One year ago, Gothamist boarded a ferry bound for Uruguay to spend the day exploring Colonia del Sacramento. We dreamt of renting a Vespa and speeding along the Rio de la Plata, racing through the Portugese Barrio Historico at speeds of 10, even 15 miles per hour.
We rented that Vespa, more of a ramshackle Ninja actually, and speed we did—through the crumbling Plaza de Toros, the abandoned port, the sleepy artisan markets and the roadside parrilladas whose heady aroma lingered at every corner. But when we got hungry, the locals told us, there was really only one option: chivito, Uruguay's calorific national dish.
It was no challenge to track down chivito in Colonia. Every restaurant touted its version of the sloppy, godless mess. The dish is served either as a sandwich or a plated affair—a crispy heap of French fries piled skyward with (in ascending order) a beef steak, a ham steak two fried eggs, olives and a gooey bath of melted cheese. Add to that a knob of pea-studded potato salad and several beefy slices of tomato and beet, and the plate is heart stopping—visually and, well…
We didn't love it, to be frank—that was as much a response to its myriad of arguably discordant flavors as it was an emotional reaction, an inability to reconcile the consumption of a dish so grotesquely unwholesome. That said, our companion in Uruguay reveled in its calculating nutritional drought, snapping wildly vibrant photos of the dish as it sagged under the weight of its own excess. Twelve months later and he is still telling tales of the chivito and its brief but unforgettable tenure at our table.
And so, with a heavy heart, and a desire to share even the most indecent of gastronomic experiences, we set about finding an authentic chivito in New York City, beginning (and ending, incidentally) our search at the aptly named El Chivito D’Oro in Jackson Heights.
Located at the corner of 84th street and 37th avenue, El Chivito D'Oro is a clean, if dated, restaurant with recessed neon green lighting that casts a limey glow throughout the space. Just past the door and behind a bank of refrigerated glass cases packed with hot pink steaks of every variety, a wide grill greets diners with a reassuring sizzle and pop. The walls are lined with sepia images of Uruguayan icons and street photography and the tables—the comforting diner variety—are each set with a small pot of fragrant chimmichurri.
Scanning the menu, we eschewed the tempting mixed grills—gleaming, aromatic combinations of skirt steak, blood sausage, tender short ribs, veal and sweetbreads—and skipped to the final page where a nondescript “Chivito al Plato” commanded our attention. We began the meal with a pair of forgettable empanadas and a deliciously salty chorizo whose lingering richness spoke with promise of the entrée to come.
Moments later, our waitress, one eye on the Brazil-Uruguay soccer game piping through the ceiling-mounted televisions, marched the towering affair to our table. We fixed our gaze on the beast, equally silenced by disbelief and a familiar revulsion. Each of its horribly indulgent components were in place—strips of bacon peeking out from beneath a blanket of melted cheese and French fries, the suggestive scent of ham and steak hiding underneath, two generous knobs of potato salad, two fried eggs slumping off the edge and a technicolor lump of blanched vegetables.
We burrowed beneath the layers to find the steak, took a hefty bite and cringed, fighting the urge to tuck the chewed bit discretely into our napkin. Perhaps it’s our tender constitution, having been plied with beautifully aged steaks so buttery and redolent of smoke that we haven’t the character to choke down that tough sole of meat. Ultimately though, this chivito was remarkably authentic, inasmuch as it was truly just as we’d remembered it—very nearly inedible. Our companion however, for whom the Uruguayan chivito had become something of a legend, responded with a comparable enthusiasm, gleefully exploring its many tiers and picking through greasy pockets of meat and potato.
The appeal of chivito is hardly puzzling—it’s the kind of experiential dining that makes things like deep-fried pickles and Mars bars so compelling. And we’ll even return to El Chivito D’Oro, next time to sample a steak or one of the vibrant paellas a neighboring table seemed to enjoy. However longwinded, the restaurant's motto “El lugar para los que prefieren comer bien” (The place for those who like to eat well) is a fitting suggestion, one which, on future visits, we’ll feel compelled to follow.
El Chivito D'Oro III
84-02 37th Avenue at 84th Street
Queens, NY 11372