to survey the options. A bucket of chips with chipotle-inflected salsa were brought to our table, along with some drinks. Honestly, the chips and salsa turned out to be the best part of the meal.

To begin, we ordered the Cadillac nachos, which come with bits of steak covered with monterey jack and cheddar cheeses. Tiny buckets of thickly chunked guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo sat in the center of the plate. I took two bites of the nachos and declared them unsatisfactory. The steak tasted like sausage and seemed out of place. The melted cheeses were fine enough, but didn’t scream authentic or special to me. Though we polished off the plate, I’m not sure anyone was thoroughly impressed with the fare.

red cadillac beef burrito

beef burrito

For our entrees, I ordered the chicken fajitas, while my mom got the beef burrito and MDP tried the pork chimichanga, per the recommendation of the waitress. My chicken fajitas were spicy enough (as requested), yet the seasoning was too heavily applied. There was little nuance of spiciness in this dish; it was all or nothing. The flour tortillas that accompanied my fajitas were stiff and cold, lacking the warm suppleness found aplenty in decent Mexican establishments. My mom enjoyed the burrito, but when I took a bite, it felt reminiscent of the Ortega seasoning in the make-your-own-burrito box from the grocery store. MDP’s chimichanga was fine, yet the chunks of pork were drowning in what tasted like the chipotle salsa used for the chips and salsa on the table. I wasn’t pleased with anyone’s dish.

When I received the bill, which I deemed too much for what we had (in terms of value; the prices were added up correctly), I was even more disappointed in the experience.

If you’re looking for good Mexican food, don’t look toward The Red Cadillac to satisfy your predilection. There’s got to be better Mexican food in New Jersey than this, so do some exploring. I found myself comparing The Red Cadillac to Dos Caminos and Rosa Mexicano, since TRC’s prices are nearly in the range of the high-end Mexican cuisine of those two restaurants. Without a doubt, the food isn’t nearly as good.

If you know of a decent Mexican place in the suburbs, give me a shout in the comments. I’d love to try a new restaurant.

The Red Cadillac

2258 Morris Avenue

Union, NJ  07083

Rocking Horse Cafe

I’m on the quest for the perfect meal that fits within my dietary restrictions. I did not find it at Rocking Horse Cafe.

rocking horse cafe guacamole

dimly lit guacamole

Touted as an excellent restaurant on Yelp, Rocking Horse Cafe did not live up to the expectations set forth by taste-bud-less reviewers on the site. While even New York succumbed to offering a positive review for the place, I cannot muster the strength to do the same. It simply wasn’t good. Even worse, the food was bland. And one has to wonder how someone creates bland food at a Mexican restaurant. Given the artillery of Mexican ingredients, you’d think they’d serve up the most fascinating (to my taste buds) meals on the planet. Not Rocking Horse Cafe.

Shortly after we arrived at the dimly lit establishment, chips and salsa were brought to our table. Sadly, I think the chips and salsa were the highlights of my meal. The salsa tasted fresh and housemade, rather than out of some Ortega jar.

After sampling the chips and salsa, we opted for some guacamole. This is when the meal started to tumble downhill. The guacamole appetizer is served with an array of relishes, as well as some soft, corn tortillas. Why not chips, you ask? I had the same question.  We used the chips we had that accompanied the salsa to scoop out the bland, tasteless guacamole. Though we finished it, neither of us was impressed. The relishes were okay, but not spectacular, and it was challenging to identify the contents of them. The guacamole itself simply had no flavor. It was just avocado mush.

rocking horse cafe mole michoacan

mole michoacan

I ordered a gluten-free dish off the menu called mole michoacan. On the menu, it sounded pretty good. But when it arrived, I felt differently. Plenty of sauteed onions covered the oversalted chicken in the bottom of the plate. The onions were fine, and were topped with some toasted pumpkin seeds (an elegant touch given the shoddy nature of the rest of the offerings). The chicken itself was pretty good, but, again, too much salt. It was served with sauteed kale that had the strangest flavor. I left it alone on the plate.

