The Vegetarian Option: Cheburechnaya
Unless you live in Central Asia, you're unlikely to hear the phrase, "I'm going to get some Uzbek food tonight." And yet that's exactly what I told my friends a few nights ago, and that's how I found myself in Rego Park at Cheburechnaya, on a stretch of road that includes Chinese markets and Kosher Middle Eastern restaurants. In fact, Cheburechnaya in Queens is Kosher itself (they have a branch in Brooklyn that is not).
I couldn't visit a restaurant called Cheburechnaya without trying their chebureki, so I sampled both the mushroom and the potato varieties ($1.65 each, pictured at top). My server warned me that they were rather large, but I was unprepared for the puffy triangles of dough roughly the size of my hand that came to the table. The mushroom filling was soupy and savory, with large chunks of mushrooms and onions which had collected in the bottom of the fried dough pocket. The potato filling, which had also collected at the bottom of its pockets, was silky smooth and studded with black pepper. Both were warm and wonderful. The chebureki were served with a slightly spicy sauce that tasted of tomatoes and pickles, which was shot through with dill and scallions. The acidity of the sauce was a great counterpoint to the oiliness of the dough.
Also listed under the "Dough Products" portion of the menu were samcy, and I ordered one filled with pumpkin ($1.65). The pumpkin inside was finely diced and only slightly sweet, and a little sour. The pastry was light, flaky, and crunchy, contrasting nicely with the creamy interior. The samcy was served with more of that tomato-pickle sauce, to which I was quickly becoming addicted.
The less said about the grilled vegetable kebab ($3) the better. I had to dip the vegetables into that sauce to make them interesting.
I've had great dishes of potato and mushrooms at restaurants in Brighton Beach, but the french fries with mushrooms (a small portion costs $4.99) left me a little cold. The fries and mushrooms had been deep-fried together, but hadn't been seasoned at all. Once again the sauce came to the rescue, transforming a mediocre dish into something much better. It was certainly a better choice than the bottles of either Heinz ketchup or Cholula hot sauce that were also provided at the table.
A word about the service: When I first entered the restaurant no one approached me or greeted me, and after a few minutes of waiting around I took a seat at a table. After several minutes, when it was clear I wouldn't be leaving, a server finally approached me. From that point on they were unfailingly helpful and friendly, but it was a strange way to begin the meal.
They also have a full selection of salads, so there's a lot more for vegetarians than I would have assumed. But based on the rest of my experience, I'd definitely stick with those dough products, which were far more flavorful and appealing than the other dishes I tried.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.