QBA Truck Brings “Quick but Authentic” Cuban Food to the Streets
Last week we reported that New Jersey’s QBA Cuban Kitchen truck had started making appearances in Manhattan, and according to the schedule on their website they’re hoping to make it a permanent Tuesday and Thursday thing (on the SE corner of 48th and 6th) Excited about a new truck in the face of NYC’s coming food truck apocalypse, I immediately headed out to welcome QBA to the neighborhood, and to see what they had to offer.
On my first visit, I tried their lechon (pulled pork) meal which comes with white rice, frijoles negros, some of their “mojo-pickled onions” and a choice of one of three sauces (guava-habanero BBQ, cool and creamy garlic aioli or jalapeno cilantro aji). According to our good friend wikipedia, “lechon” is a dish that features a whole suckling pig roasted over charcoal… but like most Cuban spots, their version is pretty much just pulled pork. It was moist and tasty but fairly standard overall, and there was no skin or anything- so if you’re hoping for some crispy skin action you might be disappointed.
The white rice fills the whole tray and forms a bed onto which everything else is served. The rice was a little on the mushy side but I think that’s a good thing considering all the food it has to stand up to here. The frijoles negros were very flavorful and were actually the highlight of the meal for me (strange, cause I love meat). The onions were crunchy and not too vinegary. They add a nice bit of variety to the plate. For my sauce I chose their jalapeno cilantro aji. It’s a thin, citrus-y sauce with bits of jalapenos and cilantro chopped up in it. It wasn’t the most perfect tasting sauce I’ve ever eaten, but it’s pretty spicy… so in that sense I guess it did its job.
When presented with this sort of dish, where everything is in very close quarters, my instinct is to mix it all together. That was pretty satisfying, but I think it might have actually been a mistake in this case. The sauce got lost in the mess, just adding a little bit of heat here and there. I think I’d have been better off keeping the beans on their own (since they’re delicious) and using the sauce to further liven up the pork and ample amount of rice hiding under it. Lesson learned. The meal costs $7 (as does their chicken meal, the steak meal is $8). It’s not going to stuff you the way one of Cafe Cello’s mammoth plates of food does (on 46th btw. 5+6th), but it’s a good sized lunch and all the rice makes it pretty filling.
I’m used to maduros (sweet fried plantains) being served with a dish, so it was a bit of a bummer that they were extra. I’m not really sure what I was expecting- but I was a little disappointed with what I got for $2. They were good, but nothing beyond all the other maduros I’ve had before.
QBA offers a couple of special drinks, and while I don’t usually buy drinks at lunch limeade is a favorite of mine and $1 seemed like a steal for some sort of fancy mint version. It was a little fizzy and just the right mix of sweet and sour. I couldn’t really taste much mint (despite a mint leaf floating in there), but I certainly did not regret ordering it. It’s great for the kind of brutally hot summer days we’ll be facing in Midtown for the next few months.
On my second visit I had to get QBA’s Cuban sandwich. It’s the only legitimate lunch item, aside from their combos, and I was hoping it would really elevate QBA. Sadly it was a bit luke warm after a 4 minute walk from the truck to the Broadway pedestrian mall. Afterward, I noticed on their Twitter feed that a few weeks ago they asked customers to let them know if their sandwiches weren’t heated thoroughly, because their oven seemed to be weak that day. Clearly it’s still a bit of an issue. I could see mustard, but I never tasted it, and the pickles provided a little crunch but not much else. The cheese seemed to all get absorbed by the bread. Mostly, all I tasted was ham.
And that was too bad because the pork in the middle was salty and delicious… I just wish there was more of it. And at $7, it’s pretty small. I was hungry a few hours later. In fairness to the truck I did get my sandwich at around 1:30, when they had already run out of their meals, and I think I might have gotten the last one. In other words, this truck is fairly new, so hopefully they will work out the kinks. (But for now, if the Cuban sandwich urge strikes, I think I’ll probably head to Sophie’s or Margon instead.)
The meals, on the other hand, seem like a nice alternative to standard chicken and rice plates when you’re looking for a street lunch. I would go back for the pork if I’m in the mood and I am curious to try the chicken and steak varieties, as well as the other sauces. In the end, I’m happy QBA is making stops in Midtown, but with so many other great Cuban options in Midtown, it’s hardly a must visit… yet.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Cuban food, from a truck? I’m in!
- Their meals offer nice variety and a solid value
- I really want some tasty frijoles negros
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Their Cuban sandwich was lukewarm and way too small for the price
- You have pay extra for maduros!
- No crispy skin with the pork
- The portions are “reasonable” and I like to be an absolute glutton on my lunch hour
- If they plan on parking so close to Margon and Cafe Cello, they’re going to have elevate their game