A la calle
Summer sidewalk fare returns
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
If you are walking down 116th Street in El Barrio, you might not have noticed at first that you are hungry.
But you will.
Even if you’ve just finished a full meal, the chances are your appetite will stir again.
All along the busy thoroughfare, as the sun warms the sidewalk, food street vendors are starting to set up shop, with shopping carts piled high with a treasure trove of fresh foods.
Freshly pressed orange or carrot juice? With or without milk?
Want to indulge in a bit of dessert? Have a churro.
Ah, you’re really hungry?
You’re in luck.
Here in El Barrio, there are numerous options from which to select a savory snack or something closer to a feast.
On any given late morning, a fleet of taco and quesadilla stands begin to assemble on designated sidewalk corners, with vendors organizing their wares in carts, coolers and sometimes, tables and chairs.
Among one of the brightest stands resembles a Smurf hut, draped as it is in a blue plastic tarp.
It is not always like this.
In the blazing days to come, the stand at 116th Street and Third Avenue loses its cover.
But for now, with a cool breeze still stirring, the blue tarp, draped over two umbrellas, stays up.
Use it. It serves as beacon, a welcoming signal that summer, and its rich culinary treats found curbside, fast approach.
The stand doesn’t have an official name, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll call it Big Blue.
While most stands are drive-by experiences, Big Blue conveniently offers stools and a narrow surface on which you can enjoy your meal.
Mario García, a native of Guerrero, México, chose to stand as he waited for his chicharron and salsa verde quesadilla.
Going to the stand reminds him of home.
“I miss the food there. I come here every day.”
Sometimes he just comes to chat.
Although García has a favorite quesadilla, there isn’t one he wouldn’t recommend. “They’re all great,” he said.
Big Blue has been at the same corner for about eight years.
It is open seven days a week, from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
While the tinga de pollo and the bistec quesadillas are some of the most popular fillers, there are also interesting vegetarian options: flor de calabaza (squash blossoms), champiñones (mushrooms), and huitlacoche (corn smut—a fungus that grows on corn also known as “Mexican truffles”).
When you order, sit back, relax, and watch your tortilla unfold right before your very eyes.
First, a handful of hand-made masa is plucked—and spanked—before being flattened on a tortilla press. When done, the masa becomes warm pockets into which perfectly seasoned meats and vegetables, full with flavor, are stuffed.
Order also an agua fresca, a refreshing beverage made from a combination of fruits, and cereals, blended with sugar and water, and have a seat.
Watch the traffic pass you by; have another bite and take a sip.
Here’s to summer.