A Surprise In The Freight Entrance

Last Friday, I was walking down West 37th Street off of Eight Avenue when I happened to pass by this freight entrance (you can see a man wheeling something out of it below). There are a zillion unremarkable freight elevator entrances on 37th Street, and normally I wouldn’t look twice…

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But something caught my eye about this one…

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It had a restaurant sign:

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Curious, I headed inside through the two industrial doors. The walls had all the hallmarks of a freight entrance, and people kept passing by me carrying in boxes and wheeling handtrucks…But over the second doorway was a sign reading “Come In We’re Open (Abierto)”…

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And sure enough, nestled in the corner…

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…was the coziest little Latin restaurant in New York!

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This is the El Sabroso, literally located in the freight elevator hallway of the building at 265 West 37th Street and consisting of a lunch counter, five stools and a tiny kitchen with pastel pink tiles. A fan keeps things cool, and there’s even a little TV tuned to the game. Do you need anything more?

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The place was hopping when I went in, with all the stools taken, and a constant stream of people getting orders to go:

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And with good reason – this hidden lunch counter is apparently a midtown favorite and has some great reviews, including a 9/10 from the Guardian (actually beating out Fette Sau in a contest of “tasty but cheap”). All the food is made by Tony, who’s been running the place for 16 years. Everything is cooked on this little stove, and when it’s gone, lunch is over.

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I had just eaten lunch, so I’m going to have to go back. But the prices are right – here’s the menu (English in parentheses):

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But man…Just a minute or two before finding it, I was literally thinking about the number of times I’d walked around this part of Manhattan, and how there couldn’t possibly be anything left to stumble upon. And then, I saw the restaurant sign. What was I thinking?

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-SCOUT

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21 comments

  1. Great find! It takes me back about 50 years, to Guidos Supreme Macaroni Factory, a great hidden Italian restaurant that was located on 9th Ave., between 38th and 39th. It was in the back of a grocery store and a “Open” sign was the only clue. One walked through the store to a large room that once had house a pasta factory. There were a few tables and chairs, a huge stove, and old factory wheels were still mounted on the ceiling. The food was great and inexpensive, there was homemade wine, and one’s order often sent a family member out to a neighborhood meat market. Those of us who knew about this place kept the secret for fear that popularity would end it all.

    I was working for Riverside Records in the very early Sixties and this was a great place to take a press person like Dorothy Kilgallen to lunch, which we did. However, we blindfolded her and instructed the cab driver to take us there via a very circuitous route, She fell in love with the place (who wouldn’t?) and wanted to throw a birthday party there, but her request was denied—the secret was safe.

    Well, the inevitable happened, there was a full-page photo in Esquire with the family gathered around the stove. You guessed it: prices went up and quality went down.

  2. That’s awesome. I’m definitely going to try hunting this place down…

  3. I’ve worked directly across from there, on the third floor, for over 4 years, and I just noticed that sign out the window for the first time a couple of months ago! Thanks for the write-up – now I’ll definitely check it out.

  4. I’ve been going there for years. Very nice guy. Always fresh, always tasty. Rice and beans at its best. There are a few others in the neighborhood. Some have shutdown over the years.

  5. Also, Guido’s Restaurant / Supreme Macaroni mentioned above by Chris was a tremendous place. 3rd generation family from Bari. Family wedding photos covered the walls. They were kind enough to allow us to have our very small wedding reception there. The only movie I recall seeing it in was “Leon: The Professional”. I’m also 99.9% sure it’s where the picture on the back of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” album was taken. The pictures and the door to the kitchen all line up. Foro Italico on 34th between 9th and 10th was similar. Sadly, both are gone.

  6. Nick’s Place in the freight area of 201 West 39th is similar, if not a little more upscale.

    • Seriously?? So some food website wrote an article in 2009 and you post this obnoxious comment here?! Scout does this website for FREE and for fun! Leave your negativity somewhere else.

  7. I also came to mention Nick’s at 201 W 39th St. For a few years I did business in that building which required me to go through the freight entrance, and I always thought it odd that there was a restaurant hidden back there. Here’s the entrance on Google Street View: http://goo.gl/maps/kUGaA

  8. Awesome, I’ll have to check this place out. I just found a coffee shop in midtown thats in the messenger center. It’s amazing the places businesses find to set up shop.

  9. Awesome post. I’m gonna check that place out. Chris, cool story about the Italian place.

  10. Wow, great find. By any chance, since you have “seen everything” over the years. Is there still a pedestrian tunnel under 6th Avenue from 36th Street to 42nd? Was caught in Midtown two weeks ago when it started to rain.

  11. Note that it gets an A rating from the DOH.

  12. Is there still a pedestrian tunnel under 6th Avenue from 36th Street to 42nd? Was caught in Midtown two weeks ago when it started to rain.

    Yes, although subway workers use it as a storage area and it’s closed to the public. It actually runs from the northern end of the 6th/34th station to the southern end of 6th/42nd and is about four blocks long.

    The tunnel originally served as an entranceway to both of those stations, with stairways to the sidewalk at 38th Street. I’ve looked on street level for traces of these stairways but there’s nothing left. As I understand it, the entrances at 38th and the tunnel itself were basically an afterthought while the Sixth Avenue line was being planned, a way of placating business owners around 38th Street who worried that they would lose business when the subway replaced the Sixth Avenue El, which had a station at 38th.

    The tunnel was outside fare control but served as a useful passageway during bad weather, like the rain you encountered two weeks ago. Unfortunately it had to be closed as a safety hazard in (IIRC) the late 1970’s/early 1980’s after a subway customer was raped in the tunnel. The stairways to the corner of 38th Street were already long gone by then.

  13. Nick, this is too cool for school. Thank you for taking me into one of those hidden nooks and crannies that makes this city so special.

  14. Nice find!

  15. I have eaten here a few times because I used to work at Macy’s on West 34th and 7th ave. The food is good and you can’t beat the prices for buying lunch in midtown. Hell, you can’t beat the prices anywhere for that much. They give you a good amount of food too.

  16. Found this place via Yelp a while ago. Just searching for well-reviewed restaurants on Yelp in the neighborhood brings this one up. Until very recently the scaffolding in front of this building made finding it even more of a challenge – maybe that’s why it was easy to pass by without noticing how unusual it is.

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