Vendy Finalists: Patacon Pisao

The 2010 Vendy Awards, a celebration of New York street food, will be held on September 25 at Governors Island. All proceeds will benefit the Street Vendor Project, an arm of the Urban Justice Center, advocating for the interests of New York street vendors. This year's five finalists will all be on hand to feed the masses and compete for the city's ultimate title in street food. Each day this week, we'll be profiling one of them. —The Mgmt.

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Imagine the perfect late-night food: something fried and crackling, or hot with oozy cheese, or fluffy and buttered 'til it's golden. Then, imagine a place where you can get all this midnight manna, and so much more. Patacon Pisao is the name of this heaven-sent food truck, and it doles out Venezuelan fare on West 202nd Street only between the darkened hours of 7:00 pm and 6:00 am. Oh, but those patacones are enough to make even the early bird go nocturnal. The patacón sandwich, originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela, is made with fried green plantains that are squashed flat and pounded thin, acting in the role normally meant for bread (or fried chicken, minus the thin).

The plantain is crisp and faintly nutty, with enough heft to hold together the sandwich's insides, where you can have chicken, shredded beef, roasted pork, or all three (the Full, as you will be for $6). The meats are pulled and tender, steeped in flavor as if they were stewed in their own broth all day. And there is a peek-a-boo nugget of fried cheese that you'll discover halfway through the sandwich—that is, if you happen to be standing near a streetlight and peering closely at the barely manageable bundle in your hands.

If you do want juggle a few more hot items, head straight for the tequeños ($1 each). These crusty, cheese-filled breadsticks are a sort of puffed-up pastry with a spiral shape that just begs to be torn apart and dipped in special pink sauce. The pastelitos ($2) should not be missed either, especially for anyone who has ever craved mashed potato (and has eaten it cold out of the fridge). Here, the mash is laced with mozzarella and romano cheese and dotted with pink squares of ham. All this is encased in a dumpling with a crimped crust that flakes off in golden layers, almost like shortbread. These patties, like the tequeños, should be dipped in pink sauce, a sauce so secret and so coveted that patrons steal it by the bottle.

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There is a tres leches cake and flan for dessert, but if you're not quite ready to give up on the main menu, try the queso cachapas ($6.50) to end the night. This corn cake will satisfy your sweet tooth and your melted cheese cravings at the same time: think about buttery corn bread, then think about it crumbling to reveal white queso like a layer of Fluffernutter, but better. Is this a dream, or is this West 202 St at 3:00 am?

For those for whom eating after-hours is more nightmare than drool-worthy daydream, there is a place where you can get your patacón fix by the light of day. The small restaurant on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst has seriously peppy music, syrupy malt sodas, and a vendor who will insist on making you try the patacones while they're hot. After all, dreams don't last, and neither does fried green plantain.

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