Has Street Meat Student (Carnegie John) Surpassed Teacher (Tony Dragonas)?

Tony Dragonas Cart

Believe or not I had actually never eaten at the super famous Tony “The Dragon” Dragonas cart on Madison & 62nd until last week.  I am very familiar with his disciple, Carnegie John (on 56th and 7th), but have never made it up to see the man himself.  I know it’s just a few blocks out of bounds, but there’s something about the UES that repels me- and if I do find myself up anywhere near that area, I usually eat at the original El Rey del Sabor Cart (on 60th and 3rd).

Anyway, a doctor’s appt. brought me right past the Dragon’s popular cart last week during lunch, and again those words popped into my head (like they have so many times before when faced with something delicious)…  “how could I not?”

Tony Dragonas Cart

Like many carts in Midtown, this one has nothing that would indicate this is the famous Dragonas cart- but the big puffs of smoke, and the long line (even at 11:45 a.m.) were a dead giveaway.  The mas was there, and working the flat top like a pro (with the two workers flanking him just trying to keep up.)  It was actually a year ago this month that the city threatened to take away his vending liscense, but those issues have thankfully been solved (thanks in no small part to the Street Vendor Project.)

Tony Dragonas Cart

I got up to the front of the line, and went with the chicken and shish kebab combo, white sauce and hot sauce, with rice and salad (dressing on the salad).  Not surprisingly, the similarities between this plate and Carnegie John’s plate are striking.  Clearly The Dragon taught him well…  the chicken was full white meat chicken breasts, cut in big slices, and nicely charred from the flat top (that also cooked the rest of the meat.)  The shish kebab was charred and flavorful as well, which is probably due in no small part to the cooked sausages they cut in half and leave on top of the kebabs.

This is actually the magical trick of both Carnegie John and Tony Dragonas… cook everything on the same flat top, and all the flavors get mixed up.  Your burger gets that extra bit of flavor from the street meat, the chicken getting some flavor from the beef.  It’s kind of a picky eaters nightmare… if you eat chicken but not beef, or beef but not pork- you might want to stay away from this cart.  It all gets cooked together.

Since Carnegie John cooked under the Dragon for years before striking out on his own, it’s no surprise that their two plates of food are almost indistinguishable from each other.  The meat thing above is part of it, and they both use that same Greek style yogurt based sauce (with dill), rather than the mayo based concoction you get at most street meat vendors in Midtown.  But eating my first plate from Tony Dragonas’ cart, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that maybe Carnegie John’s is better.  Don’t get me wrong… it was a good plate of street meat- I just didn’t have that same “man, this is really good” feeling I get whenever I eat at Carnegie John’s.  The kebab was a little tough, the rice a little watery, and some of the pieces of chicken were not the best. Of course, I usually go into eating at Carnegie John’s thinking it probably won’t be as good as I remembered it being from the last night.  Maybe the Dragon had an off day?  Did I order the wrong thing? Maybe my expectations for eating at this legendary cart were too high?

Truthfully, the food being served from the two carts is so similar maybe it’s not even worth mentioning… but could it be possible?  Could student have surpassed the teacher?  Lines at the Dragonas cart say no.  What do you say?

Tony “The Dragon” Dragonas Cart, SW Corner of 62nd and Madison


  • “mayo based concoction”!!!!!!
    Must we go down this road again!! I thought we agreed there’s no mayo in it!
    My white sauce ban has been reinstated.

  • @Mamacita – haha. Are you confused? I thought that argument was over there being mayo in Sophie’s green sauce (which apparently there isn’t)

  • damn, you’re right. It was the green sauce!… all I know I hate mayo. I live in denial about the white sauce most of the time. Until Zach reminds me all over again!

  • Is sophie’s green sauce similar to Pio Pio’s aji pepper green sauce? There might be mayo in Pio Pio’s. LOL.

    I actually like CJ’s better than The Dragon’s plate. I will have to wait to go back when the Dragon is cooking it himself though. When I went, his helpers and his son were running things and Tony was only observing. I don’t think their skills are anywhere close to John’s. Haha. I await the Dragon’s reawakening though. ;-P

  • the white sauce in 53rd and 6th and most other street meats is def 50% or more mayo…one of my friends interviewed them years ago when they were at peak popularity.

  • Aren’t all those cart’s (that don’t use yogurt tsatziki) just using watered down ranch dressing?

    The tsatziki (and the beef) is why I prefer Carnegie John’s over the other carts, but I still oblige 53rd & 6th for the lamb.

    I just wish someplace in midtown made doner like the places on Houston (seasoned lamb, not spiced lamb/beef meatloaf).

  • And here I was hoping to tickle Mamacita’s tonsils with a geoduck salad laffa with extra white sauce

  • Two days ago I had a Philly cheesesteak from the cart at 53rd and Park, NW corner. I requested mayo and was astonished to see him squirt it from the same “white sauce” bottle he squirted on my lamb gyro the day before.

    Also I noticed that while he wore the thin plastic glove on one hand, he handled the buns with a bare hand, and both bare hand and gloved hand got involved in making change. Not sure what the point of the glove at that point.

    I was happy when this guy first appeared at that corner, and I am rooting for him but the truth is the two things I’ve had have not been so great. Not awful, but not worth going back for, either.

  • There absolutely is mayo in Sophie’s green sauce.

  • LOL.. I love how I’ve single handedly turned this into a discussion purely on mayo, instead of the Dragonas cart. Sorry, Zach.

    DDR, I give in. I’ll still eat the green sauce. But I’m avoiding white sauce unless it’s real tsatziki.

  • ….personally….i want to know where mama’s white sauce phobia came from

  • Well…. it all started when Danny recommended the Bukkake Udon ….


  • …..is this like a flashback scene…..should we all wobble about as the screen fades to black?

  • I like how Mamacita completely ignores all references to Geoduck just like Zach ignores all references to the deep fried walgreens sandwhich. I have news for you Zach. I am getting Walgreens to enter the Midtown Lunch Sandwhich with a Deep Fried Walgreens Sandwich!

  • So far as I can tell Rudy, Mamacita has a love/hate relationship with anything tubular, flaccid, gooey or …heaven forbid… all three.

    She says she hates it… until she’s spotted choking on it with wild delight

  • Haha. That’s digusting man…

  • …who the hell wants to deep dry that sandwich. LOL

  • Can’t anyone say “tsatsiki?!” Dragonas’ sauce kicks ass! No coke, pepsi. No mayo, yogurt.

  • Yea, I call it Tzatziki when I ask them to add it at the greek carts. I only say white sauce at the halal guys. Haha. Or should I start saying mystery sauce instead?

  • It’s got to be close. The “gyro” they serve there is the cheap frozen gyro crap served at diners. It tastes like breakfast sausage. I think John’s rib eye puts him ahead. And that’s not even talking about the burger.

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