Gallery: Bronx Eats: 2012 In Retrospect

My Best Bronx Meal of the Year At Neerob, Featuring A Legendary Banana Kofta
My Best Bronx Meal of the Year At Neerob, Featuring A Legendary Banana Kofta
The best Bronx meal I ate all year was, undoubtedly, a dinner of celebratory food prepared and devised by Khokon Rahman, owner of the acclaimed Neerob. We had rhui fish boiled in gravy, fish kofta with cream sauce, sauteed pumpkin, fresh fish illish (a national favorite), green banana bharta, patisapth to make your heart melt, and so much more. (For more on these dishes, please see our slideshow.) Khokon pours his love into his food everyday, but never did it shine through so clearly.

While you cannot walk in and just get banana kofta any day (if you need your wedding catered, though...), the everyday food here is considered by many to be the city’s best Bangladeshi. The digs are low brow, sure, but they are imbued with the same sense of love that flavors the restaurant’s food. Speaking of that banana kofta: it was one of the best things I ate this year, on the level of Torrisi’s beef and broccoli spin of pickled chanterelle, carpaccio, and broccoli fried with a tempura batter. Blindfolded, you would be hard pressed to believe Rahman’s did not contain meat. It is that savory.

Neerob: 2109 Starling Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10462 (a href="https://maps.google.com/maps?q=neerob&hl=en&client=safari&oe=UTF-8&hq=neerob&t=m&z=15">map); 718-904-7061; neerob.com

[Photograph: James Boo]

The 6 Train!
The 6 Train!
The 6 train. All of it. The 6 is, without a doubt, the most exciting eating conduit in the Bronx. From 138th Street all up to Burhe Avenue, you have consistently serious eats. I lack the hubris to blurt that the 6 is better than the 7, but let’s just say that it is starting to look a whole lot like it in terms of diversity: African soup, Ecuadorian empanadas de verde, our only legit Oaxacan restaurant, melt in your mouth (whole hog) carnitas, pastelillos and lechon that will make you consider relocating to Puerto Rico, the city’s best Bangladeshi food, and some excellent old school slices.

If you have not spent some time chomping along the 6, it is high time. The food's only getting better.

A pastelillo de jueyes (crab empanada) from Lechonera La Piraña.

The Elusive Fresh Cotechino
The Elusive Fresh Cotechino
The best part about Arthur Avenue is the assortment of shops there that have stuck to their roots and continue to put out seriously tasty food. Whether you are talking about the fresh egg noodles at Borgatti, the sopresatta at Calabria, or the wonderful service at Calandria, I am on board.

Vincent’s was my first butcher. I still return when I am around, mostly to buy sausage. Their fresh sausage is a treat, but it’s the cotechino that you should be after this time of year. The fatty pork sausage with pulverized pork rind is rare in the United States; all the more so for raw versions. Most of what you will find is imported, pre-cooked, and preserved. Woof. But not this cotechino, not now and not ever! It's a sausage that is all about emphasizing the dynamic sweetness of pork, bumpered by spices that do not interfere, and it's a member of my very prestigious, very selective “Bronx Eats Sausage Pantheon."

Buy it up quick! Cotechino is traditionally cooked on New Year’s Day, and the good stuff will vanish shortly after the holiday. Go, now!

Vincent's Meat Market: 2374 Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10458 (map); 718-295-9048

New York's Best Tamales? It Says More Than You Might Think
New York's Best Tamales? It Says More Than You Might Think
I have to thank Mr. James Boo for introducing me to the wonderful people of Tamales Ebeneezer, who make the only tamale in New York that I have ate and could justifiably call destination-worthy. My friend says they are better than his grandmother’s, whose recipes came from Michoacan with her, which is sort of like an Italian-American actually admitting that your cooking is better than his grandma’s.

While almost every New York tamal I had tasted before was dry and mealy, these not only have excellently moist masa, but fillings that are actually worth digging into: intense sauces with lively meat. When presented with a steaming-hot tamal, freshly fished out of the cauldron, you might wonder why there are not candles that smell like this. Someone could make some real cash money, people.

