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Bronx Eats: Why You Should Go on a 6 Train Food Crawl
The 6 isn't a train we talk about often. It's the slower, more limited buddy to of 4/5. Worse yet, it doesn't even traverse into Brooklyn, which—as we all know—is the land of milk and artisan honey. But today we want to change your preconceptions about this seldom discussed train, because in the Bronx, the 6 is—for the epicurious—where it's at. It's the borough's most deliciously diverse and exciting route for the food obsessed, preferably accompanied to J. Lo's On The 6 as soundtrack.
Along the 6 you're guaranteed to find at least one good bite off almost every stop up to Buhre Avenue. There's a diversity and density of food you can't find on other trains around in the borough. With the continued influx of South Asian, Central American, African, and Mexican populations along the train's route, its only going to get more exciting.
Let's establish one key fact first: the 6 train is not up to par with the 7's multiethnic journey through Queens. That's not the case we're making here. But what other train is? Upstaging the 7, with its maddeningly dense diversity of eats, is like trying to best Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak. (Which is, some sports scholars say, arguably the most unlikely feat ever accomplished in sports.)
What the 6 does do is provide the strongest case for a long disregarded borough's culinary offerings: one of Ed Levine's favorite New York pizzerias, possibly the city's only source for baobab juice, and Guyanese blood pudding worth lusting after.
Here's what I'm going to call the "6 Train Challenge": an epic guide to grabbing some of the most delicious and interesting bites the 6 can take you to. We didn't include everything, but there's more than enough here to satisfy a large group. Less ambitious? Pick and choose!
A selection from this year's Choice Eats, newcomer La Morada is a good place to kick off your adventure. Those looking to go light would be well-advised to skip the pambazo torta, which lacks heat, and go for tacos or chilaquiles instead. Those in larger packs might want to get something more substantial; say, one of the five moles.
On summer weekends, you might want to take the time to walk through St. Mary's Park from its southern to northern ends. The park is pleasant and busy but not packed; a few years ago, there were whispers of Garifunian barbecues on Chowhound. But during a stroll earlier this summer, Dave Cook and I found nothing but hot dogs and hamburgers.
East 149th Street
Another newcomer, Seis Vecinos specializes in the food of Honduras and El Salvador. Keep it simple and order a balaeada ($2.75), a wheat tortilla stuffed—at its most basic—with puréed beans, sour cream, and shredded cheese (here, queso doroco) to go. The tortillas, made fresh to order, are thick and bubbly, with a playful chewiness that tugs back at every bite.
Warmer days will call for a glass of cashew apple juice ($3; bring a mug). On the weekends, if you want to kick your bodega theme into full gear, head over to Envios & Productos Centro Americanos (also known as Hermes) for the same ($2; weekends only).
With your baleada in hand, or perhaps mouth, walk over to El Atoradero to order a picadita con carnitas ($3). Get yours with the obligatory beans, shredded cheese, sour cream, and a salsa. The best are the tomatillo and an unblended black and green variety. In the winter, café de olla will provide necessary fuel.
If you're looking for a sit-down experience or to start your crawl at 149th you can drop into the recently lauded Mexicocina. In her review, Scarlett Lindeman writes, "this is the type of home-style cooking glorified by upscale Mexican restaurants around the city and rarely seen outside of the home, the kind of dishes you scan menus for at local taquerias, hoping the cooks have taken the time to make them." Enough said.
Take the walk to Lechonera La Piraña (weekends only), eating your picadita on the way. I'd suggest you bask in pork while you've still got the chance and order a plate of lechon, skipping the rice and pigeon peas ($5 without, $8 with). If you're on a Puerto Rican kick, make a stop at Mama Isabella's on your way to Longwood Station. Fresh and refreshing fruit shakes can also be bought outside Westchester Fruit; coconut with cream, milk, and lime will run you 3.
Seis Vecinos: 812 East 149th St, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map); 718-684-8604
El Atoradero: 800 East 149th Street, The Bronx, NY 10455 (map); 718-292-7949
Lechonera La Piraña: Corner of 152nd and Wales, The Bronx, NY 10455 (map)
Walk over to Watson Avenue, where you'll find Ecudorian cooking at Ricuras Panderia. The bold are welcome to go for bollon de verde ($5) or humitas ($5), but more practical would be an order of empanadas de verde ($2) stuffed with fresh, quesillo-like Ecudorian cheese.
Ricuras Panderia: 1576 Watson Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10472 (map); 718-450-8363
We find ourselves back in the Northern Hemisphere at Pupusería Salvadoreño, a small and homey ode to El Salvador's most famous food. Made fresh to order, the pupusas ($2 and up) come with a choice of eight standard fillings. While the loroco (a flower bud indigenous to El Salvadaor) is unfortunately flavorless, the queso y frijoles and chicarrones (a pork paste) are seriously satisfying.
Avoid the temptation to stuff yourself and make the leap over to West Africa by way of Fouta. Those on a more limited itinerary might be inclined towards the tomato stew chu yap, but a bottle of homemade bouey ($2) will suffice for those on the challenge. Made from the innards of the baobab fruit (likely processed and not fresh), the pulpy, perplexingly dry beverage smells of peppermint but tastes like citrus.
Pupusería Salvadoreño: 1248 Saint Lawrence Ave, The Bronx, NY 10472 (map); 718-409-4013
Fouta:1762 Westchester Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10472 (map); 718-792-1700
Castle Hill Avenue
My love for Neerob is well documented in these pages. Not a whole lot more needs to be said here, and for this crawl I'd again recommend a platter of bhartas (individually $3; ask for smaller portions at $1) with a plate of rice to split. Considering this is "The 6 Train Challenge," shutki chutney is an obligatory must if it's on the steam table. Ask, insist, and prod if you must. What is shutki, you ask? Fish left to dry in the sun, which I've previously described it as something that "makes stinky tofu smell like apple pie."
Snack fiends and the dessert-oriented might be inclined to drop into Starling Coffee Shop for pitha (start at $1; winter sweets) or chotpoti ($3; spicy, sour, and soupy lentils).
For those looking to customize their tour further, our guide to Banglabazaar is a useful resource. Now's a good time as ever to pause, so why not take a break and wander around this thriving Bangladeshi micro-enclave?
Starling Coffee Shop: 2172 Starling Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10462 (map); 347-579-4271
You're almost there, and the finish line is in sight. Drop into Guyanese watering hole Coconut Palm Bar & Grill for Mo's Blood Pudding—really a sausage made with rice and blood—that sends Baron Ambrosia into fits.
Coconut Palm Bar & Grill: 2407 Westchester Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10461 (map); 718-597-8700
To those who have made it: congratulations! That's assuming you didn't cheat, and stopped everywhere, and I mean everywhere, along the way. Just think about the places you have been!
So what's the proper way to finish off an afternoon of eating blood pudding, fish left to dry in the sub-tropical sun and blended into a chutney, and baobab juice? Well, pizza of course. What were you expecting? But not just any pizza. Louie and Ernie's is hailed as one of New York's finest, with fans including our own Adam Kuban and Ed Levine. Their white pie ($3 for a slice, $17 for a large pie) is good enough to win over Adam, although he prefers the sausage and onion ($3 for a slice, $16.50 for a large pie). In the words of the Slicemaster General, it's "hauntingly flavorful." Ah, the sweet taste of home.
Louie and Ernies: 1300 Crosby Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10461 (map); 718-829-6230