Elvie’s Turo-Turo & Butter Lane

I’m getting a little rusty in my old age. In the early days of the blog, I was the one dragging my friends to obscure hole-in-the-wall joints in the East Village–now I’m perfectly happy to go to Grand Sichuan over and over again.

But Mark and Diana have my number, both literally and figuratively. We had plans for a double date on Saturday night and as I texted with Diana about what we would do, she ignored my suggestion to return to the home of Gui Zhou Chicken and Dry Sauteed String Beans and, instead, told us to meet her and Mark at Elvie’s Turo-Turo on 1st Ave. and 12th Street. “It’s a Filipino place,” wrote Diana. The old adventurer in me perked up: “See you there,” I wrote back as I grabbed my camera (or Craig’s camera, rather: mine’s been in repair for eternity), excited, once again, to try something new.

Followers on Twitter were all atwitter at the mention of Filipino food. “Be sure to try Crispy Pata (deep fried pork leg), Chicken Adobo, Bangus (milkfish) and Halo Halo (shaved ice dessert),” wrote pleasurepalate. “I hope that includes a pork belly stew,” said ddot_. “Filipino food is the joint,” said chaofundc.

I thought I’d never had Filipino food before, but then I remembered a trip I took almost three years ago (yowza!) with Patty to Cendrillon in SoHo. There I had my first Chicken Adobo and it was so good, I remember it vividly. How could I not with all that vinegar? For that’s what Chicken Adobo is, for those who’ve never had it: chicken cooked in vinegar. And it’s every bit as pungent and exciting as you’d expect it to be: I was an instant fan.

Here at Elvie’s Turo-Turo, the food isn’t as refined as it was at Cendrillon (and, for the record, last I heard Cendrillon is no longer in SoHo, but has relocated to Brooklyn and renamed itself Blue Yam–see here.) But it’s a great deal: for $8.50 you get two dishes and a big plate of rice. In this economy, that’s good to know, isn’t it?

Here are Mark and Diana studying their options:


(I really like that picture even though I hate Craig’s camera which proves that there are no such things as bad cameras, just bad photographers–so sorry for hating you, Craig’s camera.)

We all ultimately selected variations of the same thing–everyone got the Pork Adobo, called–more accurately–“Adobong Manok O Baboy,” described on the menu as: “chicken or pork dish seasoned with fresh garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves, pepper and anise.” Mark got another meat dish with his, but Diana, Craig and I all chose Pinakbet: “mixed vegetables sauteed in shrimp paste.”

Here’s what it all looked like:


(It’s funny, I recognize that plate from Fishs Eddy: if you like it, you can find it there too.)

The food here was really flavorful. The pork adobo was just as vinegary as I had hoped, though some of the pieces were tougher than others (perhaps it didn’t braise long enough?) The tender pieces, when I found them, were pretty scrumptious.

The shrimp paste vegetables took some getting used to: it’s an unfamiliar taste, that shrimp paste. But it adds a nice seafoody kick to something that is, by nature, earthy; sort of like adding anchovies to a salad dressing or using fish sauce in other kinds of Asian cooking. Over time, I liked it.

Now the best-looking thing at Elvie’s Turo-Turo was definitely the dessert: we saw happy tables swarming over giant sundaes of shaved ice and ice cream–I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re known for. Yet, we were trying to make a night of things: we were finished with dinner in 20 mintues–there were no waiters or waitresses, it was all counter service, so that happens very fast. We made the executive decision to stretch the night out by getting dessert elsewhere; and that elsewhere was just an avenue away–Momofuku Milk Bar.

Good Lord in heaven: what has happened to this place? Maybe it’s because it was a Saturday night, but this was the noisiest, most aggressive mob of people I’ve ever seen clamoring for dessert. It was miserable in there and very confusing: there was a number machine and numbers up on a wall, but the number I pulled was 306 and the number on the board was 260. There couldn’t have been 46 people ahead of me, could there?

We panicked and decided to flee at once. “I know a great cupcake place on 7th Street called Butter Lane,” said Diana.

“Great!” I barked. “Let’s go there.”

Welcome to Butter Lane:


Ah, what an oasis of calm compared to Momofuku Milk. Here, in this adorable space, eccentric people talk to you about cupcakes. Specifically, the cupcakes on the counter all made with fresh berries:


“There are no unnatural flavors in any of them,” explained the nice woman. “It’s all made fresh right here.”

