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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

An ethnic-food run for fish tacos, ceviche, yuca, spinach pies and stuffed grape leaves

An order of Fish Tacos at Taqueria Los Gueros on Main Avenue and Jefferson Street in the city of Passaic. The grilled fish, on two warm corn tortillas, was topped with Pico de Gallo (chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chile pepper and lime juice) and avocado ($8.49).
Two salsas, lime sections and a tangle of spicy onions came with the tacos. The green salsa, bottom, is mildly spicy, but the red is tongue-searing hot and obliterates the taste of the taco.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Northern New Jersey is a rich stew of ethnic groups.

And each one of them offers an array of specialities that lure food lovers into their cars for an ethnic-food run to one or more towns or cities in Passaic,  Bergen and Hudson counties.

This past Saturday we stopped for Fish Tacos on Main Avenue in Passaic, then walked a block or so to a Peruvian restaurant on Washington Street for rotisserie chicken, ceviche, empanadas and other takeout.

On the trip home -- when we found ourselves taking local streets to avoid Route 20 traffic congestion -- we made a quick stop in Paterson to pick up Syrian food at Fattal's.

Driving and parking

Driving in Passaic and Paterson has always been a challenge, and you'll find drivers on side streets with stop signs like to play chicken with you, if you are on the main street and have the right of way.

You can find parking in Passaic on Main Avenue's median, where you pay at a central meter, and then walk to Taqueria Los Gueros and Pollos El Chevere.

Fattal's, an emporium of Syrian food and spices at 975 Main St. in Paterson, has its own parking lot.

At Taqueria Los Gueros, my wife loved the taste of her Tacos al Pastor, but we had to send them back for pieces of fresh pineapple. And for some reason, they were made with only one corn tortilla instead of two, as they are in Mexico City ($6.49).
The pork for her Tacos al Pastor was roasted on a vertical spit, which was inspired by Lebanese Christian immigrants to Mexico. At one taqueria in Mexico City, a whole peeled pineapple is placed on top of the skewered pork, and the taco maker shaves the meat and fruit onto tortillas in one motion.
Taqueria Los Gueros is at 692 Main Ave. (Jefferson Street) in Passaic; 1-973-377-0755. Open 7 days.
A folksy saying appears on the Jefferson Street side of Taqueria Los Gueros: "A taco a day brings pure happiness."
A second Taqueria Los Gueros is at 231 Monroe St. in Passaic, but doesn't look as welcoming as the one on Main Avenue. You can also find a Taqueria Los Gueros at 46 W. Palisade Ave. in Englewood. The chain's website: Taqueria Los Gueros

Pollos El Chevere

When we walked into Pollos El Chevere on Washington Street in Passaic, the Peruvian restaurant appeared much the same as it did on our last visit 5 long years ago.

We grabbed a takeout menu and ordered a Pollo Entero Solo, a whole rotisserie chicken, which comes with either french fries, rice, tostones, maduros or yuca ($12, only $2 more than in 2013).

Our choice, the tostones -- twice-smashed and fried green plantain sections -- were enormous. 

You also get a surprisingly spicy, pale-green chili-cheese sauce to use as a dip or to pour over everything.

We also ordered two Empanadas de Carne, patties stuffed with ground beef and half of a hard-boiled egg ($3 each); Yuca a la Huancaina, a starchy root vegetable with a milder chili-cheese sauce ($7); and Ceviche Mixto, a lime-marinated fish and seafood medley ($16).

Pollos El Chevere has a full menu of soups, pork chops and steaks, spaghettis, and rice and seafood dishes at moderate prices.

The Tallarin Verde I've had in the past reminded me of spaghetti dressed with basil pesto.

The restaurant was opened more than a dozen year ago by two Japanese-Peruvian men, but I don't know whether they still own and operate this and another El Chevere on Monroe Street in Passaic.

The counter where you order and pay for takeout was unchanged from our visit 5 years ago, but the wooden benches where customers wait have been replaced by metal seating. 
Pollos El Chevere is at 228 Washington Place, steps from Main Avenue, in Passaic; 1-973-249-6330. Open 7 days.
We loved the mildly spicy chili-cheese sauce with the Yuca a la Huancaina, but the we prefer the yuca much softer than it was.
A whole rotisserie chicken with tostones is $12, only $2 more than 5 years ago. The bonus is a pale green but spicy chili-cheese sauce that comes with the chicken. Photos below, plating the Mixed Seafood Ceviche with sweet potato, red onion and popped corn kernels, and Fattal's Vegetable Grape Leaves for a light dinner at home.


Fattal's -- a baker, grocer and butcher with a cafe serving the Syrian specialties I ate growing up in Brooklyn -- makes it easy to stop for takeout by having a parking lot right in front of the building, which is set back from Main Street.

I picked up eight fat Grape Leaves, stuffed with rice and vegetables ($7.99 a pound); and 6 Spinach & Cheese Pies wrapped in dough ($10.19 for 2 pounds).

Ingredients in the latter include spinach, feta cheese, onions, lemon juice, sumac and sesame seeds. 

From June 2013: 

Store-made items at Fatal's include both savory and sweet items. Besides Spinach & Cheese Pies, you can get Date Bread, Fig & Walnut Roll and Mini Vegetable Pies.
At Fattal's you'll also find jewelry, including 24-karat gold; a wide array of spices and such store-made pastry as baklava. The store is at 975-77 Main St., Paterson, in the heart of the city's bustling Middle Eastern shopping district, and not far from the Farmers Market on the border with Clifton.

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