Dos Caminos, Times Square, NYC
“I just want to sit here and play in the salsa.”
My sister-in-law, Felicia, dreamily uttered these words on Sunday afternoon, as we sat, marveling over a couple of crazy fresh margaritas in a brand new Mexican eatery in Times Square. We’d been on our way to The Blue Fin to grab some quick pre-show sushi, when we just happened to stumble upon Dos Caminos. The manager informed us that it was only their 4th day of being open before warmly welcoming us with a round of free drinks. At the first sip, a big, bright grapefruit flavor flirted with sea salt and tequila on my tongue.
“Yum,” I said and smacked my lips together, as Felicia took a sip of her mango-cucumber margarita.
She raised her eyebrows and nodded with unabashed gratitude at her drink.
This place was good.
In my experience, so many restaurants take a week or two to get it right. Not Dos Caminos. This underground cantina, with its melted candle sculptures and funky décor, was on the right track to score a five star review from me and my palate. And, that was before I even tried the food.
Our server was lovely. She engaged in just enough conversation and made sure that we had ample time to make it to our show, since we were on a bit of a tight schedule. We let her know we had a matinee to get to, and she made it happen for us. Also, she was an aspiring Broadway actress. She told us all about how she played Ursula in The Little Mermaid and how she adores character roles. I love theater people. They fit right into my tribe.
The manager noticed us, complimented us, and even showed us the incredibly swanky private VIP room where he’d hosted a few fashion week parties a day or so before. He answered our questions and seemed genuinely apologetic that they were out of one of their signature dishes.
The grasshopper guacamole.
Listen - we would have stepped up to the plate had the challenge presented itself, but I can’t say we were too heartbroken over missing out on the grasshopper guac. Especially after our waitress told us that it was chunky. I was totally golden with plain old avocado.
So, the food.
Dear God in heaven, THE FOOD.
We decided to go for small plates, since we had limited time and a post-theatre dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant. We wanted to have room for pasta later on. So, we ordered:
-Traditional guac and chips.
-Grilled shrimp salad with cotija cheese, cilantro, and crispy fava beans.
-An app trio of plaintain empanadas, pulled chicken taquitos, and lobster tacos.
The trio was served with three varieties of salsas – tomatillo, traditional, and habanero,
The first airy giggle escaped Felicia’s lips while she was savoring a sweet plantain empanada slathered with salsa. I thought I must have missed the joke and went on noshing, joyfully. When the second burst of ethereal laughter chimed out, I gave her a funny look.
“What are you laughing at?” I asked, only to be answered with another round of giddy twittering.
“I just really like this food,” she said, simply, nearly out of breath from the foodgasm that had apparently rocked her world pretty hard and sent her into a fit of the giggles.
The food giggles.
We had a good laugh at this newly discovered phenomenon before finishing every last bite of yum in front of us.
When it was time to skedaddle out of Dos Caminos so we could make it to our matinee, Felicia expressed her desire to stay and play in the habanero salsa. She was drunk on deliciousness and the memories that our meal had evoked.
Spices just like Uncle Benny and Aunt Esther used to cook with.
Flavors that took her back to her late grandmother’s table, where she used to eat enchiladas and tamales with her Dad’s Mexican family.
This is what good food does. It stirs your soul.
I was drunk on the joy of having shared the best Mexican food I’d ever eaten and a trip I would never forget with my sister-in-law, Felicia, who also happens to be my best friend.
It’s food-giggle worthy.
Even though I don’t cook a ton of Hispanic food, this week my recipes will have a Southwestern flair. In honor of my sister-in law who came all the way to New York City to celebrate my birthday with me and also in honor of the brand new restaurant in Times Square- Dos Caminos, I give you this, my go-to meal on a day when I have no time to fuss.
Sneaky Chili and Quesadillas with Salsa Frrrrresh.
S Sneaky Chili – So named, because when you sneak veggies like zucchini and spinach into chili, your kids don’t notice. To them, it's all just more yummy, chili-flavored chunkiness. Also, I use ground turkey, just like my mom always did. It gives the chili a mild, sweet flavor that kids love, and it’s healthier than the fattier ground beef. My children love this, and the neighbor kids often show up at my door on chili night! I always have enough to share.
2T olive oil
2 lbs ground turkey
1 bag frozen onions or 1 large chopped white onion
1C zucchini – diced (optional)
1C fresh spinach – leaves chopped into small pieces (optional)
2t chili powder
1 can chili beans in sauce
2 cans tomato sauce
How to– Brown the ground turkey and onions in olive oil with salt and chili powder. Add the veggies here if you’re going to sneak them in. Once the meat is cooked, add the can of beans without draining it and the tomato sauce. This can simmer for 15 minutes and be ready to eat.
Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream, and your kids will love you!
1. Quesadillas with Salsa Frrrrresh – my brother, Tony, named this salsa, bc it bursts with fresh flavor. It’s a great time to harvest those garden goodies and use them in this salsa!
Shredded Mexican cheese
Shredded rotisserie chicken
¼ C cream cheese
1 tsp Chili powder
Pam cooking spray
3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 can of corn or fresh corn if you have the cobs
1 can of black olives, sliced
½ C chopped cilantro
Pinch of salt
Splash of red wine vinegar
How to – Mix softened cream cheese, Mexican cheese, shredded chicken and chili powder in a bowl. Spray a large frying pan with Pam and heat on low. Lay one flour tortilla in the sprayed Pam and place cheese and shredded chicken mixture on top. Top with 2nd flour tortilla and let cook until cheese is melted. Flip and cook for about a minute on the other side or until the tortilla takes on a golden glow.
Repeat this to make as many quesadillas as you like.
Mix all salsa ingredients in a bowl. Top quesadillas with this.
This salsa can be made ahead and can be even better when the flavors have had some time to meld together. Also, this can be transformed into an Atkins-friendly meal by nixing the quesadillas and making it into a salad instead. Top some crunchy romaine with the shredded chicken, Mexican cheese and Salsa Fresh, and you have a fantastic salad. You can add some black beans as well if you dig the all natural carbs.
Try this meal on your busiest night - when you have to do a gazillion pages of fourth-grade math and then drive one kid to dance class and the other to softball. Truly, this chili is so fast, and it will get your kids to eat vegetables without even realizing it. BONUS! Salsa fresh is also great for parties. People inhale it!
Please post a comment if you've tried any of my other recipes!
Have a yummy week!