Noted while passing through the easternmost reaches of Manhattan's Chinatown: a skewers joint with a curious approach to typography. From a distance, the large characters 鐵板燒烤 (tiě bǎn shāokǎo, roughly "iron plate barbecue") reinforce the message of the twin-skewers artwork. Up close, the menu is printed in English, and rendered in one of those Orientalist typefaces meant to suggest, to Western eyes, that "this is Chinese" — but items including souvlaki, bifteki, and tzatziki, and maps that decorate the dining area, make clear that the food hails from the Peloponnese. Rather than assert identity, the typeface seems to gesture toward a sense of neighborhood belonging instead.
Sherman's 121 Division St. (Orchard-Pike Sts.), Manhattan 646-861-2726
This name of this self-described "modern American" restaurant has a Cuban heritage. Victor del Corral, who was born in Guanabacoa, east of Havana, in 1922 and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1957, opened Victor's Cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan 1963. In 1971 he commissioned the Cuban-born artist Arturo Martín Garcia to create an artwork that would commemorate del Corral's rural upbringing.
Against a field of sugarcane, Martín Garcia sculpted a bas-relief that wraps around the side-street entrance to the restaurant. The south face of the bas-relief depicts a yoked team of oxen pulling a cartful of cut sugarcane; the east face depicts a guajiro, or agricultural worker.
In 1980, Victor del Corral transplanted his namesake restaurant to West 52nd St., where it continues to this day, but the bas-relief, which Martín Garcia had sculpted from plaster mixed with marble dust, was too fragile to be moved. Rooted to this Columbus Ave. corner, the bas-relief was at some point after its installation colored in earthtones; these had deteriorated considerably at the time of preservation hearings in 2012. Ultimately the bas-relief was restored to the original whitewashed coloration shown here.
Sometimes the very contours of a restaurant sign tell a story about an earlier business. Shalimar, in San Francisco, serves no alcohol, but it's clear that for at least one previous tenant, cocktails were a specialty. Punjabi Kitchen's pole-mounted sign, though repainted, retains the leaflike shape once favored by a national chain and complements the barnlike double pitch of the roof. If only the restaurant served kulfi with a cherry dip!
Perhaps the cafe has a sidewalk permit, and perhaps you could sit outside, but isn't the fully shaded windowside two-top far more attractive? This table and chair, partially exposed to the harsh late-morning light, seem to have a different function. From a distance, they're easier to "read" than any hand-chalked signboard: brunch is served.
(Figurative) table for one Cafe Triskell 33-04 36th Ave. (33rd-34th Sts.), Astoria, Queens 718-472-0612 www.CafeTriskell.co Closed Monday and Tuesday
On my recent visit to Mexico City, I ate precisely one Chinese meal, notable less for the food itself than for the Dongbei heritage of the cooks. Although I never set foot inside Kong Ming — typical for CDMX, the menu was Cantonese — I did add its likeness to the Chinese Restaurant Worldwide Documentation Project. In all, I photographed 17 Mexico City restaurants for the photo pool, 11 of which identify their cuisine with an immediacy that rivals pandas and bamboo. Even when the restaurant name is writ small, as at Kong Ming, those red lanterns send their signal.
Kong Ming San Jerónimo 35 (Calle Isabel la Catolica-Calle Bolivar), Centro, Mexico City +52 55 5709 8565
Yakshas are members of "a broad class of nature-spirits ... in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature." They may be male or female; many are benevolent, even mischievous. In Thailand, however, where statues of yakshas guard the gates to many Buddhist temples, generally they are given a fearsome appearance that includes bulging eyes, protruding fangs, and what appears to be a stafflike weapon, but perhaps is a massive sword not yet drawn from its sheath.
This Bayside, Queens, mural portrays the architecture of Bangkok against the skyline of New York, much as the restaurant's name combines BK and NY. Also juxtaposing East and West: A towering yaksha guarding a humble parking-lot service door, and a "weapon" that, on close inspection, is nothing more than a gaily painted drainpipe.
BKNY Thai Restaurant 47-11 Francis Lewis Blvd. (at Rocky Hill Rd.), Bayside, Queens 718-281-1900 www.BKNYThai.com
A is not for "apartment house" with a commercial tenant tucked in the prow; A is for "Aztec architecture" enlivened by a chile-pepper apostrophe. As you've guessed, the deli counter focuses on Mexican fare. (A supplemental menu offers Dominican lunch specials, also prepared by an able hand; shards of concon, hidden behind the counter, await those who know to ask.) The edifice of my torta de lengua con todo ($7), a beef tongue sandwich with the works, was demolished in short order.
Andrea's Deli Grocery 1182 West Farms Rd. (at Home St.), Foxhurst, Bronx 718-589-2409