Cemitas El Tigre

Every time I read an article about a new Mexican restaurant, commenters – who by nature are more opinionated than they should be – always say New York City is void of any decent tacos, burritos, and guacamole. Honestly, I don’t know who these people are or how they know that not one good Mexican restaurant exists in this great city of ours, but, nonetheless, the sentiment holds.

Case in point is Cemitas El Tigre, Woodside’s latest addition. A popular New York City blog wrote about the new Mexican establishment, and, as if on cue, commenters began blasting the city’s food scene – and the restaurant, although I’m fairly certain said commenters haven’t even be to Woodside, never mind Cemitas El Tigre.

I get it. Cemitas El Tigre’s provenance is not a story of authenticity, of an immigrant family clawing their way to the top of a city unkind to restaurant purveyors. The owner is called Danny Lyu, and he once peddled his special Mexican sandwiches in a Whole Foods and at Smorgasburg, both in Brooklyn. So, the restaurant is neither authentically Queens nor authentically Mexican.

cemitas el tigre fried chicken cemitas

fried chicken cemitas

That aside, I thought the place was okay. MDP and I went at 6 pm, thinking it would be packed with early adopters. Inside the narrow space, the brief menu, scrawled in white on a black chalkboard, sat upon a wall. Staff were all smiles, brimming with friendliness and proffering paper menus in case the board proved unsatisfactory. The too-loud music blaring over the restaurant’s speakers made communicating our order a challenge. The cashier plucked a number at random, handed it to us, and we took our seats near the door, which was ajar with cold air seeping through the crack all night.

Ten minutes passed, and our food arrived. MDP and I both ordered cemitas, which, for the uninitiated, are sandwiches stuffed with fresh ingredients in the tradition of street food from Puebla, Mexico. I opted for the fried chicken cemitas, while MDP got the carnitas variety.

He wasn’t impressed, but I was. The crisp roll held the contents perfectly, all 10 layers of them. In addition to the fried chicken in mine, I tasted smashed avocado, black beans, Oaxaca cheese, chipotle puree, and other delectable items. I found the hint of hotness from the chipotle puree to be the best takeaway from the sandwich’s flavors combination.

cemitas el tigre onion rings

onion rings

In addition to the sandwiches, we ordered onion rings, which came with a vat of ketchup, as well as cilantro-lime rice and black beans.

The onion rings are crispy, crunchy, and fried deliciousness. We asked for the dill ranch dip that accompanies them (for an added fee), but our cashier didn’t comply with this request. Ketchup was a fine stand-in, however.

The rice and beans are sold separately, and I would encourage you to embrace the option of not ordering the rice. MDP expressed an interesting sentiment regarding the rice: it tasted like Rice-a-Roni, or a similarly manufactured, too-salty, and fake-flavored rice dish.

The beans made up for the rice, but not by much. They were cooked and creamy, with bits of cilantro sprinkled on top, but not entirely impressive.

cemitas el tigre cilantro-lime rice and black beans

cilantro-lime rice and black beans

Cemitas El Tigre offers burritos, tacos, and milk shakes, none of which we tried. And I’m not certain we’ll be back to sample them.

If you’re in Woodside, you might visit Cemitas El Tigre, but I’d recommend de Mole instead. It’s just a few doors down, on 45th Street and 48th Avenue, and they serve up some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had – despite what commenters might think. Haters gonna hate!

Cemitas El Tigre
45-14 48th Avenue (between 45th and 46th streets)
Woodside, NY
Take the 7 train to 46th Street, walk south several blocks to 48th Avenue.

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F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries

My mom always says, “A simple menu is a recipe for success.” She’s right, and that couldn’t be closer to the truth at F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries, where, as owner Frank Ottomanelli puts it, “we have a small menu so we can bring the freshest ingredients to our customers.” Surely, they’ve succeeded.

And it’s not just the fresh ingredients that will keep customers coming back for more. It’s the gracious hospitality with which customers are met. While we were enjoying our burgers, Frank came over to my dining partner and I and asked if we had tried the special sauces for the fries (I’ll get to them later). We hadn’t, so he decided to bring them over to us … with an order of freshly prepared fries. You simply don’t get that kind of service at most places.

As part of a butcher dynasty, F. Ottomanelli is practically neighbors with its meat supplier, S. Ottomanelli and Sons, a Woodside institution. “The meat is always fresh. We grind it at the butcher store,” Frank says. “Our goal is to sell all the ingredients by the end of the day so that we can start fresh the next day,” he continues. At this rate, they’re bound to do just that.

I’ll break down the burgers and fries for you, part by part, so that you can have the best idea possible of what to expect from F. Ottomanelli.

F. Ottomanelli Burger

f. ottomanelli burger

The meat: It was nothing less than completely juicy and delectable. I wouldn’t say it’s the most flavorful hamburger I’ve had (Shake Shack is the gold standard in this category), but it’s a burger I’ll likely crave at some point. And, as one of the only true burger joints in the area, it’s inevitable that I’ll return for that juicy patty.

