I have to give full credit to HLing for dragging me into Abuela's Cocina (1758 First Ave, near E91st St--917-492-1790) even though we were both late for work. Puerto Rican home cooking. It's mainly a take-out sort of place, but there's room at the counter for maybe 4 people to sit--from here you can see into the tiny, modest kitchen where a grandma, assisted by a team of several slightly younger women, cranks out all this amazing food. First I tried a pastelillo, a slightly flaky dough wrapped around some spicy ground beef and deep fried. These were clearly hand made and fried a few minutes earlier. So fresh tasting, and completely addictive, especially with a squirt of bright green, very oniony fresh salsa from the squeeze bottle on the counter. Grandma then pulled a big pan of roast pork from the oven, so we ordered some of that (pernil), sliced over rice and beans. The pork was very moist and tender, and beautifully flavored with black pepper and other spices. And the crispy slices of skin....holy cow.
What really blew my mind was a dish that I'd never had before: pionono. Plantains wrapped around spiced ground beef, draped with a delicate coating of fried egg. Even before I tried it, I knew it would be the best thing I'd eaten in weeks. Like everything else here, it had just come off of the heat and was still glowing with the energy that food has when it's freshly made by someone who really loves to cook. The grandma watched us wolf down her piononos first with great satisfaction, and then horror as she realized that she forgot to warn us that each one is held together with a toothpick. Wasn't it Jon Bon Jovi who said that "every rose has its thorn"? Luckily, we escaped injury.
I can't wait to go back there.