19 Jul2007

elv1

Elvie’s is a turo-turo on the lower East side (13th Street) of New York. Set your expectations at that level and you will likely leave satisfied. My sister pops into Elvie’s whenever she has to send something through Johnny Air Cargo which has office is just around the corner. The day we dropped by, it was after the lunch hour and Elvie’s was only half full. elv4We had sinigang, chorizo, beefsteak tagalog, pinakbet, pork barbecue, halo-halo, etc. Most of the dishes tasted pretty good, but the sinigang topped the list. The cool weather outdoors must have made it particularly comforting at the time. My beefsteak tagalog was a bit tough and the kid didn’t like it either. Elvie’s has been around for decades and has received good reviews from several publications in New York. Frankly, I don’t think it would make any waves whatsoever in Manila but that isn’t the point. The point is, in the middle of a huge American city that is probably home or the workplace of several hundred thousand ethnic pinoys, it is a sight for sore eyes, or at least those pining for a taste of home.

elv3

A turo-turo set up is usually a turn off for me as the food has been cooked and is sitting there for hours until someone buys it. But it is practical, and as long as you stick to dishes such as soups, stews, etc., you can still get a pretty good meal. If you can read the menu on Elvie’s blackboard (tiny print in photo below), you would list out the Top 20 Pinoy elv5dishes including kare-kare, nilagang baka, tortang talong, etc. Nurses from nearby hospitals and other office workers crowd this place at lunchtime and I suspect some of them do take-out later in the day so they don’t have to cook when they get home. Each dish is served with a huge portion of white rice and for $35, four of us ate very well, drinks and desserts included. This was not fine dining at all, and I probably wouldn’t bring a foreign guest to this place unless they were particularly adventurous eaters, but value for money was just right. If I were to choose between a $230 meal at a fancy pinoy fusion restaurant, or five lunches at Elvies for 5 people, the latter would win, hands down.

elv6

You should also know that Elvie’s is across the block from Gabay’s, that hole in the wall where Mrs. MM and The Kid made out like bandits on Bergdorf Goodman closeout shoes… and interestingly, we spied another newish Pinoy restaurant across the street called Pistahan. This restaurant was a little more upscale turo-turo, with aircon, but we didn’t get to try it out. Somehow it sent “copycat” vibes of the worst kind, but that could elv2just be me. Tell me, why do Filipinos have this penchant for opening exactly the same business right next door to each other? When you go to Tagaytay, you pass by 40 roadside corn vendors all at the same point in the road. Or 50 plant nurseries side by side. Or all the flower or fruit vendors selling EXACTLY the same thing? This also applies to NEW YORK?! Considering how large the city is, why the heck would two turo-turo’s open a stone’s throw from each other??? The final word? If you are in Manhattan and have a hankering for pinoy food and you can’t be bothered to make it yourself, Elvie’s will satisfy most basic cravings… and at $6-8 per person, that’s a bargain!

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Maria Clara says:

    Going to turo-turo places to get a fix of kare-kare, sinigang, fried fish, etc. or combination is not bad at all for that price for lunch or dinner or to pick up dinner. No dishes to wash, stove and pots to clean and the napkin is also provided. Just stop by Blockbuster on your way home to pick up your favorite movies for a relaxing evening.

    Jul 19, 2007 | 11:35 am

     
  2. MegaMom says:

    And in fact, Maria Clara, there is a Blockbusters across 14th St. along 1st Ave. Thanks again for another nostalgic moment, MarketMan! We used to stay at 14th and 1st (Stuy-town) and Elvie’s was the first place we ate at when we moved in! Pistahan is new – it wasn’t there 4 years ago (when we left NYC). A bit of history: this area of NY wasn’t always desirable to live at. In the 70s and 80s, the reason many Pinoys ended up living there was because of the density of hospitals in that part of NYC (Beth Israel, NYU, VA, NYEEI, NY Orthopedic, etc…). Many Pinoy RNs and MDs lived around there, and hence back then the area flourished with Pinoy business. Elvie’s is one of the long-standing ones. The several times my husband and I ate there, there would always be non-Pinoy students and travelers on a budget. The $6-$7 price tag for a decent, filling meal in this city is too irresistible!

    Jul 19, 2007 | 12:05 pm

     
  3. Apicio says:

    You’ll propably posit a deeper cause for this lemming-like predisposition to cluster together and this almost uncontrollable urge to mimic but I just put it down to plain lack of imagination which I find intensely annoying.

