PROFILE: Midtown Lunch’er “Steveroller”
Every Tuesday I turn over the site to a different Midtown Lunch’er for his or her recommendations for the best lunch in Midtown. This week’s midtown lunch’er is Steve, whose photo alone gives him instant cred in my book. (That’s him eating grilled beef hearts on the streets of Peru.)
Name: Steve (aka “steveroller“)
Occupation: Legal Ninja
Where in Midtown do you Work?: Next to the Times Square Ball
Favorite Kind of Food: Phew, this is tough. My favorite cuisines show the convergent evolution of ingredients like chiles, lime, and cilantro. Occupying the most treasured spot in my unhealthy heart is Mexican food (Chile Verde, Cochinita Pibil, Moles Poblano to Manchamatel, Birria, Seafood Veracruzano). I’m a strong advocate for Al Pastor WITHOUT Pineapple, and Chile Relleno just stuffed with cheese, please. Speaking of Al Pastor, I’m a huge fan of things served off of weapons, even if the only things being injured are my insides. Perhaps this is traceable to the fact that like old Jerusalem, or Chaz (née Chastity) Bono, I am one-quarter Armenian. So I love Shish and Lula kabob, but also the lamby Bukharan kabobs around town, Xinjiang-style “shwar,” Peruvian anticuchos, and dÃ¶ner. On the other side of my family I’ve got a Mancunian grandmother (Sorry Rudy) who instilled in me a love of oxtail anything (Jamaican Dutchy’s isn’t bad). I also like most stuff that comes out of the Levant (can I challah at the Semitic ladies?). Resultantly, I’m a big fan of just plain hummus and falafel. I said in the comments here once that I’ve seen more small kosher balls than a mohel, and I’m sticking to that. My veins run with hot sauce and I love spicy food (any chili paste, amba, harissa, Taco Bell fire sauce, the Tabasco rainbow). After some time spent in China I’d do a long march for good Hunan and Sichuan food, especially Dan Dan noodles, and its estranged Japanese cousin Tan Tan Men. I love pan-cultural and sometimes pan-fried dumplings (Shanghai “fried tiny buns,” pelmeni, Argentine empanadas al horno, momo, and my aunt’s SpÃ¤tzle). Basically I’m in favor of any meat stuffed in dough up to the Pillsbury dough-boy being sent to federal prison. Just randomly now: I pine for pinenuts, any moldy cheese, any bitter green, Eastern European mushroom soups. Capers! (Piccata, Putanesca, Great Muppet). I am like the Bubba Gump of avocados, having grown up down the street from avocado packaging plant. In butter-pear heaven they are just sliced, with salt, pepper, lemon, and chile. My last major “food” group is probably alcohol and I love Oregon IPAs, the many faces of vodka (esp. Salty Dogs), tequila (esp. Vampiro shots), and a Yukon Jack snakebite. I drink a lot of black coffee for reasons discussed in the previous sentence. When all is said and done my favorite food is the specialty of wherever I am, so takoyaki in Osaka, lablabi in Tunisia, or Kwik-Meal on 6th Ave.
Least Favorite Kind of Food: I’m a committed omnivore, so there’s almost nothing I wont eat. Exceptions might be penis stalk and primate (I changed a baby Chimp’s diapers once and after staring in its wise eyes I don’t think I could ever eat one). But otherwise I’ve eaten whale sashimi, pig uterus, chapulines, durian, love gizzards, and eat most things under the sun or under a rock. I’m not huge on the mineral (to me) taste of cooked beef liver, and find I prefer it raw. I’ve not been impressed with natto when I’ve tried it. I prefer my beans without a head-cold. Typically I try not to pass judgment on whole cuisines but I don’t love Scandinavian food, and think it’s sad when a lingonberry sauce is the apex of your cuisine. If I were a Viking I would have been upset too.
