I can only describe eating at Lali Restaurant like eating home-cooking at an auntie's house, if I had an auntie who is a Dominican lady named Lali. The restaurant calls back to what feels like a different time. The counters have an old-school diner feel, regulars seem to know each other, and comfort food is what's on the menu.
Lali and her friendly crew prepare selected dishes depending on the day of week. Most of the clientele is Spanish-speaking along with other locals who are frequent customers (myself included). Seating is mostly counter space and a few small tables in the back that seat two or three.
I've never had a miss here, but I really like the roasted chicken, the hen stew, pork chop, and pig feet. Getting poultry anywhere can always be a risky proposition, but everything here is always fall-off-the-bone tender with flavors of Dominican cooking, garlic, onion, lime, and more that my palate can't decipher but are delicious one-the-less. You'll find most diners eating some form of poultry dish whenever you walk into the restaurant.
In addition to the mains, they typically have a choice of yellow rice, white rice, or another starch, such as mashed plantains, a choice of either red or black beans, and another choice of avocado or sweet plantains. I always go for the yellow rice with red beans, and pick either avocado or sweet plantain depending on my mood.
The starches in a meal can feel sometimes like a throwaway, but I could happily just eat just rice and beans here. You can tell Lali doesn't cut corners and isn't just slapping on the salt, but instead serves well-developed flavors and nuance. While the setting might feel humble, the food is brimming with pride and care.
Pro-tip: Lali Restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, closing up shop by 4pm everyday. Get there early if you have a favorite as popular dishes can sell out. Also, cash only, with most items around $8. Close to the Times Square drag if you need to eat somewhere local with visitors. Use the house hot sauce generously.
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