    A store that joined us in the same block and started offering our specialties was not too successful in it and eventually branched out to turo-turo type of fare and since it was so convenient for us we started buying our lunches from them when we got too busy to cook for ourselves but you know how they serve Happy Meals at McDonald’s, well they served unhappy meals.

    Jul 19, 2007 | 12:22 pm

     
  4. Marketman says:

    Apicio, you are almost always good for an intelligent laugh. I can go on and on about “pinoy clustering.” Buko pie vendors one after the other on provincial roads, folks who make aluminum window casings for goodness sakes, pseudo antiques dealers, etc. I may get into trouble for suggesting this, but do you think this phenomenon occurs primarily in lower income economies? I noticed a similar pattern sometimes in Indonesia and India for example… Megamom, yes there was a time that neighborhood was a bit rough, but it is coming back strong these days… getting a bit more upscale… MC, you got it, for simple food, this turo-turo hits the spot!

    Jul 19, 2007 | 12:40 pm

     
  5. xiao li says:

    I just read an article in the Contra Costa Times about Filipino cuisine being served in restaurants here in California (or maybe just in Contra Costa). I was surprised that there are a number of them, including a Goldilocks in Concord and several ones categorized as upscale. I guess fusion would make it upscale. They are not in the same area though :). We haven’t tried any of it, as we are only visiting, and the cravings hasn’t kicked in yet, but we sure are looking forward to homecooked meals, which for me Filipino food should be :).

    Jul 19, 2007 | 2:03 pm

     
  6. Leo says:

    My fiancee then and I used to eat at Elvies when she was still doing her Pediatric residency at the Beth Israel a decade ago. There was a cozy Pinoy restaurant at 14th St. near Johnny Air Cargo. If I remember correctly the name starts with Manila. Manhattan brings back a lot of good memories, my eldest was born there.

    Jul 19, 2007 | 3:01 pm

     
  7. Fabian Mangahas says:

    It can make economic sense to do clustering, especially if it’s an under-served market. Why locate in another part of Manhattan if such a street is perhaps already frequented by Pinoys looking for Pinoy food. Also supplier convenience can also affect where clustering happens. The whole-saler for bagoong and patis might be just around the corner. :) Clustering is another way to achieve economies of scale without necessarily merging together.

    What can be chalked up to sheer laziness is if establishments offer exactly the same thing (a la buko pie vendors in Tagaytay). I hypothesize that Pistahan sees itself as a differentiated product, as an upscale alternative for Pinoy foodies in NY (“para ma-iba naman”).

    Going back to buko pie vendors, who I don’t want to automatically assume as being lazy, my guess is that either a. single entity owns all those stalls, they’re not really independent operations, or b. differentiation/innovation in the buko pie product, in order to capture more of the market, is too risky because of (insert guess).

    :)

    Jul 19, 2007 | 3:16 pm

     
  8. Mangaranon says:

    Aside from Elvies and Pistahan, there are two other Filipino restos in the area — Grill 21 on 21st Street and First Avenue; Crystals on 9th Street and First Avenue although the latter has relocated.

    What Leo is talking about was Manila Garden on 14th between First and Second Avenues. That closed a long time ago because the landlord died, the heirs sold the building and the rent was tripled.

    Jul 19, 2007 | 4:44 pm

     
  9. Traci says:

    Krystal’s had an ok review in the NYTimes a couple of years ago..”Restaurant” might be rating it too highly, but the reviewer liked the adobo, the pancit and the sinigang. I find any mention of Filipino food kind of rare so it stuck in my mind…

    Jul 19, 2007 | 6:44 pm

     
  10. corrine says:

    Yes, Mr. Mangahas. I learned that Collette and Original’s have the same owner. Sadly, the buko pie we bought in Tagaytay is of bad quality…it was mixed with some tough coconut meat. The one we bought in San Pablo or Los Banos is better. If I remember correctly, the Collette brand is the one being franchised.

