90-08 161 St., Jamaica
(718) 297-NICO (6426)
Cuisine: Mexican (with a hint of Italian)
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: None needed
For those living and working in Downtown Jamaica, the lack of culinary diversity is more than a problem; it’s an affront to the very nature of the diverse borough that calls Jamaica its county seat.
But nestled in the block on 161 Street on the ground floor of Norman Towers is a brand new offering to the palate of Jamaica.
The paint is fresh, the furniture looks brand new, the workers are only just getting to know each other, but the line is already out the door at lunchtime. It’s probably the steak torta.
Don Nico’s bills itself as a Mexican eatery, but there’s a noticeable hint of Italian in the menu, the native cuisine of owner Nicola Maurello, former owner of Pasticcio, which was a well-known Italian restaurant in Murray Hill, Manhattan. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because you might have seen Don Nico’s food kiosk in Downtown Brooklyn. The Jamaica eatery is Maurello and long-time friend and chief Tony Luna’s brick-and-mortar version.
This past Monday, Don Nico’s premiered it’s full menu. Open for breakfast and lunch, the eatery is already a popular place for local workers, and its steak tortas will no doubt become legendary fairly quickly.
Colorful and welcoming, Don Nico’s decor brings you “South of the Border.” From the vibrant reds and yellows to the surfboards hanging on the walls, you get the feeling you’re dining on a Mexican seaside cafe.
Maurello started us off with a grilled shrimp taco. A truly authentic experience, the taco is not like the traditional hard shelled treat you’d get at a fast-food place. It was more like a wrap. The fresh shrimp, poblano peppers, onions, Oaxaca cheese and tomatillo are swaddled in a light flour tortilla.
If salads are more of your thing, try the avocado salad with grilled chicken. A delightful assortment of mixed greens, carrots, red onions and tomatoes with a tangy lemon vinaigrette dressing, it’s the perfect lunch salad.
But seriously, let’s talk about the steak torta. If you like spice, you’re in for a treat here. Grilled steak in a tasty Mexican bread with jalapeno, onions, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomatoes bathing in a tangy chipotle mayo that will have you asking for a side order of the sauce. Maurello said he plans on expanding the menu in the future, including adding a Mexican version of the Italian snack bruschetta.
The next time you find yourself in Downtown Jamaica with a growling stomach, stop by Don Nico’s and enjoy a flavorful lunch – and don’t miss the torta.