Tucked away in a ground floor plaza at Third Avenue is a sign that says TEXAS in bright neon letters. At this entrance, we were led into the Texan portion of El Rio Grande's two-sided restaurant. The well-lit space pays homage to this grand state with a large Texan flag, a stuffed buffalo with wings suspended over the bar and giant cowboy boots up on a shelf. Making our way through the kitchen and stopping to chat with the cooks, we found our way to the Mexican side. Crossing the border has never been so easy.
We chose to eat in this part of the restaurant, although the menu remains the same either way. We started our lunch with their tableside guacamole. As our server began mixing the ingredients, he told us how the restaurant has been at this location for thirty years. He went on to say that his mom had been working in the kitchen for twenty of them, and how he has become the tableside guacamole expert. On his recommendation, we ordered two lunch specials: the Burrito de Puerco, covered in a savory-sweet mole sauce, and the Tacos de Tilapia. El Rio Grande's wall of windows looks out onto the public plaza. In the warmer weather, the restaurant's expansive outdoor seating is the perfect setting to sip on one of their many margaritas (they offer 15-20 varieties) and share an order of guacamole.
Although they have changed hands over the years, El Parador is reputed to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Having opened his doors in 1959 on Second Avenue, Carlos Jacott moved to the current address in 1969 and then sold his restaurant to Manny Alejandro in 1990. He, in turn, handed over the reins to his son, Alex, who I enjoyed chatting with one winter afternoon. He told me that parts of the building date back over a hundred years. The menu is typically Mexican, however, Alex continued, "we are always showcasing traditional dishes while also playing with them to make a more modern presentation. " Mole Poblano is their classic recipe that has been handed down, but Alex and his team continue to tweak it. When I ask what his favorite dish is, he smiled and immediately responded, "Shrimp quesadilla - this is mine. " Alex trained at the French Culinary School before coming to El Parador. He initially came in as a manager under his father's guidance, until he purchased the restaurant from his dad in 2007. Now that his father is retired, Alex has his "hands in all the pots" both working his magic in the kitchen and up front with the customers. I always love the stories of the people behind a restaurant's success and on this day, I learned that Chef Boni Jr. has been with Alex for fifteen years, and Manuel, the bartender for twenty-five. The black lacquered beams, wood flooring, tin lanterns, strong margaritas, warm chips and salsa (not for vegetarians), topnotch guacamole and spending time with Alex made for a nice reprieve from the cold.
Before discussing anything about Arno with the Manhattan Sideways team in the summer of 2017, the manager, Carlos Pereira, spoke like a true local. He lamented the state of New York’s transportation infrastructure, insurance, taxes, and cleanliness, only to then reveal that he commutes each day from his home in New Jersey. After receiving our education on the state of 38th Street, we learned a bit about this extraordinary man's career. Born in Portugal, where he was a bartender at age sixteen, he traveled to New York in 1989. He scored a position at the legendary Le Cirque (in its original location) - ”I received the best culinary education in America by owner Sirio Maccioni" - before becoming the manager of Arno in 2007. Carlos had plenty to share with us about Arno, which he did over meticulously prepared dishes, including a rare treat of risotto with shaved truffles. It was like a bowl of diamonds being set down before us. As we savored every single bite, Carlos gave us a lesson on the world of black and white truffles. The story of Arno traces back to Florence, near the Arno River from which the restaurant draws its name. There, the two founders met and discovered a mutual ambition. Managing partners Milan Licul and Branko Turcinovic emigrated to the U. S. as waiters, but soon opened a restaurant called Morano in 1984. Morano was later renamed Delmonico’s Kitchen, and was followed only a year later by Arno. While Delmonico’s Kitchen specializes in meats and steaks, Arno is known for its old-school, classic Italian cuisine. There were many challenges in the years between 1984 and the present that could not be shrugged off by restaurants in the Garment District. Carlos related that this particular swath of New York has seen countless restaurants come and go, and yet the owners held fast to Arno. Even in the 1980s, when the area was bad enough that Arno often had to close by 7pm, the restaurant remained "a true testament to who they were, " Carlos proudly stated. The staff wear the neighborhood as a badge of honor, subtly adorning the restaurant with buttons and thread inset into tables, a wall of colorful fabrics, fashion photos - "This is what keeps us sexy, " according to Carlos - and various other garment motifs. So how has Arno endured the trials of time? Carlos believes it is “because we treat clients like family. ” This approach certainly cultivates a comfortable atmosphere, as Carlos claimed that ninety percent of their dedicated clientele are regular customers. In addition to the lengthy list of fashion designers and celebrities that Carlos recited, he told us that many come into the city for Knicks games and other events at Madison Square Garden, and stop by Arno for a familiar meal of traditional homemade pastas, eggplant rollatini, grilled zucchini, tomato, mozzarella and peppers, veal parmigiana, numerous seafood options, and, of course, the Delmonico classic steak. Carlos even shared that they have over 150 "house accounts, " a rarity in the present day. What struck a particular chord with me was the dessert cart that strolls through the restaurant at every meal, as I have fond memories of this practice from when I dined out as a child. It is filled with some of the best classic desserts prepared by their French pastry chef and, like the restaurant itself, is animated by the spirit of the old country, but seasoned with the flavor of New York.
