Leticia’s Ecuadorian Restaurant

Maybe it was because on that day I had eaten less than I should have and walked farther than I should have carrying more than I should have on less sleep than I should have gotten the night before. Maybe.

Emotionally, it was a little surreal – like a scene in a French New Wave film from the late 50s, underscored with that quaint, quirky, quintessentially European music that telegraphs an atmosphere of utter happiness and convivial hyperfamiliarity, music that gets louder just before everything starts to get strange.

The weather was perfect for outdoor dining that day. “A drink to start?” asked our cheerful-as-a-Disney-bluebird server as if we were regulars or on some level had known each other forever. The menu listed one of my favorites. “Horchata, please,” I requested, expecting either the creamy white rice drink or the opaque, grayish jicaro-based beverage. She quickly returned with a semi-translucent vividly pinkish-purple (or possibly purplish-pink) citrusy libation and disappeared before I had a chance to inquire.

Surreal is when the unfamiliar happens in familiar surroundings.

An animated manager-type emerged as out of a trippy mid-last-century flick, ever so eager and more than happy to help us, his newest old friends, with ordering from the extensive menu. “But first,” I asked, “this is horchata?” He accommodatingly explained that it was Ecuadorian horchata, horchata lojana to be precise, an herbal drink made from a combination of flowers and herbs: lemon verbena, lemongrass, lemon balm – that explains the citrusy notes – mint and chamomile to name just a few of the ingredients. Horchata can blush: we live, we learn.

The pageant of surreal delight continued: the diner behind me excitedly exhorting a curious sidewalk passerby to come in and try the delicious food, she eats there all the time (turns out she lives just upstairs), and here are her recommendations; the couple seated catty-corner to me (he spoke only Spanish, she had some English), overheard as she was enthusiastically and sibilantly demonstrating an English plural for his edification: “Say beanssss.” These days, it doesn’t take much to bring a smile to my face. “This place engenders joy!” I thought aloud, caught up in the aura.

Enough about the ebullient ambiance. You want to know about the food, don’t you?

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Leticia’s had been recommended by a friend for their Chaulafan – a cognate of Chinese chao fàn, fried rice – and it was excellent. Ecuadorian style fried rice with shrimp, chicken, beef, vegetables, eggs, onions, bell peppers, and sliced avocado on top paired with sweet plantain under a hillock of cheese sauce. The surreal part? Its ceramic serving vessel was so cleverly designed to look like a Chinese take-out food container that it made Andy Warhol’s famous artwork seem like just another advertisement for Campbell’s Soup.

Tres Chanchitos (translation: three little piggies). A trio of succulent meats featuring hornado – perfectly cooked slow roasted pork (note the crown of crispy skin), fritada – juicy fried pork ribs, and chorizo – Ecuadorian sausage, served with pickled onions and tomatoes, mote (aka hominy, or corn on steroids) and chulpi (aka maiz tostado, or corn nuts). “Chanchito” also refers to a three-legged pig (surreal again), a good luck talisman and the shape of many molcajetes (including mine).

So there you have it. In some restaurants the charming staff and the ambiance make it unique, in some the food is absolutely on point; Leticia’s delivers both and manages to go far beyond just special – like I said, the place engenders joy.

You already know that I’m going back. I wouldn’t be surprised if I run into you there. Because after all, surreal is when the unfamiliar happens in familiar surroundings.
Leticia’s is located at 40-32 National Street (at 103rd St just off Roosevelt Ave) in Corona, Queens.

Sabor Ecuatoriano Bakery – Humitas de Maiz

Instagram Post 6/19/2019

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There is a soft spot in my heart for humitas de maiz; this blend of corn, cheese, eggs and cream, swaddled in a corn husk, steamed, gently tinged with the warmth of direct heat, then anointed with a dollop of crema started my otherwise gloomy day with an uplifting bite of sunshine.

[1] This one came from Sabor Ecuatoriano Bakery, 40-42 82nd St, Queens, on the cusp of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst and, like many of their baked goods, tasted like it came straight from the ❤ corazón.

