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Latin American Restaurants and Eats in Jackson Heights

Tastes of Latin America on Roosevelt Avenue

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Cositas Ricas

Cositas Ricas Restaurant in Jackson Heights

(c) John Roleke
After the relative calm of Jackson Heights' 37th Avenue (see the first page of this Latin American eating tour), you'll find Roosevelt Avenue like an alarm clock that won't stop ringing. The traffic, the roar of the elevated #7 train, the music blaring from storefronts, and the noise of the sidewalk crowds create a constant cacophony. In time these rhythms become just another flavor as you are tempted by one market, bakery, or restaurant after another, from the simplest fast-food places, to more elaborate eateries. On a budget, you can do well with Roosevelt Avenue street food, including carts and trucks peddling specialties of Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico.

My first stop is Confiteria Buenos Aires (90-09 Roosevelt Ave, 718-672-4046), a tiny Argentinean bakery. Its mini-pastries, many filled with dulce de leche (caramel cream), cost just 55 cents each.

Sometimes, when I'm in the mood for Peruvian food, I wander a few blocks further east to Lima El Pollado Dorado (95-13 Roosevelt Ave, 718-478-1900). There I enjoy a refreshing purple corn drink and either an appetizer of papa a la huancaina – a delicious potato in a spicy sauce made with feta cheese (so rich it can almost be a meal) – or aji de gallina, an addictive shredded chicken smothered in a Parmesan cheese-and-hot-chile sauce. As in many Peruvian restaurants – Jackson Heights has at least six – you can also get Peruvian-Chinese food, but that's another story!

We eat out of order on our tours. If I'm in the mood for Mexican, we go to Plaza Garibaldi (89-12 Roosevelt Ave, 718-651-9722), a lively, family-friendly place with a children's menu that includes "hamburguesas con papas" – hamburgers and French fries!

But though great Mexican food is available in many New York City neighborhoods, Ecuadorian isn't, so my next destination is usually El Pequeno Coffee Shop (86-10 Roosevelt Ave, 718-205-7128), one of about a half dozen Ecuadorian places in the crowded stretch between 82nd and 86th Streets.

I remember when El Pequeno was truly pequeno (Spanish for "small"): it was so narrow that it could fit just one counter and perhaps five or stools. The owner tripled the size when he rented the stores on either side, but kept the name. Five friends and I ran in after a tasting extravaganza as a thunderstorm began. Thinking we were already too full, we ordered one whole roasted chicken, which came with a large platter of yellow rice, red beans, and a deliciously dressed salad, all for a mere $8. Several of us also got tropical fruit and humitas, a type of tamale. I imagined we would take food home. We did – in our stomachs!

From "El Pequeno," my tour has just two more stops. Los Paisanos (79-16 Roosevelt Ave, 718-898-4141) is an outstanding market that has bins of dried corn and beans in sizes, shapes and types that you probably haven't seen in the northern hemisphere, as well as music, cooking utensils, and a large selection of packaged goods, beverages, sweets, and many other ingredients for Latin American cooking.

But I'm not done. I want coffee. Cositas Ricas (79-19 Roosevelt Ave, 718-478-1500) is more than a restaurant – it's a phenomenon. Although you will pass many wonderful Colombian places on your journey, this one draws me in. Maybe it's the outdoor décor, maybe it's the high energy level inside. (And it's sunny, which I like.) Inside, there's a coffee bar, bakery, and ice cream stand as well as full table service for the wonderful seafood and meat specialties. The place is always packed! Alas, by now I'm too full even for any of the delicious pastries or ice cream. Next time, I think, I'll start my tour here. But for now I order a single espresso and take my time. Mmmmmm. It's a luscious way to conclude your tour!

Oh yes, I forgot to mention something else: You won't break the bank on your eating expedition. Unless you're getting shrimp, lobster, or a special cut of steak, most meals top out at $14 (before beverages and dessert), with plenty of food left to take home!

Myra Alperson is the founder/editor of NoshNews, a newsletter that highlights the food of New York City's ethnic neighborhoods, and founder of NoshWalks, a tour business that focuses on those neighborhoods. You can contact Myra Alperson at noshwalks@aol.com or by calling 212-222-2243.

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