Having a personal guided tour by sales manager, Jason Sturtevant, made me aware of many details I might otherwise have never learned, as well as making my experience at The Archer a superb one. Since the hotel is located in what was once the thriving, garment district, the interior of the lobby is designed to be reminiscent of the 1940s, with large steel structures stylishly cutting through the room. The entrance features a small bar, Bugatti, named after the brand of restauranteur, David Burke’s beloved car. With a garage-style door that opens to the street in warmer weather, and a bright yellow decor, the atmosphere of the bar is charming and laid back. Viewing several different rooms, Jason explained that each one displays slight variations of beautiful designs and color schemes. Averaging 200 square feet, the rooms, as Jason put it, are “intimate in size, in true New York fashion. ” The use of the space has been done in an elegant fashion with the floor-to-ceiling windows working wonders to open up the rooms. Many have hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, creating a tasteful and stylish atmosphere throughout. While guests will not meet the eponymous Archer, who functions as “the personification of gracious hospitality, ” they are certain to feel his presence during their stay. Each room is made ready for arrival with a personalized note, bottled New York City water, his and her robes and slippers, and a selection of books, including Archer favorites Gift From The Sea and The Little Prince. There is a well-stocked minibar with one side of the fridge allowing for personal storage, and complimentary espresso and grab-and-go coffee are available in the lobby. Encouraging their guests to work out “with New Yorkers, like New Yorkers, ” Archer also offers passes to a nearby gym. Additionally, the Archer is environmentally conscious with sensors and efficient solutions for saving energy implemented throughout the building. The selection of art found in the hotel is remarkable. Curated by art consultant Deborah Davis Goodman, almost every piece on display in the Archer was created by New York artists. This commitment to supporting local artists and businesses is further established in the curated retail section at the front of the hotel where jewelry, trays, sea salt caramels, and pocket squares, all made by New York City artisans, are proudly on display. From the captivating art to the jar of homemade peanut brittle, it is the impressive attention to detail that makes the Archer stand out. The New York City Archer opened at the end of May 2014, and two more hotels are expected to open in Napa, California and Austin, Texas by 2016. Filled with personal touches, the hotel certainly comes across as welcoming, detail-oriented, and cohesively designed. Having gained four diamonds by AAA and in the process of getting its four star rating from TripAdvisor, the Archer seems to have already established itself amongst the favored New York City boutique hotels.
New to 38th Street in 2014, and without much competition surrounding it on the side street, District appears to be off and running. With flat screens in the booths, a mile long list of beers, and an American menu that includes appetizers of lobster sliders, buffalo quail wings and truffled cheese croquettes, people in the area seem to be ecstatic that this tap house has arrived on 38th.
Named after nonviolence, Ahimsa is kosher, vegan, and gluten free. The restaurant, whose first location opened in 2016, fulfils a teenage dream of Frank Shah, who owns Ahimsa along with his wife Maya. Growing up poor in Mumbai, Shah’s family could not even afford a biryani. Now, he serves biryani and more authentic North and South Indian dishes made fresh every day. Delicious Indian street-side dishes from Shah’s childhood like vada pav and bhel puri make Ahimsa unique among other Indian restaurants in the city. Being in New York is an important part of Ahimsa’s mission. Shah hopes to use the restaurant to expand non-Indian New Yorkers’ ideas about what Indian food is and to show non-vegan New Yorkers how many delicious meals can be made without meat or dairy.
Do not be fooled by the curiosities and vintage artifacts that cover the windows and walls of Hecht. Besides repairing industrial sewing machines, this company is in the business of buying and selling plants (the manufacturing kind). The vintage pieces scattered throughout the small space are absolutely not for sale, but rather a part of the owner’s personal collection. As I walked around and examined the curiosities, he insisted that he uses "every single one of them. "The owner bristled when I described the fascinating space as "small" and proceeded to show me that there was much more to Hecht than meets the eye. He opened a door in back, which gave way to a much larger, warehouse-like room, which was similarly jam-packed with vintage artifacts. He immediately walked over to a Howe sewing machine, which he proudly disclosed was the first of its kind in the world. He had just gotten it back from the Smithsonian, he said, showing me the official museum tags. While so much is continuously changing around them, the Hecht family is determined to remain a Garment District institution, having opened their doors between 1910 and 1920. The ambiguous establishment date is not because the owner does not care to remember, but rather because Hecht opened its doors as the building in which it still stands was being constructed. "They built around us as we worked, " the owner explained. They are the very definition of a neighborhood institution; As the owner says, "In the garment industry, we're a legend. "