I opted for a raspberry cupcake, while Craig chose a French vanilla (they have French Vanilla and American Vanilla and I really don’t remember the difference.) Mark and Diana chose some kind of Mark and Diana cupcake combo and here’s everyone (except me, cause I’m taking the picture) modeling their cupcakes:


Ah, looking closer, I can see Diana had a strawberry:


“Mmmm,” she said when I asked her how it was.

I took a bite of mine and indeed it was quite fresh tasting; nothing artifical about it. I have to confess right here, I’m not very particular about cupcakes. I know when I really DON’T like a cupcake (case in point: The Cupcake Cafe) but as for the ones I do like? I don’t join the throngs who call Magnolia’s too sweet or such-and-such a cupcake too buttery. They’re all good to me. I will eat them all. If you don’t like them, please: give them here. I like cupcakes.

And thus concludes a post about Filipino food and cupcakes. If there’s a moral here, it’s certainly this: break your patterns! Don’t go back to Grand Sichuan over and over again. Don’t eat dessert at Momofuku Milk, you’ve already been there. Eat Filipino food. Eat cupcakes at Butter Lane. Live a little! Thanks Mark and Diana for waking me out of my stupor: I won’t suggest Grand Sichuan ever, ever again.

(But if you suggest it, I can’t promise I’ll say no….)

15 thoughts on “Elvie’s Turo-Turo & Butter Lane”

  1. :D Can I give you my grandma’s adobo recipe and you can try making it and then you can post it on here and make all us Filipino’s proud? Thanks for this post!

  2. FYI – There are various ways to make adobo, not everyone uses anise (I, personally, am not a fan), and after braising it, you can either fry or bake the meat (because some people prefer chicken adobo on the flaky, less saucy side).

    How to make adobo (chicken/pork):

    Soy sauce, preferably Filipino soy sauce like “Silver Swan” or “Marca Pina.” Japanese and Chinese soy sauce give it a different flavor.

    Vinegar, any white vinegar will do.

    Bay leaves (min. of 2 leaves)

    Garlic – 4 cloves, smashed

    Pepper Corns – “Sprinkle”

    We have no exact recipe for the dish because my mom does everything “to taste.” It’s good to start with a 2:1 ratio with the soy sauce and vinegar, but it’s best to taste the sauce first before you decide whether to add more soy sauce or vinegar.

    Excited to hear that you enjoyed your Filipino experience!

  3. Never been to Elvie’s. We just keep going back to Grand Sichuan over and over and over. With Zabb City for a break in between. But seriously, I think I’ve been to G.S. six times in the last month.

    Thanks for the break and the nudge toward adventure.

  4. Filipino food is often pushed aside for the more popular cuisines such as Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. I’m really glad that there has been and increase of media attention on Filipino food. I could also be biased because I’m Filipino, but who knows? :D

  5. “turo” means to point. Turo-turo means a joint which has prepared dishes and you point at the one you want.

  6. What a lovely sounding night! I have got to admit that other than the corn cookies I really don’t get Milk Bar. OK the cakes and cookies are good…that frozen yogurt is just straight up weird though…I blame the whole phenomenon on over active Chang worship.

  7. Im coming to NYC next month and by coincidence im staying in the east village which i found out, after i booked is a great place food. I cant wait to try some of the stuff ive seen on this site

  8. Hey! You have to try Pinoy (Filipino) food at someone’s house! It’s the only way! Come to the Philippines and we’ll show you food that you will cry for!

  9. Head over to Grill21 for more Filipino food! There’s waiter service, if you don’t want the “turo-turo” ambience. It’s on 21st, between 1st and 2nd ave. :)

  10. Reading your updates on delicious food day in and day out makes me want to move to an ethnically diverse food haven like you.

    Sorry, long time reader, first time commenter. Still, Adobo is amazing, as are all the dishes of each nation. After coming from bland British food as a kid, I’m all about ethnic flavor now. Great site, and loved the post.

  11. I really wish there was a good Filipino restaurant around here, but there is none so I just cook my own. Wow, I’m impressed that you got pinakbet! The shrimp paste (bagoong) is not something my Caucasian friends are brave enough to try (or smell, for that matter).

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