Where a cabbie eats when she’s on duty (i.e. in a rush and skinny of wallet) can be more about practicality than about pleasure.
It took me less than a shift behind the wheel of a New York cab to realize how silly it was to assume that most taxi drivers have time for restaurant reconnaissance when they’re in the driver’s seat. (Off duty, it’s a different story – see my previous post.)
Still, a cabbie needs sustenance. And I made time during my shifts to find cheap, fast, tasty things to eat that were close to taxi stands and weren’t McDonald’s.
Here are my 7 favorites. These spots won’t be news to food-savvy New Yorkers or Midtown Lunch followers. But I hope you cabbies out there have a chance to try them if you haven’t already:
1. Kalustyan’s Deli: Most cabbies who stop at the taxi stand on 28th and Lex head for Curry in a Hurry, Haandi or Lahore Kabob. But my stomach belongs to Kalustyan’s, where they serve an otherworldly $5 sandwich with mujadarra (lentils, bulgur wheat and caramelized onions), tahini, lettuce and tomato at their second floor deli. The spice shop on the first floor stocks everything from Hawaiian salt to Peruvian yellow chili pepper paste. I like to pick up packets of dried lavender and hibiscus flowers to make infusions after my shift. (123 Lexington Avenue at 28th St., Murray Hill, (212) 685-3451, Deli hours: 10am-7pm – Map it)
2. Woorijip: Not only is it a two minute walk from a little-known taxi stand on 32nd and Madison where you can almost always find parking, Woorijip is cheap, their food is fresh, and no matter how insanely crowded it is (which is most of the time), the cashiers rip through the line with an efficiency that puts Starbucks to shame. The selection of dishes for less than $10 is dizzying. I like fish cutlets, egg-battered tofu, and vegetable pancakes. Bok choy and sautéed spinach with sesame seeds are also good. (12 West 32nd Street between 5th/6th Aves, Koreatown, Tel. (212) 244-1115, Open: Mon-Thu, Sun 24 hours; Fri-Sat 6 am-2 am – Map it)
3. Punjabi Deli & Grocery: 24 hours a day, this standing room only deli serves samosas, roti, curries and pinni to taxi drivers, East Villagers and vegetarians on a budget. Of all the cabbie-friendly delis I’ve tried – Lahore, Dil-e Punjab, New Shezan – this is my favorite. I think it’s their black bean stew – or maybe it’s the garbanzo bean curry. No item on the menu is over $6. If you need Punjabi DVDs, Thai basil water or Sikh devotionals on CD, you can also find them here. (114 East First Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, East Village, Always open – Map it)
4. El Idolo Taco Truck: Puebla-style cemitas (pressed sandwiches with chipotle, Mexican quesillo cheese, avocado and your choice of meat on an egg sesame bun) are my favorite thing to eat here. I haven’t had a chance to try their tamales (they’re always out when I go) or their goat tacos (I hear they’re great), but it would be hard to pass up the cemita – it’s a tasty meal for $6. I like the chili-coated pork version. (NE corner of 14th St. and 8th Ave, West Village, Open 7 days 12pm-5am – Map it)
5. Kwik Meal: This cart is practically at the center of New York’s street food fanatic radar, and with good reason. According to Midtown Lunch founder Zach Brooks, Kwik Meal chef Muhammed Rahman is one of the only halal vendors in the city who uses whole leg of lamb ($6.50, with basmati rice and salad) that he marinates in cumin, cardamom and green papaya. Pull up and place your order – you don’t even have to get out of your cab. And by all means say ‘yes’ to green chili and cilantro hot sauce. (45th St. at 6th Ave, Midtown West, Open daily 11am-midnight – Map it)
6. Pick-a-Pita: Park at the taxi stand out front and stuff your fried-to-order falafel ($5.50) with whatever combination of goodies you want, including sautéed red cabbage, marinated cucumbers, roasted eggplant, taboule, tahini, pickles, hot peppers, tomato, and onions with fresh parsley. I’m not the first person to rave about the hummus here, and I won’t be the last. (601 8th Ave. between 39th St. and 40th St., Midtown West/Hell’s Kitchen, Tel. (212) 730-7482, Open: Mon–Thu 11am–9pm; Fri 11am–7pm; Sun 10am–9:30pm, closed Saturdays – Map it)
7. Petrossian: There are foods that soothe from the moment they make it into your mouth, and chocolate chip cookies are among them. Especially when they come from this high-end Parisian-Armenian food boutique, which happens to be two blocks from the Wellington Hotel taxi stand on 7th Ave. Skip the $500 tins of caviar and the salmon from Scotland. If you’re suffering from any type of hacking-related trauma, this $3 puck of chocolate and pecans will cheer you up. It will also leave a buttery gloss on your lips and a toffee aftertaste on your tongue. (911 7th Ave at 58th St., Midtown West, Tel. (212) 245-2217, Open: M-Fri 7:30-8pm; Sat 8:30-8pm; Sun 9-6pm – Map it)