Eating Fifth Avenue – Karen Deli Grocery

karen deli groceryThis small grocery with a kitchen and handful of tables in the back was the second stop on my eating tour of 5th Ave. I’d seen it from the B63 bus a couple of weeks ago, on the way back from a combo Century 21/Middle Eastern grocery run to Bay Ridge. The sign out front advertised “productos mexicanos y centro americanos,” but for some reason (like, maybe, the flags of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras flapping in the wind), I suspected the focus was on the latter.

Once I confirmed (thank you, Yelp and Urbanspoon) that the deli grocery served food in the back, Karen and I had a date.

First, though, I had to find the place again. I knew which side of the avenue it was on, and that it was close to 62nd St. (I’d jotted down a note to that effect on my earlier bus ride), but still managed to walk right by on the first pass. It’s that unassuming (plus, I was distracted by the storefront across the street, a botanica called “Curiosidades el Divino Niño” that had me, well, curious).

I spotted Karen on the second pass. Produce was piled out front, baked goods and containers of dried shrimp and pepitas flanked the cash register, and the freezer case held prepared pupusas, tamales and various Central American fruits. I walked by all that – must return! – to the kitchen in the back.

IMG_2418As far as I could tell, there’s no printed menu. The basic offerings are hand-lettered on sheets of paper taped to one side of the kitchen station, while some items (but not all) are pictured (with a number, but no name) on a display that wraps around to the front. Licuados and aguas frescas are listed on another poster on the back wall. For the uninitiated, it’s a little bewildering.

Not to worry. The two women who staff the kitchen couldn’t have been kinder, or more patient with my bad Spanish. I asked a few, halting questions – chuchitos, what are they? like tamales? what are they filled with? – and then ordered a single chuchito and a melon agua fresca. (That was before I saw their list of hot drinks, which included arroz con chocolate and atol de elote.)

As cute as lunchtime snacks get

So round and plump! This is as cute as lunch gets.

My chuchito was a plump ball of masa, filled with bits and pieces of chicken (watch out for bones) that had been cooked in a savory red sauce, the whole adorable package  topped with crema and powdered white cheese. I’ve had tamales that were more meltingly tender (this one was slightly singed on top, presumably from being reheated), but none that were cuter. (Think that’s silly? Well, guess what: “chuchito” derives from a Guatemalan slang term for “puppy.” So there.)

As I ate, I admired the décor (a white vase of artificial red roses made a strong statement against a lime green background) and the lunch of the guy at the table behind me. He was digging into fried chicken with a golden, bumpy crust, on a plate overflowing with various sides. It looked delicious.  Other menu items of note include pulike (also spelled pulique), a Guatemalan stew, and pacayas envueltas, date palm shoots (actually, the “male inflorescence” of the plant) dipped in egg batter and fried.

The tip jar on the counter read, in Spanish, “Thank you for your tips. May God bless you always.” I left a big one on my $4 tab.

Featured in this post:

Karen Deli Grocery, 6116 5th Ave., Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 11220

Karen Deli Grocery on Urbanspoon


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