Food & Drink

On the Lower East Side, a Venezuelan Plantain Legacy

It’s no secret that a quick, cheap lunch in NYC is usually neither quick nor cheap. But lucky for you, we’re on a mission to find the most affordable lunch options in the city -- that actually taste good. We’re traveling all over New York in search of the best lunchtime meal in several popular New York neighborhoods -- but it has to be under $5.

Twelve years ago, if you stumbled out of an Inwood bar sometime after 2am, you might have found yourself face-to-face with Liliana Velazquez. A native of Maracaibo, she built her reputation selling Venezuelan patacones (fried plantains) to a late-night crowd on 215th Street, out of a street cart she named El Dugout. Nothing short of a local legend, she sold enough plantains to open up a storefront in Elmhurst, Queens in 2005, and then in 2015, another on the Lower East Side. Together with her son, she renamed the place Patacon Pisao, which means “flattened plantain.”

The Lower East Side, like Queens, has a rich history as an immigrant haven. The neighborhood has been labeled German, Eastern European, Italian, Chinese, and Dominican -- so it’s no surprise that the area has one of the most diverse food-scapes in the city. Nowadays, it’s perhaps most notable for its post-frat population, but the international food culture remains. Patacon Pisao is a case in point.

Velazquez’s Essex Street outpost has a modest appearance, with a narrow brick facade and a neon-wire sign flashing the restaurant’s name. But the real attraction is the food, still made to the original recipes. Beyond the classic patacones, Velazquez serves handmade corn arepas stuffed with steak and egg, tacuchos (which fall somewhere between tacos and burritos), and best of all, tequeños -- delicate braids of dough and queso blanco, perfectly fried. And did we mention they’re only $2 an order?

Watch the video above to learn more about the Venezuelan delicacy.

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Eliza Dumais thinks 2am plantains are the key to New York nightlife.