Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Zocalo
Food Court, Grand Central Station, NYC
212-687-5666

Review by Diana DeRiggs

A bunch of us were coming from all directions, so we decided to meet at the info booth in the main lobby of Grand Central Station. It was simplest, and least likely to get lost, donchaknow? But then there was the issue of where to eat dinner? Some of us are recovering vegetarians, some are impartial to certain ingredients, some of us don't drink, zubzubzub. I suggested a really good Mexican place I'd been to before, right in the basement food court of the station. They all made faces at me, since "Mexican" food is often abysmal. My brother describes it as "at best, bad leftovers."

But things are never really as they seem when you are most confident that they are. For one, the food court here is not like a mall food court, except that there are a mixture of restaurants and kiosky booths. But the food is really good, the smells will drive you wild. The whole station has been renovated and has become a destination in itself -- a mall without the kitsch or that suburban blandness so prevalent throughout the US and the world. As for the Mexican food, Zocalo does a fantastic job! For those who drink, a great range of mixed drinks and tequilas. For those who don't, no attitude from the waiter, and food that is fresh and freshly made. It's what Mexican food should have been if someone had been paying attention, rather than just copying a fastfood ring.

We had not actually congregated for the sole purpose of having dinner, but rather because we hadn't seen each other in ages and were congregating just to pick up where we'd left off. But it was also 6pm, so we figured we'd eat something. One of us would be meeting a "real" date at 8:30, another had to catch a 9pm train to New Jersey, another had a 9:30 appointment to fix an old lady's computer (don't ask ...). So we opted to eat lightly and we thought we chose accordingly (we all also have tendency to order too much food, and were trying to be careful). We asked for guacamole, quesadilla, fish tacos, and Mexican Cobb salad, and glasses of water. The house-made chips and salsa came gratis.

Ohmigod, for one who doesn't particularly like salsa and dislikes raw onions in general, the salsa was amazing, and as we all noshed our way through the crispy, ungreasy basket, a pestle bowl made of black volcanic glass overflowing with a chunky guacamole was set before us. It was so fresh, and it was a good, ripe avocado, too, not an overripe nasty one that goes brown and tastes bitter. The salad was a bit like R2D2's Chopped Salad for Padmé, with the lettuce taking up a third of the plate's surface and the other ingredients striped alongside. It had romaine, chicken salad, salsa, bacon -- very simple, and simple to exclude anything you didn't like. The fish tacos had deep fried nuggets of white fish and a nice carrot and daikon slaw, and the taco shells were not fragile deep fried misfits nor floppy steamed things. They were just the right texture to pick up and chew on without shattering bits everywhere. The quesadillas were fresh and tasty, not overmelted, slithery slop.

The tables were placed on a sort of veranda. I say "sort of" because we weren't actually outside, rather we were in the belly of Grand Central Terminal. But the tiny restaurant created a sort of porch-like area decked with basic wooden tables and straight-backed chairs that appeared sun-bleached. "Fiesta" style plates in varied bright colors sat in each place as bread plates; food was served on hand-painted crockery and in garish baskets in shades of "wheat," green, and hot pink. It was a combination of what you thought Mexico might be like, mixed with the Pottery Barn, circa 1996.

It was still too much food. Good thing the desserts didn't sound tempting at all -- mostly custards and such. They would probably be good, but the Little Pie Company had a stall in the food court, and we decided we needed to go for a walk to settle our food (and so the one of us going on a later date could have some sort of appetite for their real dinner!). We ended up going to a Japanese place for dessert and saké, but that's another review.

All in all, a comfy place, not expensive (we paid $15 apiece), and we got the feeling of eating outdoors without freezing our patooties off. On a Saturday night, it was well populated with families, couples and people on their own. And the food was really really good. Highly recommended, though if you are whiling away some time to your train, you might be tempted to catch the next one and linger over the guacamole!


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