MDP got the carnitas tacos. Three miniature tacos were served to him. He wasn’t happy with the portion size, and didn’t seem too pleased with the flavor, as well. We also received rice (which was fine, hallelujah) and some soupy black beans on the side. They were okay, but, to reiterate, the highlight of the meal was the chips and salsa.

I’m not sure why people seem to like Rocking Horse Cafe. According to Yelp, the drinks are pretty good (I can’t drink them because of my diet), but the food is just so-so, at best.

Rocking Horse Cafe

182 8th Avenue (at 19th Street)

New York, NY

Take the A/C/E to 14th Street and walk north, or take the C/E to 23rd Street and walk south.

 

Rosa Mexicano

I have been to Rosa Mexicano a number of times (three, to be precise). When I suggested it as a place for my father, my stepmother and MDP to go for dinner, my father asked, “Why haven’t you written about it on Taylor’s Ham?” So, here I am, writing about Rosa Mexicano.

rosa mexicano queso fundido

queso fundido

We chose the Union Square location because I thought it would be easier for them to get to from the Holland Tunnel. I had been to the Lincoln Center location for Restaurant Week one year, and found it to be lovely. The Union Square location is definitely trendier and much more hip. Loud music blares from speakers above. The brightly colored furniture sings under the dim lighting.

Lucky for us, we got a nice table for four in the rear of the restaurant. We took our time ordering, but started with the signature guacamole. A visit to Rosa Mexicano would not be complete without a visit from the guacamole man. With large chunks of avocado throughout, the guacamole was perfectly seasoned (“medium,” as I had requested) and creamy.

For appetizers–because we wanted to fully experience Rosa Mexicano–we got the special rock shrimp ceviche and queso fundido. As for the ceviche, you could taste the citrus fruit the shrimp had been marinated in, and it was quite delicious. Bits of mango dotted the dish, and it had a spicy kick at the end. The queso fundido, which came with chorizo (which, for some reason, the waitress defined for us–as though we were tourists), was extremely scrumptious. Nice, little tortillas accompanied it, and I dressed mine with some of the stupendous guacamole. Yum! It was perfect.

rosa mexicano pollo skillet style

pollo skillet style

I ordered the pollo skillet style for my entree, which came with grilled Mexican street corn and chorizo chili on the side. Tortillas also made an appearance for this dish, and if you know anything about me, you know I love to make my own little sandwiches/tacos/fajitas. I happily constructed delicious fajita-esque roll-ups, and scraped off some of the chihuahua cheese that was baked to the bottom of the skillet to top the chicken and vegetables.

MDP ordered the fish tacos, and I could tell he enjoyed them. My father and stepmother both ordered the tablones, which were slow-braised short ribs marinated in beer. They were outstanding! I highly recommend this dish. The meat was extremely tender and flavorful, and melted with the touch of the fork. Very good.

And we ordered dessert and coffees, as well. MDP and I tried the tres leches de zarzamoras, which was sour cream pound cake soaked in three milks with a blackberry-hibiscus glaze and toasted meringue on top. It was divine! Highly recommend. My father also ordered the ice cream sundae, which was made with several of the ice creams they serve such as Mexican chocolate with all kinds of goodies on top. Very good, but the tres leches was better.

So, Rosa Mexicano is definitely the place to go for high-end Mexican food. And when I say high end, I mean that your bill will cost at least $120 for two (with drinks–which are outstanding, by the way. You must try the pomegranate margarita).

Happy dining!

Rosa Mexicano

Multiple locations

New York, NY

Tacombi

There’s nothing quite like Tacombi in this city. At least not that I’ve seen.

tacombi guacamole

guacamole

With a barely noticeable facade located just south of Houston on Elizabeth Street, it’s a wonder anyone finds Tacombi among the bustle of Nolita. Once you enter, you’re transported to a new world of sparkling sangria and loud Bob Dylan music and a VW bus purveying tacos parked in the center of the floor. You are handed a double-sided paper menu and are instructed to sit in one of the folding chairs beside bright yellow tables with four different kinds of “homemade” hot sauces to choose from. You notice that you’re sitting next to two sinks flanked by paper towels with signs demanding that employees wash their hands. You wonder why there are sinks in the middle of a restaurant, but take it as part of Tacombi’s charm. You notice a bright blue-and-yellow burst on the wall near the kitchen that says “Tacombi” and you consider the meaning of the word. You search for the word on Google when you get home and cannot find any sensible definition, so you’re left pondering what exactly the experience of Tacombi meant to you.

