In a nondescript residential high-rise building, next to a meat market and overlooking a parking lot, a dentist’s office, and a dollar store, a padlocked door reveals nothing of the Dominican treasures that await within.
In a fluorescent-lit basement pool hall, within a mile from Yankee Stadium, Nano Billiard Cafe serves what locals say is the best Dominican food in New York. Diners sit around a granite counter that turns into a bar after lunch service ends, and you couldn’t fit a cue stick along the breadth of the kitchen. A pot is always simmering, stewing meats or cooking rice and beans. The air is salty from the steam of sizzling pork. For now, the calm of cue sticks resting on their stands, billiards tables cloaked in their faux leather covers, quietly hints at the commotion that will begin once evening falls and a steady clack of billiard balls shooting into corner pockets signals the end of chef Anita Romero’s work for the day at the lunch counter she set up 11 years ago.
The spot is mainly a takeout operation, with visitors calling in orders from all over the tristate area, hungry for the locrio de pollo (one-pot chicken and rice), cerdo con molondrones (pork with okra), and sancocho (thick meat and vegetable soup) that are the heavy hitters of homestyle Dominican cooking. Keep in mind, though, that only what is on the menu board resting on the counter is on offer that day. On one visit, the offerings included a buttery sancocho with nubs of plantain, carrots, corn cobs and beef floating in the tangy broth. There was also chuleta guisada (stewed pork chops), a beef stew, and habichuelas rojas (red beans) in a peppery stew, to be eaten with forkfuls of concon, the nutty, slightly charred bits of rice scraped from the bottom of the rice pot. A steady order of pescado frito, batter-fried fish fillets in a ginger-cilantro marinade, kept the stove hot and greased, and the phone lines ringing.
Bite into a bacalao in wine sauce, surrender to the aroma of sofrito braising in a pan, immerse in the delights of island cooking from a little corner of the Bronx.