I took last Monday off to spend more time in Manhattan and decided to look up my friend JT for lunch. He works down by Madison Square Park, right between Murray Hill and the East Village. His office is across the street from a Cuban restaurant called Sophie's. There are seven Sophie's locations, the one we went to is on E 23rd Street.
For those of you who have never worked in New York City, or never visited, Manhattan is the land of the steam table, also known as the buffet. On almost every corner of Midtown Manhattan there is a restaurant, convenience store, or deli with a steam table or two serving a all sorts of decent food from Indian to Chinese to good old fashioned American comfort food like meatloaf and mac 'n cheese. Sophie's could be considered an upscale buffet, except you don't serve yourself.
When JT told me we were going to a Cuban restaurant, I thought restaurant, not steam table. So when we walked in and I saw a long steam table running down the left hand side of the restaurant, I wondered to myself, "will this be good?" The table was full of an assortment of beans, different kinds of rice, and lots of different meats. At Sophie's you can stand in line for take out at the steam table, or sit down for service in the back of the restaurant. JT and I grabbed a table in the back and spent a few minutes catching up; we worked together back in 2006 and haven't seen each other in about a year.
After looking at the menu for a few minutes, I took JT's recommendation and ordered the spicy grilled chicken (pollo picante) with a side of yellow rice and beans (arroz y frijoles) and a mango shake (batido). We also ordered a side of fried sweet plantains (maduros) and a side of fried green plantains (tostones).
Because all the food is up in front of the restaurant in the steam tables, the service was extremely quick. Lunch arrived and I was impressed. The chicken was actually cooked perfect, topped with assorted peppers and onions with the rice and beans on the side. The chicken was seasoned great, it was indeed spicy and the rice and beans were good for rice and beans. There was a bottle of green jalapeno sauce on the table so I ate my chicken with some of the sauce, it was definitely spicy, and definitely good. JT and I agreed that the sweet plantains tasted much better, but I liked the firm, fried texture of the tostones.
If you work in Manhattan or are visiting and looking for a good, inexpensive lunch, stop into Sophie's at any one of their seven locations.
Sophie's Cuban Cuisine
- 28 E 23rd Street (between Madison & Park Ave) (212) 260-8884
- 96 Chambers St. (212) 608-9900
- 73 New St. (212) 809-7755
- 240 W. 40th Street (212) 730-9200
- 805 Third Avenue (212) 308-1024
- 141 Fulton Street (212) 608-6769
- 369 Lexington Ave. (212) 922-3576