At 9:15, the televised Bundesliga match had already absorbed the attention of a handful of solo diners. I'd managed to beat the Sunday morning rush — when I left, about 10:00, most tables were taken, mainly by families — but I'd also arrived too early for the weekend-only cazuela de pescado. (About 11:00 would be more like it, said my waiter.) The house version of this dense Ecuadorian stew is finished in the oven until it develops a nice crust on top. It's a tuna "casserole," in the menu's translation, bound with peanut-enriched plantain.
My consolation, prepared with the same ingredients but wrapped in a plantain leaf and steamed, was a "pie" from the daily menu. The bollo de pescado ($7) resembled a hefty tamal freighted with slabs of albacore. Balancing the richness of the peanut and plantain was a spicy curtido of chopped tomato and pickled onion, standard issue at every table. (As with many such condiments, the liquid contains most of the kick.) But, alas, unlike the cazuela, the bollo had no crust.
H/T an Ecuadorian black-car driver, some years ago
Ceja's Restaurant 800 Kennedy Blvd. (at Paterson Plank Rd.), Union City, New Jersey 201-601-0791 www.CejasRestaurant.com Closed Monday
Apart from the minor variation in spelling, cebiche with a B is the same as ceviche with a V. But differences run deeper between familiar seafood ceviches and this cebiche de pato (special, $10), a favorite in northern Peru. The protein is not fish, presented at the ambient temperature, but duck, served hot. Crispy duck skin is a hallmark, as is a currylike marinade colored by aji amarillo, a mildly spicy yellow pepper. Indeed, duck takes well to aji amarillo; so do rice and boiled yucca.
Also shown: an obstructed view of the restaurant's facade, and a detail, from the signage, of a chullo.
Norte Chico 3504 New York Ave. (35th-36th Sts.), Union City, New Jersey 201-751-4155
Many Guatemalan baked goods have humble names drawn from the natural world. You can recognize the chicken, for example, by the spread of its "feathers". This elote (60 cents) evokes a short fat golden ear of its namesake, corn. Don't discard that pale sugared "husk"!
Antigua Bakery 2815 Bergenline Ave. (28th-29th St.), Union City, New Jersey 201-348-0278
The German surname "Herbig's" is a tentative reading of this well-weathered painted sign. Beginning in the mid-1800s many German immigrants began making their new homes in Hudson County, New Jersey. Indeed, in Union Hill, a town later absorbed into Union City, German became the language for keeping the minutes of town meetings.
The market's former stock in trade is a little easier to make out (especially once you click on the photo for a closer look). Framing the shop's name are the words "meat," "fish," "vegetables," and "groceries." The word in the center is illegible to me, however, as is most of the last line. All that I can make out is the first word, "oyster."
Herbig's Market Surviving signage, 1812 New York Ave. (18th-19th Sts.), Union City, New Jersey
A quipe (Key-pay) is the Dominican version of a Levantine kibbeh. The original takes on many guises; the variety adopted in the West Indies has an oblong, deep-fried shell of bulgur surrounding seasoned minced meat. Many quipes served by Upper Manhattan storefronts and street vendors are bland; sometimes they hint sweetly at cinnamon. This one offered not only the nuttiness of bulgur but also, as my dining buddy observed, an Old World flavor profile including pine nuts and cumin.
John's Fried Chicken 512 West 207th St. (at Post Ave.), Manhattan 212-567-6489 (one of several locations) www.JohnsFriedChicken.com
The mission this evening was meant to confirm intel regarding another cart, said to prepare tacos al vapor, a.k.a. tacos de canasta and tacos sudados. These are steamed ("al vapor") and traditionally held in a basket ("canasta"), where their collective warmth gives them a sweaty ("sudado") texture. That cart may have changed hands; on the evening of my visit the menu was pedestrian, the ambience, desultory.
Much more energy radiated from nearby Tacos El Tuzito, which employed an expediter to take orders from a small but continual stream of customers. The cook himself — a native of Pachuca, capital of the Mexican state of Hidalgo — is fast with a blade, notably so when replenishing his essential reserve of sliced radishes. They were a crisp accompaniment to a pair of tacos suaderos ($2), which featured chopped, griddled beef brisket.
Tacos El Tuzito Cart stationed on the southeast corner of 45th St. at Bergenline Ave., Union City, New Jersey Seven days, lunch through late night
This Salvadoran restaurant's roster of atoles (ah-Toll-ays), hot sweetened drinks usually made with a cornmeal base, varies from day to day. The more common varieties — atol de elote, fortified with whole kernels of corn, and atol de chocolate, also known as champurrado — seem to be reliably available at El Farolito.