Favorite Place(s) to Eat Lunch in Midtown: I already mentioned Kwik-Meal. I love their chicken with rice with as much of that radioactive green hot sauce as they’ll give me, even if it looks like Shrek’s body fluid. My favorite food street in Midtown is probably the stretch of 38th st. with Go Go Curry (chicken single with fukuzinzuke pickles); Ying Du for morning buns, and Djerdan for Ä†evapÄiÄ‡i. I’m sort of a Ä†evapÄiÄ‡i addict, once even having a Peja Stojakavic themed grilling party at my house. For relatively authentic Chinese I think the Grand Sichuans have a goldilocks Dan Dan Mien that strikes a nice balance between the Sichuan peppercorn heat of Szechuan Gourmet, and chili heat of Wu Liang Ye. There’s a delicate melon soup at Evergreen Shanghai (on 38th btw. Mad+5th) I enjoy. For Midwesterner Chinese food Main Noodle House‘s lunch special (on 6th Ave. btw. 37+38th) could (and probably does) feed a homeless person for a week for $8, and their General Tso is fried crispy, winning the battle against potential sogginess. I actually probably do more midtown dinners than lunches and frequently hit the Indian at Utsav at night. They actually advertise a ML priced lunch to-go special, but I’d also order their Lasuni Gobhi a la carte since it’s the apotheosis of cauliflower, the closest that vegetable comes to candy. I could mention a hundred places which have been covered ad naseum here but let me travel slightly out of bounds to mention El Deportivo (on 9th Ave. btw. 48+49th) for Latin-Caribbean. It has good chicharonnes de pollo washed down with better sangria and mojitos made by bartenders who look about 15. Also, Gazala’s Place (on 9th Ave. as well) is a great BYOB Druze place, where at least the burek are in ML price range. Who knew heresy tasted so good?
“Go-To” Lunch Place You and Your Coworkers Eat at Too Often? I’ve been guilty of eating salad pods and Pret. My workmates love Schnippers (shout out to my doc review), but if I’m forced to eat at a really clean establishment I prefer the Mexican or African falafel at Crisp. I find their falafel “handbags” a little emasculating, but I guess they don’t force me to take it back to my office and listen to cast productions of musicals on my computer while I eat. I’ve turned a few people on to Jonah Hill-sized falafel and shwarma sandwiches at Baraca (formerly Olympic Pita). Zach could swaddle Harry with their laffah, it’s that big. The red lentil soup at Akdeniz, bright with lemon, and served with their crusty bread, is a real comfort food for me and a steal at the price. Of course, buradi rolls at the Biryani Cart.
Place(s) you discovered thanks to Midtown Lunch? Virtually every place listed above, and then some. I probably would have never tried the Little Morocco cart (which is tasty, but rightfully described as very little Moroccan) or Trini-Paki unless some braver soul had been there first.
If you could work anywhere (just because of the lunch) where would it be and why? If I were trying to be objective I’d say Vancouver BC. Amazing ethnic food, mixed with some of the best seafood in the world, and the only downside is hockey. But I think everyone’s tastes are ultimately informed by the places where they grew up, so I have to say Ventura/Oxnard, CA. While not exactly a food destination, it boasts some pretty amazing Mexican (and also Filipino) food. Also, it lays claim to the “corn burrito” which is basically a taquito stuffed with refried beans, fried, then covered in a savory sauce and bright orange shredded cheese. It’s disgustingly delicious. Also, the area’s about as far south as you’ll kind find good Santa Maria BBQ, the tri-tip BBQ tradition endemic to CA’s central coast. The Trader Joe’s in Union Square at least used to sell pre-marinated tri-tip which is good for summer grilling. Speaking of Trader Joe’s, you can actually breathe in the one in Ventura, unlike here. But in Ventura you should buy your strawberries from the back of a pick up truck, pick your oranges from your back yard, and eat your In n’ Out watching the waves roll in at the beach. Not too shabby. Sadly, my childhood has ruined me for one thing. No matter how much amazing New York-style pizza I have, I still sometimes crave Roundtable topped with pepperoni and jalapeÃ±os.
Is there anything you’d like to ask the Midtown Lunch readers? I just moved to Astoria from the West Village this last week. Anybody have any restaurant recs for the new nabe? I’m by the 30th ave and Broadway stops. And yes, I know there’s Greek food.
Got any recommendations for Steve? Put them in the comments. And as always if anybody would like to be next week’s Profiled: Midtown Lunch’er (or know somebody you’d like to nominate), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.