El Sabroso Still Cheap, Interesting, and Going Strong

When I first began working in Midtown, one of the reasons I was intrigued by our beloved Midtown Lunch blog was the deliberate coverage of “hidden gems” that are often found in freight elevator hallways or on second floors of buildings. The unexpected restaurant locations reminded me of Chungking Mansions, one of the cheapest places to find an apartment in Hong Kong, and a building peppered with retail shops and Indian restaurants inhabiting the space meant for an apartment flat. This was one of my favorite places to eat when I did a brief stint partying studying in Hong Kong. MJP did a great post on Nick’s Place earlier this summer, which happens to be the only freight-elevator-hall restaurant I was lucky enough to stumble upon a few months ago. The rest of the places are so hidden, I can only find them by using Midtown Lunch as a reference. El Sabroso, an Ecuadorian restaurant tucked in the hall next to the freight elevators of a building in the fashion district, is as traditional and just about as lowbrow as you can get.

The purpose of this post is not only to share my take of this restaurant, but also to remind readers about these little hideaways and introduce new readers to aren’t privy to the backstory. We can all be very proud that in 2008, Zach impressed a writer from the UK Guardian Benji Lanyado by taking him to El Sabroso for a NYC food blogger contest and said, “Zach socked it to the big guns! El Sabroso is what foodie blog content is all about – really good food with a cultural angle, off the beaten track, and with a quirky situational twist.” Zach and El Sabroso rose above the other NYC bloggers’ picks, which doesn’t happen on the food-front in Midtown too often!

Over four years had passed since we had covered it, and I had to try it out. I’ve been distracted for a while by the lovely eating establishments in the immediate vicinity of my office, but it was time to venture further. Turns out, the place hasn’t changed much since Zach did a +/- review back in 2007.

The barstools are still the main seating option, along with a folding table and chairs closeby in the hallway. I was lucky to nab one of the four seats at the bar as a customer left right as I walked in. Prices remain low, although not nearly as low as they were when, according to Lanyado, you could get a $3.50 plate in 2008.

Other options include a daily soup special, most interestingly cow’s feet on Thursday; chicken, pork, beef, tripe, and goat stews over rice, and meats sans-stew, such as pork and steak with onions, spaghetti, lasagna, breakfast sandwiches, and Peruvian food on Friday. I wish my Spanish wasn’t so poor, because I would have probably enjoyed a fritada con mote, which I now know is a traditional Ecuadorian dish with fried pork and hominy. Instead, I ended up ordering a roast chicken plate for $5.00 (the steak and onions were sold out for the day) and a cheese empanada for $1.50 since I have been keeping an eye out for them lately.

The empanadas are the cheapest I’ve seen so far in Midtown, but unfortunately it was not densely cheese-stuffed, so perhaps that explains the low price. The dough was very much like El Rey Del Sabor’s $2.00 pastelillo but the empanada overall was much saltier.

The chicken seemed dry, but the crispy skin added a lot. But again, it was incredibly salty, so if you don’t like your chicken well-seasoned salt, you’ll probably find it too overpowering.

My favorite part of the dish was the beans — they were in a soggy legume-infused broth that was great sopped up with white rice (or yellow rice if you fancy it). For me, on both the empanadas and the chicken, the bright orange, runny hot sauce that’s shared among customers at the bar made the meal. Ecuadorian food isn’t usually too spicy, and the sauce followed that rule but added depth of flavor. If you like it hot, you can dribble many extra spoonfuls on your plate and get the added moisture bonus to boot.

Have any Lunch’ers hit up El Sabroso lately? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations? If anyone has tried the fritada con mote, how is it? If you haven’t tried the place yet, you’re up for a veritable Ecuadorian experience and you’re likely to receive street cred with your coworkers if you bring them along for the ride.

El Sabroso, 265 W. 37th St. (btw. 7+8th), 212-284-1118


  • El Sabroso is next to my former office. I can vouch directly for the goat. I love goat and you can pretty much only find it at Caribbean or Latin American joints with a good following. Their goat is juuuust on the intact side of falling off the bone. Don’t eat it when you have a shirt and tie, because you WILL be sucking meat off the bones, and goat sure is bony.

    Also, any of the stewed dishes can serve as two meals unless you’re a very big eater.

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    Ah, Chungking Mansions. Providing Sub-Saharan Africa with most of its mobile phones for a few years running. Don’t forget that it’s not just South Asian restaurants; there’s at least one Turkish place on the first floor (second floor to those who are USAmerican) and a smattering of “African” food clubs higher above. Admittedly, they’ve done renovations over the past few years, and it’s not as boss as it was in ’05 (when you could find every shade of green and brown within its storied walls), but eh, 10 out of 10 times I’d still go there instead of a local Cantonese place.

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