Oh, and on Sunday, they go all out: offering steamed goat (prepared in the style of barbacoa, but they refuse to call it such—a good sign) and a zesty, gamey, delicious consomme de chivo.

Tamales Ebeneezer: Across from 353 East 138th Street, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map); Personal number for orders upon request

A South Bronx Sandwich Hack
A South Bronx Sandwich Hack
This is a personal invention, a Serious Eats sandwich if you will, but it is a really easy make and is well worth the effort. There’s also something quintessentially New York about it in the way you mash up two defining foods from separate cultures. The “baleada de comida graves” is a wheat tortilla filled with queso duro (think parmigiano), refried beans, and sour cream, then stuffed with carnitas and spiked with some charred molcajete salsa. It might be unnecessarily glutinous, but who’s counting?
Veal Jerky at European Meat Markets
Veal Jerky at European Meat Markets
My friend the Baron Ambrosia was the one who let in on this secret. I have a real soft spot for bodegas and markets like European Meat Markets, those that go the extra mile to produce something that honors and celebrates their culture.

Nibble this jerky on the subway, sure, but save some for later. Take your time, instead, to admire the gorgeous color—a scarlet straight off a sunset—and its smooth, marbled texture. The flavor is all salt and smoke, “so strong as to remind you of nights spent around the fire pit.” Eat with plenty of pilsner or pale ale.

European Meat Markets: 720 Lydig Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10462 (map); ‎718-741-9100

The City's Only Weekly Garifuna Cooking
The City's Only Weekly Garifuna Cooking
The food, I wrote, is pretty straightforward fare; not to say it is unsatisfying. But outside of Chicago, there is not—correct me if I am wrong—a single Garinagu restaurant in the States. Unfortunately, this statistic extends to the Bronx, home of the largest population of Garinagu outside of Central America (pretty cool, right?), which once upon a time housed two such restaurants. There’s House of Yuremin, where you can learn the language, and the Central American Parade, and Garifuna Day. But unless you count a friend among the Bronx Garniagu, you will be hard pressed to get a bite of this cooking when that craving strikes.

What the Garinagu Grillers offer is a simplified plato tipico, and the food is as much a gathering place for the community as anything else. Here you have a rare chance to make a friend who can cook you dharasa, a kind of Garifunan tamal made of green plantains. Bonus points: the southern grill pickles their onions to a bright orange color. How do they do this? There’s even a hint of citrus!

Garinagu Grillers: Between 175th and 176th Streets on Southern Boulevard, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map); weekends only

Trends To Follow: Hispanic Diversification, Bangladeshi Enclaves, Cambodian Food?
Trends To Follow: Hispanic Diversification, Bangladeshi Enclaves, Cambodian Food?
So what’s next? The Bronx was once a place where upwardly mobile Italians and Jews moved, and living on the Grand Concourse was making it. The northern part of the borough was once colored emerald green, but today Woodlawn remains the only solidly Irish neighborhood. These days, the Bronx is synonymous with Puerto Rican culture. Better yet? According to the 2010 census, the borough is now 53.5% Hispanic; the Dominican population continues to swell. We have seen some legitimate diversification of the borough’s Hispanic population, which has finally began to resonate within the restaurant scene: Salvadoran pupuserias, serious Dominican food, new Honduran and Ecuadorian spots, and some Mexican restaurants that are giving Queens a real run for its money. (Not to mention that the borough continues to be a destination for West African immigrants.)

There has also been an uptick in the Bangladeshi population, which found its first Bronx home in Parkchester. The community’s commercial hub is located on Starling Avenue, dubbed Banglabazaar for good reason. A second enclave has been fomenting up in leafy Norwood, too, a cause for excitement and anticipation. The borough shows no signs of slowing down; but can we finally get that Cambodian restaurant we have all been asking for, please?