THE BITE: A Mexican-Hawaiian take out restaurant? Only in New York City.
Empire Tortillas Aloha Teriyaki Grill (3556 Nostrand Avenue) is one of those anonymous storefront takeout joints that line Nostrand Avenue from Avenue U to Avenue Z. This nondescript takeout restaurant could pass for any cheap fast food joint, and I’ve passed it by for years, never giving it a thought.
Until recently that is.
One cold day last month, I stopped in for the first time. I was immediately greeted by the friendliest woman I’ve ever encountered in a takeout restaurant. It was an odd time of day and the staff was all seated at a small table and eating their lunch. As she stood to greet me, I explained that I was only picking up a menu and that I didn’t want to interrupt her meal. She handed me the menu saying, “Please come back, you’ll enjoy your food.”
Well, I have come back and I have enjoyed my food, mostly. But what continues to impress me most about Empire Tortillas Aloha Teriyaki Grill is the customer service. These folks are friendly and work to keep the customer happy.
Frequent readers of The Bite will remember that I have a thing for Buffalo wings and I’ve been searching for the best Buffalo wing in Sheepshead Bay. While many food mongers offer wings, very few offer a true Buffalo wing and even fewer offer a good wing. Empire Tortillas Aloha Teriyaki Grill offers “BBQ wings,” “Hawallan spicy wings” and “Hawallan wings combos” on their menu. Notice the term “Buffalo wing” is never mentioned.
I’ve tried them all, but today we’re going to talk about the Hawallan spicy wing. These wings are sold by the piece, (eight for $4.69, 10 for $5.49 or 20 for $10.99) or in four piece combos that include Mexican rice, Mexican rice and beans, Mexican rice and chili (really?) or french fries. Combos run from $5.49 to $5.99, add $1.00 if you want cheese. All combos include a can of soda.
I’ve ordered the Hawallan spicy wings a few times now and have always been given nine pieces on my plate. These wings are a good size and a great value for the price. They are larger than the wings found in most take out joints in the area. The wings are served naked (not breaded) with just a tossing of a not very spicy sauce.
If I didn’t know better, I would swear that these were indeed Buffalo wings. And a pretty good one at that. The wings are plump and cooked perfectly. The meat remains moist while the skin is crunchy, even when covered in the sauce. The spicy sauce could use a lot more heat for my taste; I like breaking a sweat when eating Buffalo wings, but is probably hot enough for most people. There was also a touch of sweetness to the sauce, which added a depth of flavor not found in most wings in the area.
Have I found Sheepshead Bay’s best Buffalo Wing? Maybe. They’re certainly Sheepshead Bay’s best dollar value in wings. Add a little more heat and we have a contender.
So what makes these wings Hawallan? Damned if I know, I’m not even sure if that’s a word. The only clue is the small portion of canned pineapple that is served alongside it. This seemingly odd choice is actually pretty spectacular. The sweetness of the pineapple cuts and cools the heat of the wings much better than the traditional celery and blue cheese ever could.
Empire Tortillas Aloha Teriyaki Grill, 3556 Nostrand Avenue (between Avenue V and Avenue W), (718) 891-0880.
The Bite is Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.