Food carts are a funny thing. Some people love them, some people hate them. They are universally accepted for some things, like hot dogs, or pretzels but seem mysterious for other things (the term “street meat” comes to mind). I’ve seen very few restaurants that specialize in the “Halal Food” you get at a cart, and there are not many carts that stray from serving some form of Gyro, Falafel, Hot Dog or Pretzels. You’ve got your breakfast carts (bagels, donuts and coffee) which are popular for their price, and the fruit carts, which offer people who love to be healthy a chance to eat at a cart. (Those people don’t tend to enjoy skillet fried lamb, covered in white sauce.)
Some carts are destinations (Hello Berlin Cart, Daisy May’s BBQ Cart, The Arepa Lady in Queens, or the Carts at the Ballfields in Red Hook), while others remain nameless, taking advantage of a highly populated corner of the city. I love eating at carts. It’s not because the food is so great, but it just seems like more fun. There something about the immediate gratification, the fact that their kitchen is on the side of the road, and of course- weird meat sort of excites me (that didn’t come out right). (My favorite street meat ever… the lady on the right selling street meat on a stick- in Bali)
A little over a month ago, I walked by a new cart near my office… Happy Teriyaki BBQ on 50th between 6+7th. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Teriyaki Cart before in Midtown… and because of my love of Asian food I was immediately interested. Shortly after, I started to receive the emails… the first one said it was terrible. Worst food ever. But then I got two more, one that recommended the spicy pork and another that swore by the BBQ Tofu. I’m always up for trying a new cart… so yesterday I headed over with my reluctant wife to check out this new cart.
What we ordered, the pictures and the +/- after the jump…
For $5.99, you get your choice of Beef, Chicken, Pork, Spicy Pork, Fish (when they have it) or Tofu. They all come smothered in teriyaki sauce over fried or white rice, 3 pieces of California roll sushi, and a lot of salad. For $6.99 you can get BBQ eel, or one of the “combos”. On the day I was there, the combo was Spicy Pork & Fish, or Chicken and Fish. The signs say “white rice” (Yakisoba or Fried Rice for an extra $1), but they gave us fried rice without asking, and didn’t charge us the extra dollar.
I ordered the Spicy Pork & Fish combo. The spicy pork because it came recommended, and the fish I got for the sake of trying more then one thing (you see how I sacrifice my body for you people???). The “spicy” pork was a thin boneless pork chop, cut into chunks and was not spicy at all. It was covered in spices… but was not spicy. Not sure how the regular pork is different. It wasn’t the most tender pork chop I have ever had, but they cut it up for you (so you don’t have to struggle with a plastic knife) and it definitely could have been worse. The fish was breaded, and fried and had a distinctly fishy taste to it. Once you cover anything in teriyaki sauce, it’s good- so if you don’t mind fish that tastes like fish (I know a lot of people do), you won’t hate this fish.
My wife got the BBQ tofu, which also came recommended from an emailer. The tofu was dropped into a fryer, but not for too long, so it was slightly crispy on the outside, but still plenty soft on the inside. It too came covered in teriyaki sauce (which of course it needs, because tofu only tastes as good as what you eat it with). No surprises here. It was fried tofu, with teriyaki sauce. If you are not into eating meat at carts, but still like the speed and convenience- you could do a lot worse then the tofu teriyaki.
What do you do with a food cart that is ok, but not great? If you love cheap Asian food, there are much better lunches you can get for $7 in Midtown. They might not be at a cart, and it might not be “Japanese”, but it’s there. I guess if you love teriyaki, and you love carts- this is your place… but it’s all about expectations. Just as many people will hate this place as love it- but it’s worth a try, and isn’t bad… It just may not be worth a walk across town. But if you work right in the area, and are looking for something new it’s worth checking out. (For more check out the +/- below). I will probably go again… I’m interested in trying the BBQ Eel. Depending on how much they give you, at $7 that could be the real steal…
Got a cart or lunch place you’re scared to try? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll try it for you, and report back!!!
- It’s Teriyaki at a Cart. I don’t think I’ve seen another cart that sells Teriyaki in Midtown… so if you love eating at carts… and you love teriyaki… this might be your new favorite place
- Price. At first $6-7 doesn’t seem like such a bargain… but when you take into account the amount of food, the rice, salad and 3 pieces of sushi- it’s not too bad.
- It’s prepared “fresh” (and by that I mean re-fried/warmed up). Most teriyaki this cheap (at a deli or take out sushi place) will usually come pre-packaged, and then they microwave it.
- They have tofu, so if you don’t like the idea of eating meat from a cart, but still want to get into some cart action that doesn’t involve a fruit smoothie, you have an option
- Variety. For $7 you can get two different meats, plus the rice, salad, and a couple of pieces of a California roll (with wasabi and ginger).
- It’s a cart, so it’s super quick.
- I haven’t tried the chicken, but somebody wrote and told me it was terrible. The “spicy” pork isn’t spicy (unless they gave me the regular pork by accident), and the fish is fishy. Basically, it’s not the best teriyaki you’re ever going to have… so if you’re expecting that, you will be disappointed.
- It’s not healthy (obviously)… everything is pretty much fried.
- It’s not worth a trip out of your way… For that- the bento boxes at Cafe Zaiya are much better, and just as cheap.
Happy Teriyaki BBQ Cart, 50th btw. 6+7th (North side of the street)