>> Sunday, July 22, 2012

GARCIA'S is closed.
70-09 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 575-0007

Mexican restaurants tend to fall into two main camps: upscale ones like Dos Caminos and cheap ones like Five Burros. There are some others of course, but these two take up most of the pie chart. Forest Hills doesn't have any upscale Mexican yet, but it does have cheap. With Marianella's gone, I ventured forth to Sgt. Garcia's, the large, second-floor restaurant near Barnes & Noble. 

Sgt. Garcia's is large and, with half of its seating outdoors but under shade, I would have expected it to be far more crowded than it was. Not that it was empty or anything, but it wasn't crowded by any stretch. It being seven hundred degrees out this evening, Pike and I opted for the air conditioned interior and took a seat by the wall.

Mexican restaurants have yet to embrace the craft beer craze by importing Mexican microbrews, so Garcia's has the standard Mexican beer selection of Corona's and Negro Modelos along with margaritas and daiquiris. Pike and I just had soda, but factor in an extra few bucks if you drink. $6 for bottle of beer up to $48 if you want a pitcher of pina coladas.

Pike and I split the Guacamole with chips. You aren't given very much but, even with relatively little, we didn't get very far into it. The guacamole was extremely bland, the chips were tasteless, and the salsa was thin and far far far too mild. Nothing was disgusting. It didn't taste bad. It just didn't taste anything.

The entree menu can run from cheap taqueria standards like tacos and enchiladas to more high end stuff like grilled salmon in a tangerine glaze. We went cheap. Garcia's "platos tradicionales" menu has enchiladas, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, toastados, and chili rellenos. You can pick any two for $14 or any three for $16. We each chose two, thinking we wouldn't go overboard. Little did we know how much food Garcia's gives out.

What you see below is either my plate or Pike's. We got different things but both plates came buried in cheese, rice, and rice. Halfway through the meal I could have easily crawled under the table and passed out. I ordered the Beef Burrito, a soft corn-shelled pocket of ground beef and Mexican fillin's and the Beef Chili Relleno a large chili pepper filled with ground beef and cheese... then topped off with more cheese. Don't eat at Garcia's if you're lactose intolerant. The burrito was very good in that it was better than the average burrito you might find at, say, Chipotle and I preferred the burrito to the chili relleno, which I was expecting to like more, but it fell a little flat. No flavors jumped out at me. Meanwhile Pike ordered a Beef Chimichanga, which was the best of the bunch because, well, anything deep fried automatically wins. Now imagine deep frying a taco. Impossible to go wrong. He also ordered a Chicken Enchilada, which he preferred over the chimichanga and which I thought tasted just like my burrito. In the end, most of these flavors somewhat clump together under the onslaught of refried beans and sour cream. Nothing is really that different and everything tasted good, if forgettable. I certainly don't recommend appetizers. 

Naturally, comparisons with Five Burros are necessary. If the typical crowd at Five Burros is young and loud, the crowd here is... not. FB is practically a college bar. The music pumps, girls dress sexy when they go, there are a throng of smokers milling around the entrance all the time, it's open later than almost any restaurant in the area. Sgt. Garcia's isn't geriatric, but the people here seemed more interested in hanging out and eating than in being someplace popular. To be fair, the food at FB might actually be slightly better (certainly the chips are), but not by such a margin that it's really worth waiting a half an hour to get a table and not by such a margin that it's worth me waving a money-clenched fist at the bartender for ten solid minutes to get his attention because he was too busy flirting with Ms. Redhead in the sequined shirt and fuck-me pumps (Hey, I get it. I like redheads in fuck-me pumps, too. Just get my drink first. You'll have the whole rest of the night to get shot down, I promise). My point is, Garcia's is a good backup if you want to avoid the crowd and if you go with friends you're more likely to get a table quickly.

A mountain of food, a relatively untouched appetizer, two sodas, tax and tip, came to about $30 per person.

And if any readers have had any of the entrees, feel free to leave a comment describing it. I tend to go to cheap Mexican restaurants for cheap Mexican food. It never crosses my wallet to order anything but the comfort food standards.