    Jul 19, 2007 | 7:32 pm

     
  11. Ted says:

    Xiao Li, Goldilocks at concord is an upscale version of their branch here in the SF bay area, but still the service and quality of food is the same as turo-turo style. But, you may find a lot of this fusion or upscale pinoy restaurants in Burlingame, San bruno or San Mateo area, they are lined up along El Camino Real (Patio Filipino, Luneta Bistro, Tribu Grill,..etc). They do serve good to excellent pinoy food. I would suggest trying these 3 places. You may find their reviews at yelp.com

    Incidentally, although these fine pinoy resto’s are more than a few blocks away from each other, they do tend to concentrate in one area (westbay), eventhough pinoys here in the SF bay area are everywhere. Mr. Mangahas has a good point there regarding economies of scale.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 12:14 am

     
  12. Jdawgg says:

    Mr. Marketman,

    Ted is right and Mr. Xiao Li you should also try this spots aside from what Mr. Ted suggested. Kuya’s Resto, Ihaw-Ihaw, Alido’s Resto. and Sinugba. They are within 1-2 miles away from each other. I’d stay away from Patio Filipino the service is bad (Attitude Adjustment) and the food Uh!!! what can I say I’m a gourmet chef and I could make it better at home.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 12:40 am

     
  13. ECC says:

    MM, you asked if this penchant for similar businesses locating next to each other is a phenomenon that occurs primarily in lower income economies. I understand about the “gaya-gaya mentality” but my instant thought on this matter was … they have it too in developed countries but probably in a much larger scale …. say, in Japan, Tokyo has Akihabara for electronics and, as I recall, they also had specific districts for motorcycles, restaurant supplies, etc. In the U.S., Detroit is known for automobile plants; Houston for the energy industry; Napa and Sonoma Valleys for wineries, and every large city in the U.S. will have a Chinatown. I did a quick online research and found out that this is called a “Business Cluster” or the broader “Cluster Effect”. Wikipedia has a good article on these.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 4:48 am

     
  14. Marketman says:

    ECC and Fabian, yes, I agree with clustering where there are interdependiencies, hence auto companies in one state where parts suppliers also thrive, ditto for motorcycle repairs, etc. For corn or pineapples, yes, beside the fields they are harvested and definitely where the set-ups are intentional such as MALLS specificially for food products or clothing, etc. But what I am referring to in the Philippines are products that are relatively simple and completely replicable… i.e., a buko pie where you will see several businesses offering practically the same thing on the same street instead of spreading out throughout the province. Or, the 4-6 turo-turo restaurants in 10 square blocks of New York, when the rest of the city doesn’t have one. There just seems to be less individuality in the businesses, less pride in having something unique or differentiated. I am not saying this doesn’t happen elsewhere, I just think the tendency is one where countries have lower per capita GDPs, or less focus on intellectual property rights, patents, branding, etc… Take a last example of barbecue vendors in say Cebu… on some street corners, there are 50 small vendors selling nearly the same thing, fanning away. Or lechon manok…

    Jul 20, 2007 | 6:04 am

     
  15. connie says:

    “Tell me, why do Filipinos have this penchant for opening exactly the same business right next door to each other?”

    I don’t know if that sort of thing is distinctly Pinoy however. I understand what you are saying but for me, I’ve seen such competitive behaviour in other cultures too. For example, where I live it is not unusual to see a Vietnamese restaurants right next door each other, a Mexican restaurant right in front of the other one, same goes with Italian restaurants. Survey the streets of Tijuana (Mexico) and you’ll find lines of stores that goes on for blocks, selling the same stuff (carved woods, blankets, silver jewelries) right next to each other. It makes you wonder if they even make profit at all if everybody is selling the same thing. Even the US is not immune to this clustering, it’s not unusual to see Barnes and Noble right next to a Borders, a Circuit City next to a Best Buy, Williams Sonoma steps away from Sur La Table, Pottery Barn next to say a Pier 1 Imports or Crate and Barrel. And I could go on and on, the only difference I see is that, some stores just try different “gimiks” to lure you in.

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:16 am

     
  16. divalicious says:

    this is why i enjoy reading MM’s blog, you’re always assured of an intelligent discussion. :)

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:25 am

     
  17. acidboy says:

    It’s like the “Luto ng Ina Mo” carinderia and a copycat “Luto ng Ina Mo Rin” carinderia story all over again! Guffaw!

    Jul 20, 2007 | 10:26 am

     
  18. Epi says:

    If you are looking for an authentic Bulakenya fare, then please try Tita Celia’s along carson, cali. Adobo, beefsteak, sinigang na halibut and kakanin, my personal favorite Carioca the size of Golf Balls.

    Jul 21, 2007 | 7:16 pm

     
  19. perkycinderella says:

    Acidboy, these carinderia’s ais in Project 4. My daughter called me just to tell me this. We laughed in stitches. Also for a laugh there is a flower shop next to it aptly named, Susan Roses.

    Jul 23, 2007 | 11:00 am

     
 

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