The bun: Big and puffy, as my dining partner said, but definitely delicious, the bun adds something to the burger; it isn’t an afterthought. My only concern is that the bun might seem like too much bread to those ordering the “junior” (or single patty) burger. Am I wrong? Tell me, if so.

The toppings: Here’s where I have a gripe. I ordered mustard, mayo and grilled onions to top my burger. (The burgers come standardized with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.) I felt that there could have been more toppings to go around. What the Shake Shack and Burger Garage seem to do best is they distribute a large amount of toppings for the double burgers. I felt that Ottomanelli’s double burger received as much toppings as a single might have. Lay it on, I say! I’d rather use a knife to remove some of the toppings than feel I have a dry burger.

In other news, if you order, say, a caramelized onion burger, apparently, Ottomanelli will mix in the caramelized onion with your beef and serve up a patty with the onions embedded in it. I’ll definitely try this next time I go.

F. Ottomanelli Belgian Fries

f. ottomanelli belgian fries

The Belgian fries: Cubic and beam-like, the Belgian fries are certainly a notable part of the menu. The quality of the potatoes shows through, and their freshness is definitely an enjoyable element of the fries experience.

The fries sauces: The ones I liked best were the creamy and cheesy Rosemary Parmesan, the flavor-that’s-hard-to-place European Mayo, and spicy Chipotle. There was also Malt Vinegar, Buffalo Sauce, and Hot Sauce, which I don’t care for, but MDP enjoyed the MV.

I highly recommend the sauces, so be sure to ask for them when you go.

The service: Excellent. I think I rankled the nerves of the woman who was taking my order, but ultimately, the service was fantastic. Frank came over to our table, beaming as he talked about the new restaurant and all the press it’s already getting (Time Out New York is going to feature F. Ottomanelli in an upcoming issue!). I appreciated his time and his words.

So, even if you’re not from Queens, you definitely want to check out F. Ottomanelli Burgers and Belgian Fries. They’re top-of-the-notch and possibly the best in the borough. (For you Donovan’s fans, this place gives D a run for its money. And triumphs, in my opinion.)

To Ottomanelli: Please put up a website soon. Don’t let your customers rely on the totally unreliable Yelp to find and enjoy your place!

 

Sapori d’Ischia, Woodside

To say Sapori d’Ischia is in the middle-of-nowhere is an understatement. Off the 61st Street subway station, one must walk several blocks north and several blocks east to find this restaurant. Is it worth the walk? Sure, the food’s good, but the service could be better.

Last time we went to Sapori d’Ischia, we had a Groupon. This time, we also had a Groupon. I had made a reservation for our table earlier in the day. When we arrived, the waiter referred to us as “regolare” but the owner (I think) offered us a non-regolare table fit for four. I put the Groupon on the booth next to me, buried next to my purse.

“Is that a coupon of some kind that you have there?” he asked, peering into my business.

“Oh, yes, it is,” handing him the Groupon.

He looked me dead in the eye. “You have to present this when you come in, before you are seated,” he informed me.

“Okay, we’ll do that next time,” I said, stunned by his reprimand.

Does the Groupon negate the reservation? I wondered.

Once the Groupon inquisition was put to rest, we ordered our food and had a fine time, though the waiter was brusque, at best, for the remainder of the evening.

For an appetizer, we got the Budino al Carciofi: pureed artichoke meat with roasted red peppers and chopped bits of pancetta. It was delicious. The green, very-artichoke flavor nicely complemented the texture of the roasted red peppers.

On the table, the waiter put bread and olive oil with olives. The olive oil was thick and flavorful. The bread was crusty on the outside and delicate on the inside–exactly as it should be.

For entrees, we ordered the Fettuccine al’Antonio and the Nonna Maria Gnocchi. Sapori d’Ischia is known for the fettuccine dish: a bowl full of noodles tossed in a light white sauce that are then smothered in a parmigiano-reggiano wheel. The result is creamy, cheesy, and divine. The gnocchi, small in portion, were accompanied by lobster and truffles. The cream base made the dish rich, but there could have been a few more gnocchi to absorb the sauce.

Dessert was extremely delicious, as well. We ordered the banana caramelized Nutella bruschetta. My dining partner and I envisioned bread as the base of this dish, but we were both wrong. A whole banana lay on a smudge of Nutella with caramelized sugar and chocolate sauce on top, paired with a dollop of vanilla gelato. Mmm.

During the day, Sapori d’Ischia is a wholesale market, purveying fine Italian goods. Once, we bought bread, cheese, and olive oil–all three delighted our senses.

Sapori d’Ischia

55-15 37th Avenue (near 56th Street)

Woodside, Queens

Take the 7 to 61st Street, then walk.