If you want an out of the ordinary dining experience, I strongly recommend that you visit the only one-month-old El Cartel at 613 Ninth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets. It’s a fun and colorful eatery with painted exposed brick walls an all glass front entrance so you can people watch. There is plenty of great Colombian music adding to the festive vibe and in the near future they will be having a Salsa Brunch on Sundays from 11:30 until 4. (I can’t dance but I cannot resist a great brunch deal, so I will be checking it out)!
Start your meal off with the Frozen Sangria which is made in a classic Frozen Margarita machine and is totally fruity and refreshing! El Cartel is the first place that I have ever had Frozen Sangria and now it is on my Top 10 Favorite NYC Drinks list–I will probably go back for more in the near future. Next time I will be trying the White Frozen Sangria in addition to kicking back a couple of red ones. By the way, if beer is more your thing, El Cartel offers about three dozen brews with a handful actually being from Colombia.
A great appetizer for sharing is the empanadas–you can see the beef and the cheese ones in the photo above. You get two empanadas to an order and you can mix and match. Besides the aforementioned beef and cheese flavors, you can get chicken or ham with pineapple (also known as Hawaiian Style). I would say that El Cartel’s empanadas are about five inches long by three inches wide and are quite a good deal at $8 for two! The golden flaky crust is super memorable and I saw so many restaurant guests around me ordering them!
If you are new to Colombian food like I am, I strongly suggest trying what I have nicknamed the “Little Of Everything” or “Colombian Food’s Greatest Hits.” This dish is officially called Bandeja El Cartel and is described on the menu as a “well packed dish consisting of steak, egg, rice, red beans, chicharrón, sweet plantain, Colombian chorizo and avocado.” This is the type of platter where you savor each morsel and take your time because the meats are new to you. The steak is actually a tender marinated skirt steak sliced extra thin and served well done while the chicharron is a pork lovers paradise if you love a crispy outer skin! The chorizo is homemade with a mix of different meats and spiced on the medium level–to me it seemed to be a mixture of pork and lamb. The rice and beans were as good as they get–I was in heaven–and the hunk of fresh avocado is a nice touch. Generally speaking, I was expecting Colombian fare to be quite spicy but that turned out to not be the case at all. All entrees at El Cartel are XL sized and range in price from $24 to $38. I need to go back and try one of the interesting looking chicken dishes that I saw getting served all around me–the one that really caught my eye was called Hawaiian Style Chicken Breast which is a super large breast topped with ham, mozzarella and pineapple, then sided with white rice and a house salad.
You have to finish your meal with a classic Colombian dessert like Tres Leches–this might just be the most popular dessert in all the Latin countries combined. For those not familiar with it, it is a perfectly moist and spongy three milk cake and you will want to savor ever morsel. It is big enough for two to share and you will like the artisanal presentation which includes the restaurants name written in a berry sauce next to the actual piece of cake. All desserts here are priced at a very reasonable $10, by the way.
El Cartel has a five star tasting on Yelp and it is well deserved. You will love everything about this cozy Ninth Avenue ethnic resto including the no rush atmosphere and the lovely back room with velvet couches and many large screen TVs–there are a few behind the bar up front in the dining room as well. For more information, go to www.elcartelnyc.com. Reservations are suggested but not mandatory and you can get food delivered via UBER eats and other food delivery apps.
(Note: all photos are by Anne Raso except for the empanadas shot, which is by Gail Worley.)