You order guacamole with chips (totopos) because this is what you do at Mexican restaurants. You enjoy the guacamole and notice a hint of spice, perhaps chili powder, within the great avocado mush. For drinks, you and your dining partner order sparkling sangria, forgoing the various juices (watermelon!) they have on the menu. The sparking sangria is served to you in giant plastic glasses with straws and you slurp it down quickly, ignoring the fruit floating throughout because there isn’t any silverware on the table to use to fish out the pieces of apple.

tacombi tacos

tacos

For entrees, you order tacos, because this is what you’re meant to order at Tacombi (they have quesadillas, too). You’ve heard that the maiz y poblano (cheese) taco is extraordinary, so you get two of those and enjoy them greatly. You also order a pollo taco because you fear spicy food and want something basic. The pollo taco doesn’t impress you, and you return to the second maiz y poblano taco. You order rice and beans on the side, because they’re delicious, and you delight in the soupy black beans mixed with short grain rice.

In addition to his various tacos (his favorite being the al pastor), your dining partner orders esquites, or toasted corn in a cup with chipotle mayo. It is delicious. This is what you had on your food tour that you went on last weekend, and your dining partner had been thinking of esquites all throughout the week.

Your waiter asks you if you want anything else, and you politely decline because Tacombi has adequately filled your gut with delicious foods. You (or your dining partner) pay the bill and you leave a generous tip because Tacombi has treated you well. You escape Tacombi and abscond into the dark, frigid night, heading uptown toward 14th Street where the energy is up and the Strand bookstore awaits you.

Tacombi

267 Elizabeth Street, between Prince and Houston

Nolita, New York

Take the N/R to Prince, or the 6/F/B/D/M to Bleecker-Lafayette.

Mexicana Mama Centro

Believe it or not, it’s hard to find good Mexican food in New York City. I’ve searched high and low–from ninth avenue all the way down to the Village–and have rarely come across delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food. But Mexicana Mama Centro has made me a believer that good Mexican food does exist in Manhattan.

mexicana mama centro queso fundido

queso fundido

My dining partner and I had been to Mexicana Mama Centro another time, when we serendipitously came across it on east 12th. Last night, as with our first night, we ordered the Queso Fundido as an appetizer and two classic margaritas to drink. The Queso Fundido was beyond delicious. Accompanied by six small round corn tortillas, it’s a casserole full of melted (chihuahua?) cheese with sauteed onion and bell pepper on top. Wow.

We put huge dollops of the cheese mixture onto our little tortillas and rolled them as we would burritos. Outstanding!

And the margaritas were pretty good, too. I asked for salt on the rim of mine (dining partner did as well) and the salt mixed nicely with the tang of the margarita.

For entrees, my dining partner ordered the special spicy fish tacos while I got the chicken burrito. I know, not taking any risk there, right?

The spicy fish tacos were incredible. I couldn’t tell what kind of fish it was (an expensive one, according to our bill), but the filet was chopped up and mixed with a handful of spices on thin tortillas. Delicious!

mexicana mama centro chicken burrito

chicken burrito

My chicken burrito was nicely plated and quite delectable, too. An interesting addition, the chicken burrito had Mexican potatoes which tasted somewhat sweet within the tortilla. The burrito also had chihuahua cheese and black beans inside. Originally, I was served an enchilada and started eating the Mexican rice that came with it, but found, just a few moments later, that the enchilada belonged to my dining neighbor. Good thing I took a moment to take a photo of the enchilada before diving in!

We didn’t get dessert this time around, but I trust that anything Mexicana Mama Centro serves up is nothing but top-notch.

Do try it if you’re in the area–or even if you’re not!

Mexicana Mama Centro

47 E. 12th Street (by Broadway)

New York, NY

Take the N/Q/R/4/5/6/L to 14th Street-Union Square and walk south two blocks. You can’t miss Mexicana Mama Centro’s high-flying flag outside its facade!