Convenience Store Gourmet
Years ago, there was an article in Saveur about the amazing food to be found at 7-Eleven franchises in Taiwan—each owner runs his or her own food program, featuring snacks like dumplings and octopus balls, and even elaborate New Year's meals to carry out. Imagine picking up a home-cooked holiday dinner at 7-Eleven.
Our 7-Elevens don't measure up, but every now and then I walk into a bodega or convenience store to get a bottle of water or a six-pack of beer, and run into a counter selling some improbably good, homemade food.
One of my favorites is Pak Punjab Deli and Grocery (50 E.3rd St). The owner there is from the Pakistani side of the Punjab, and the heavy, meaty kabobs, snacks and curries are from that region. Is it the best Punjabi food ever? Definitely not—but the prices are hard to beat ($2-$4 per item) and I like the down-home, friendly vibe.
Their chicken chapali—basically a spiced, ground meat patty—is delicious, patted out so that's thin and floppy, and then browned on a griddle. It's intensely garlicky. The chicken tikka kabobs are also good, as is the spicy fried fish, (both pictured below) but skip the bland chaat.
In Brooklyn, El Centenario Grocery and Deli (687 5th Avenue, Brooklyn) is a Mexican bodega that has a few tables and a food counter in back. The goat tacos are some of the best in the city; the chicken-mole poblano tamales are reliably good, as are the huitlachoche quesadillas. Really, I've never been disappointed with anything I've eaten here.
Possibly because of the way the neighborhood is gentrifying, El Centanario seems to be shifting more toward food service and away from bodega-dom. I went in today, and found that several of the grocery shelves had been taken out in favor of more seating. Whatever, with goat tacos like these, they could put in a disco ball and I'd still go.
Anybody know of other good convenience store eats?