Anonymous,  July 30, 2012 at 7:53 PM  

The food at Five Burros is light years better than at Garcia's. How Garcia's stays open is beyond me, except maybe they have a decent happy hour. In which case the food is secondary. The steak salad, lobster tacos, pork...all delicious at FB. Friendly fun atmosphere, normal sized portions not drowning in cheese. Good drinks. I'm just sad the Columbia Street location closed now that we're in Carroll Gardens (although admittedly not as good as the original). FB is one of my two go-to places when in your neck of the woods. The other being Dani's.

Susan August 1, 2012 at 12:34 PM  

I'm going to agree with Anonymous on this in that I feel the food at Five Burro's is leaps and bounds better than Sgt. Garcia's as well.

As far as Tex-Mex goes, I actually find FB downright good.

With that said, my Mexican addiction is Tortilleria Nixtamal. It's simply unbelievably good. If I ever win Lotto one of the first things I'd do is set them up in Forest Hills (so I can eat there 4x/week!).

Laura Lutz August 1, 2012 at 11:59 PM  

"Nothing was disgusting. It didn't taste bad. It just didn't taste anything."

Dude, this describes nearly every dining experience I've had in Forest Hills.

Anonymous,  August 7, 2012 at 5:28 PM  

I agree with Laura! :) Jon, I really enjoy visiting your blog and reading these Forest Hills restaurant reviews. The amount of space you dedicate to Austin Street and Queens Boulevard eateries - given how lousy they are almost across the board--is astounding to me. You capture the culinary mediocrity of FH so well in fact-- in words and pictures -- that this is the only blog that makes me NOT want to eat where I am reading about. Your reviews are honest and in fact, I tend to agree with you 99.9% of the time. But since you started that Open Letter to DB thread, I would challenge you to explain to us how a successful restaurant culture COULD develop on Austin Street given the economics of FH's overpriced commercial rents. I am eager to hear your thoughts. BTW, the instant and glorious success of the new Farmer's Market - a gem in the rough where I am happily spending money every Sunday - really made me think maybe FH COULD become a foodie neighborhood after all. The desire exists. The customers are waiting. In the meantime, you will find me eating all over Astoria, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Flushing, happily a quick train ride away.

Jon Parker August 7, 2012 at 7:38 PM  

Well Anonymous #2, thank you!

I'm glad I can be of some service to you (and everyone). And I thoroughly enjoy my little hobby here. But I do think that there is, perhaps, a bit of unnecessary ho-hummery about eating in FH. I, personally, don't think it's nearly so bad. I just happen to go everywhere. My net is wide, and deep, and I talk about even the places that most anyone else would throw back and forget.

But, I think that it's fair to say that almost every resident of almost every neighborhood bemoans their own dining scene. When you travel somewhere, you research, self police, and thus, probably enjoy. But residents have to live with the restaurants that they don't like every day.

When I grew up in Manhattan, my parents bemoaned the neighborhood's lack of decent restaurants despite that hardly being the case (we lived in the Gramercy area), and a girl I dated a few years ago in Park Slope, hardly an area bereft of good food, felt the same way. We're NYers. We complain.

I think that if you look around, you'll see that FH has plenty of good places to go for a nosh. I think I may have to do a Best-Of post.

Susan August 7, 2012 at 8:12 PM  

Jon, I concur. As the saying goes, "The grass is always greener ...".

I'm quite happy that there are so many (what I consider to be) good dining opportunities in such a relatively small radius.

I can think of 6 places off hand that I frequent regularly, and can walk to any of them in less than 20 minutes (well, one may take me 25 minutes if I'm strolling). More importantly, I really LIKE these establishments.

Are there voids that I would like to see filled? Sure. I'm hoping that Jack and Nellie's fills one of them (FYI, Cyril told me that he's going to do a soft grand-opening over the holiday weekend in early September!! He knows it will be less crowded, but it will enable him to work out any kinks).

I do agree with Anonymous #2 in that the success of the Farmer's Market shows the neighborhood's desire for good food. Hopefully that leads to more winning restaurants coming our way.


Anonymous,  January 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM  

So tired of the FB supporters that believe this place is the crown jewel of Forest Hills. The food at FB is mediocre as well and the drinks are so overly sweet and the service there is horrible, especially from the hostess. Oh and for those FB patrons that rave about the little plastic toys in their drinks, if you need a toy with your meal, just go get a happy meal at McDonald's. Garcia's is just as good and without the bullshit.

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