Of the 27 remaining hard-to-find cuisines, there are two that stick out like sore thumbs. Why haven’t I found Costa Rican or Nicaraguan food in New York City?!?! I have no idea. There’s a nice supply of Costa Rican restaurants in Connecticut and New Jersey, but none in New York. There’s even a Costa Rican eatery in Ridgway, Colorado, which has a population of 932.
But in New York? Nope, until… well, about three weeks ago.
If you gaze deeply into the Ticos en New York Facebook page, you might be lucky enough to find a hidden gem: there’s a brand-spanking-new Costa Rican place in Richmond Hill, Queens called Punto Sabroso. Well, sort of: thanks to the quirks of New York City’s business licensing laws, the restaurant is temporarily stuck with the establishment’s previous name, E & S Jugos. And as the name suggests, the place does serve fresh-squeezed juice, but it also doubles as New York’s only Tico restaurant.
Punto Sabroso owner Katrasha Her – a friendly, lovable Honduran chef who spent six years working in a Costa Rican restaurant in Connecticut – somehow squeezes some wonderful dishes out of her pint-sized kitchen, using a scrappy arsenal of plug-in hot plates and countertop appliances. The place is small – our gang of three occupied nearly every seat in the restaurant – but mighty.
You can never go wrong with a good stewed chicken, and Katrasha nailed it: it was fall-off-the-bone tender, in a refreshing sauce of onions, peppers, and tomatoes, served with corn tortillas, a small salad, white rice, and gallo pinto, Costa Rica’s beloved mixture of rice and beans:
One of my companions ordered a perfectly cooked pork chop, served with the same array of sides, including more gallo pinto. I was an even bigger fan of the medallions of stewed beef tongue, slow-cooked in tomatoes, onions, and peppers until the beef had a silky consistency. I honestly don’t understand why beef tongue isn’t more popular in the United States: for my taste, it easily beats any expensive steak when it’s prepared well. The dish was again served with corn tortillas, salad, white rice, and gallo pinto:
I’m told that gallo pinto is a national obsession in Costa Rica, almost as beloved as the national fútbol team. If you’ve ever been to Honduras, you might have enjoyed a similar mash of rice and beans, called casamiento. Katrasha – who is an excellent conversationalist, and wonderfully patient with my Tarzan Spanish – generously revealed the secret ingredient that distinguishes Costa Rican gallo pinto from the casamiento made in her native Honduras: Salsa Lizano, a vegetable-based sauce that gives gallo pinto its characteristic hint of sweetness.
So now you know the secret to good gallo pinto, as explained by a friendly Honduran. I can’t, however, tell you anything about the secrets behind our delicious dessert of chorreadas – thin, crepe-like pancakes made from corn and a nice dash of cinnamon:
If I have a complaint about the restaurant, it’s the fact that it’s small, and I can’t bring everybody I know all at once: the three of us happily occupied most of the restaurant’s seats, but the space is designed for takeout, not lingering diners. But there’s really, really good news on the horizon: Katrasha is working on expanding into a much larger restaurant, prodded by New York City Ticos who want a gathering spot to drink Imperial, eat gallo pinto, and watch their beloved national team. Stay tuned.
Punto Sabroso / E & S Jugos
86-21 115th Street, Jamaica
Subway: 110 Street (J train)
In case you’re wondering: since Chef Katrasha is not actually Costa Rican, this meal doesn’t “count” as part of my project — even if it’s delicious and features an appropriate dose of Lizano. But if you know any Costa Ricans who might be willing to prepare a simple Tico dish, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.