[2] A peek inside.

Rincon Melania

When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as three posts, published on October 29 and December 14 and 16, 2018.

A celebration for a friend brought us to Rincón Melania, 35-19 Queens Blvd in Sunnyside. This is one of those restaurants where everything I tasted was so good, without exception, that it’s essential that I return before long. Three starters we enjoyed:

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From the Appetizers section of the menu, Bolón Mixto de Queso y Chicharrón. Classic Ecuadorian cuisine crafted from green plantains, cheese and chicharrones. One picture is worth a thousand words.

Pulpo a la Parilla – I’m a sucker for grilled octopus and they prepare it perfectly here.

And from the Ceviches division, Mariscos Mixto – mixed seafood cocktail with shrimp and fish, tostones encompassing the catch. Some Ecuadorians may tell you that they have they market cornered on ceviche; if this is any example, no puedo discutir con eso.

Seco de Chivo, Ecuadorian goat stew, definitely made me happy: served with Arroz Amarillo (yellow rice) and an avocado wink 😉 plus a Maduro half (sweet plantain) smiling 🙂 at me. Nice when your food likes you back. (For what it’s worth, pareidolia strikes deep.)

Tender, succulent, Pernil accompanied by yapingachos (or llapingachos), pan fried potato pancakes, and two members of the corn family in contrasting preparations: boiled mote and crispy maiz tostado made from cancha or chulpe, sometimes referred to as corn nuts.

Fritada (not to be confused with frittata – no eggs here) con Mote, a homestyle Ecuadorian staple that starts with pork that’s boiled with seasonings then fried in pork fat. (Mmmm. Pork fat.) Shown here with classical accompaniments, maduro (sweet plantain), yapingachos (or llapingachos – pan fried potato pancakes) and two corn cronies: boiled mote and crispy maiz tostado (corn nuts). Delicious.

Guatitas, literally “little bellies” since it’s bits of tripe, is another traditional Ecuadorian dish: tripe stewed with potatoes in a light, delicately flavored peanut sauce, maduro and arroz amarillo with avocado on the side.

I can’t decide which one of all Melania’s dishes I tasted that day would Be Best!
Rincón Melania is located at 35-19 Queens Blvd in Sunnyside, Queens.


Instagram Post 8/22/2018

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Ceviche isn’t always about seafood. This Ecuadorian ceviche de chochos (lupini beans), known colloquially as cevichochos, was served up by a street vendor near Our Lady of Sorrows Church, 104-11 37th Ave in Corona, Queens. The beans are combined with tomatoes, maiz tostado (toasted corn), red onion, and cilantro and marinated in a citrus blend. Often a vegetarian dish, this version included bits of fried pork (see second photo), a happy addition. Typically, it’s garnished with a crunchy topping – here it’s chifles, fried plantain.

Los Helados de Salcedo

Instagram Post 3/8/2018

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Thought you might need a palate cleanser after all that rich food I continually post! While wandering around Jackson Heights, a sign in the window of a little shop featuring goods from Ecuador caught my eye. Upon entering Ecuador Records Variedades at 92-11 37th Ave and making my way past piles of hand crafted clay pots and other charming imports, I headed straight to the freezer case and selected the ice cream pop depicted on the sign that sported distinct colorful layers of “mora, naranjilla y taxo con centro liquido de jalea de mora, guayaba”.

The Ecuadorian frozen confection sold under the name “Los Helados de Salcedo” (after the city, I suspect) was surprisingly good. Not only was it sweet and refreshing, but the flavors were distinct and richer than I anticipated.

Translation: Helados = ice creams. Mora = blackberry. Naranjilla, literally “little orange”, although unrelated (I’ve seen it as naranjillo and frequently as lulo), is a fruit with a tart, tropical, quasi-citrusy flavor that can be found locally either canned, jarred, or frozen. Taxo is also known as banana passionfruit; it’s the oblong shaped fruit pictured on the wrapper. Guayaba = guava. I’m not certain that I really detected the liquid center of blackberry jelly; greedily consuming the delectable pop, I may not have given it a fair chance.