Updated: May 5
Nano BIlliards Cafe is the kind of restaurant that people tell tales about—if they’re lucky enough to find it in the first place. The cafe, which takes up six seats in the corner of a billiards hall that’s a stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium, operates mostly as a takeout counter during the afternoon, when the tables are covered in tarps. The sign reading “restaurant” painted on the outside of the building reads like a relic from a previous lifetime, and to the unwitting passerby there are no other indicators that one of New York’s best chefs is hard at work inside.
Anita Romero, that chef, shows up with her husband at 5am, six days a week, to begin preparing the handful of stews, meats, and sides that she’ll be serving for lunch. She takes no shortcuts when building the multilayered flavors that leap out of the unassuming steam trays where each dish will end up. And until the end of the workday she cooks, takes orders on the phone, and serves walk-on customers from a kitchen so cozy that everything she needs is literally within arm’s reach.
“When they eat something out there that upsets their stomach, they come to me for a remedy,” says Romero of her most loyal customers, who drive from as far as New Jersey to pick up shopping bags full of her guisado de costillas, locrio de pollo, and black beans—whose depth of flavor is likely a mystery to anyone who isn’t a master of Dominican home cooking. With that, she answers another call and begins filling a to-go box with the cure.
Words and photo by James Boo