Bergenline Avenue in North Jersey has to arguably be the most hispanic stretch that only rivals Calle Ocho in Miami. Also known as Miracle Mile or Havana on Hudson, it stretches through Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, and North Bergen in Hudson County, New Jersey, which is directly across the Hudson river from Manhattan.
The avenue is the longest stretch of commercial businesses in the state, many of which are owned or operated by Cuban entrepreneurs immigrants. With a nickname like “Havana on Hudson”, its obvious there are countless small shops and restaurants who cater to the Hispanic community.
For people like myself, who love authentic ethnic food, and my wife, a South American immigrant, this might seem like a paradise. But not always. It actually amazes me that some places like this exist, especially in a city of immigrants who know better.
A couple of months earlier we went to a Cuban bakery and cafe. I have yet to eat a Cuban sandwich that comes close to anything I’ve seen or heard about. The worst I’ve ever made at home on my own is still better than anything I’ve ever had in the most ethnic neighborhoods like this. What am I doing wrong? Or do I simply need to go to the most expensive restaurant in the area for something that should be simple street food anywhere else in that neighborhood?
My wife is Venezuelan, she has only lived here about 5 years now. She chose this place based on online reviews. We stopped and saw it was a very small shop with 3 tables. We looked at the menu and I got the something I never heard of which sounded very interesting and appetizing. The “Domino” empanada was filled with black beans and white cheese (probably queso fresco).
What you see is a photo from my iPhone11 which has not been enhanced, no photoshop or filters. You can see how hot is is from the oil and sheen on it. I could not even pick it up with my hands because it was too hot. I almost asked them for a fork and knife so I can cut it open and eat it. I gave it a minute to cool, and while the outside was hot enough to burn my fingers, the beans inside were cold, and cheese was unmelted. I don’t just mean warm, I mean cold to the point where it was barely defrosted. My wife told me they probably made them prior, then deep fry them as needed. I am no empanada expert, but these do not look like something homemade, but rather made from a machine, not by hand.
Being Sicilian, I never sit with my back to the door in any small restaurant. So the whole time I am looking out the window and across the street is a Cuban pizza place. Very very tempting. That should not be the case when you are in someplace that is supposed to be authentic. An order of tostones came out next. We have certainly had better, but it was enough for me to call it quits on the fast food for the day, and that included pizza, even though the idea of pizza made by Cubans was a lot more appetizing than plantains covered with ketchup. Ketchup on Venezuelan food seems to be common, but even my wife admitted to me, her father hated it.
My most serious concern is how many more places do I have to eat at to find the gem of authentic ethnic cuisine? I know this is a city of immigrants, and I know they are not in business by serving food that is hot enough to cause third degree burns on the outside, but still ice cold on the inside. When I view the comments on online forums, I wonder if its the owners posting the comments, or if I caught them on an off day. If its my luck, it seems like I always manage to catch the place on the most “off day” there is. That most definitely should not be a Saturday at lunch time.
This is not a rant or an attempt to hit or harm the already hurting small businesses, I genuinely need some help here. Helpful comments are welcomed.
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