NJ Dining: Union City Exploratory Expedition #1

As I touched on a bit in a previous post, Union City, the most densely populated city in the U.S.,  otherwise known as “Havana on the Hudson” is the largest enclave of Latin American food in the entire NY/NJ metro area. However, having only barely scratched the surface for what is probably the largest concentration of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Colombian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Salvadoran and Guatemalan food anywhere in the Northeast United States, I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon driving around and scoping out stores and restaurants for future OTB posts.

Here is Los Hermanos supermarket on Bergenline Avenue, one of the literally dozens of Latino grocery stores servicing all kinds of ethnic Hispanic groups in Union City.

At these supermarkets you can get all sorts of Latino and Caribbean produce, including the key ingredients of Sofrito, which is used as the flavoring basis of many Latino cuisines. Shown here is Recao (also called Culantro or Sawtooth Herb) a herb in the Cilantro family, and Ajice Dulce (also called lajicitos or ajicito dulce) a sweet, non-firey cousin to the habanero chile.

Union City, the Havana on the Hudson awaits. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Country Club, a brand of soda from the Dominican Republic.

All sorts of fresh cuts of meat are avaliable for Latino dishes.

At pretty good prices too!

If you want your meat live and killed for you on the spot, you could try the local poultry market. Now, I’ll add here that I actually went inside said market, but the odor was so overwhelming of blood, excrement and urine — the smell of death — that I almost passed out within 5 seconds within walking in there. Poultry butchering is a nasty business.

Pollo a la Brasa, or roast chicken is one of the most popular types of food in the area, although each country and each restaurant has its own secret way of seasoning it. This particular shop, Kikiriki, is a Peruvian style place.

Decor at Kikiriki is spartan, but that’s not why you come here.

An order of Peruvian roast chicken, with crispy skin. Juicy and flavorful.

a Peruvian aji chile dipping sauce, which had some unique flavors that I was unable to easily identify.

Pollos Mario, a Colombian roast chicken chain, also has a Union City location. I wrote up the Hackensack location in an earlier post.

And here’s Chick King…

And Pollo Supremo… six chicken places all on the same block, and all of them somehow manage to stay in business. That must be a testament to the 60,000 Latinos living in Union City.

Here’s the Bandera supermarket and restaurant complex, perhaps the largest Latino grocery store in the entire area.

They also own a big liquor store across the street, which has more Latino brands of liquor and beer than you can shake a stick at.

I was really impressed with the quality and freshness of the produce at Bandera.

For a huge supermarket its utterly packed wall to wall with stuff.

One of the many long multi-ethnic aisles at Bandera. You want Cuban Chinese chow mein kits? No problem. Diet Columbian Hot Chocolate with Splenda? 14 brands of Dulce de Leche? A hundred kinds of hot sauces? Its all here.

The soda aisle here is extensive, and I like the fact you can get Latino formulations of Coca-Cola with real sugar. This Coke and Fanta is from the Dominican Republic.

11 Responses to NJ Dining: Union City Exploratory Expedition #1

  1. daisy says:

    dood! you totally beat me to the punch! Nice entry!

  2. migui says:

    I love Country Club’s Merengue. My all time favorite soda

    The chicharron de puerco at Mi Bandera is to kill for, and my brother Leo swears by Pollo Supremo..Im still to try Kikiriki…

  3. daniel says:

    I live in WNY and it is unbelievable how many places there are to see and try. I go to some of the larger supermarkets like Bandera but usually only buy my produce and spices and maybe some canned goods at them as I do question the cleanliness of many of the markets and restuarants in the area. Another big problem for a white guy like me that is interested in all of the food is that it annoying trying to find someone that speaks a word of english in many of these places. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like America. I hope that someday changes if you know what I mean. I am however very excited about the A&P Fresh opening tomorrow on River Rd. in WNY. The liquor store next to it, Gianonni, is also opened and has a very extensive wine selection and very knowlegable owners. Check it out!!

  4. Ona D. says:

    Daniel – you have no problem enjoying the food from these Latino countries; you’re gladly willing to stuff your face with their fajitas, carne asada, chiles rellenos y mole, but darn them if they dare to speak their own language! If you can’t respect a culture, you don’t deserve to “enjoy” the parts that don’t offend you. “Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like America” – spoken by a man who clearly doesn’t know that there isn’t just a NORTH America and that spanish is one of the fastest growing languages here. Somebody is wishing he lived in another, thankfully-long-forgotten, homogeneous era.

  5. Jon says:

    I think it might be more accurate to say that deep in Union City, “it feels like you’ve been transported to another part of the world”. That way we can avoid the “Americas” linguistic trap mentioned in some of the responses above.

    The times I’ve been there the reaction to me as a white-faced English speaker has varied. Some folks have been even more polite and friendly, while others have stared at me like my presence was a personal offense to them. The range of reactions seemed reasonably in line with normal human nature, however, and essentially no different from the range I’ve gotten in the almost completely Korean areas around Ridgefield, NJ or the Indian areas around Edison–just on an even grander scale, since its larger than either of those populations.

    Its definitely very under-explored territory from a culinary review perspective. Its daunting to face an area where literally every single storefront serves food. From the smallest bodega to the largest chain, you can literally ride down a block and at the very least see the word “torta” on every window, except for those serving chicken, of course!

    I was with Jason at that Poultry butcher by the way. He’s under-describing how terrible the smell was. Imagine what the devil’s sweat must smell like… that was the odor, only more err… chickeny.

  6. Robert says:

    daniel: why did you move to WNY if you don’t like living in an entirely spanish neighborhood? Maybe you should have explored the area BEFORE you moved there. I don’t think your ancestors spoke english when they moved to america, did they? Learn to tolerate and learn from others. If you enjoy their food, don’t you think if you take the time you could also learn from the people that make the food? All food has history, it is time for you to educate up son!

  7. daniel says:

    i agreee with all of the above. I never said that they weren’t nice. Anyway, the new a&p at Riverwalk on River Road is great and it felt like the good old USA again. I will still go to the food bazzar though to get my produce. The spanish supermarkets there (that are all owned by Koreans actually) have the best produce!! I am definitely steering clear of that chicken joint though!!

  8. […] I love going into Union City and the Bronx to shop for ethnic ingredients and produce, sometimes I just don’t want to […]

  9. dave says:

    It’s ironic…to me….the rich variety of people and cultures in this area feels more like the “good old USA” than the ultra-corporate A&P Fresh Market…
    The best is actually going into one of these markets with a white face and speaking Spanish to them (albeit poor Spanish) But I don’t care. And neither do the people listening to me. Shopping in this area makes marketing kinda fun and makes me happy I live in such an area. A&P Fresh Market makes going to the market feel like it does at any cookie-cutter supermarket in America.

  10. Kaze says:

    There’s no such thing as “Good ol’ USA” anywhere in the USA because there’s no such thing as a non-multi-cultural funded USA. This country was made by immigrants with multiple cultures, for immigrants with multiple cultures.
    It’s silly to even claim that such USA shouldn’t exist. There mere statement contradicts itself to levels you can’t even imagine.

  11. Chris Zeccardi says:

    WNY, Union City..great spanish food and thats pretty much it. Somewhat multi diversed, wish that there would be more of an ETHNIC slection (korean, turkish besides that place on park ave which is amazing, italian, japanese)

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