By Elizabeth Nealon
At Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop, a first-time customer may be hesitant to believe the hype. The counter is about one-foot-deep before a window of Plexiglass with a small opening for transactions.
This cash-only joint — only 10 minutes away via the Metro-North — does not advertise any reviews raving of its success and popularity on any of its outside signage. However, on the inside counter window it’s obvious that Ali’s is not to be brushed aside. There are only three stickers that mark the otherwise immaculate window the three stickers read Zagat 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Ali’s has been rated by the Zagat for the past three years and currently has a rating of 4.4 on its 5-point rating system. Zagat claims to “cut through the clutter of available dining choices and guide you to the best places, wherever you are,” so don’t just take my word for it, the food does not disappoint. The humility of the low-key restaurant joined with the ease with which the staff will befriend any and every customer makes Ali’s worth noting and worth a return visit.
For a first-timer to Caribbean cuisine, the menu could be a bit intimidating, with options ranging from pholulorie to oxtail stew roti, but the staff is overwhelmingly kind and eager to tell you about the offerings. Just don’t hold up a long line, because Ali’s customers are just as eager to get their hands on the soft and pillowy doubles that they sell.
Roti is a type of flatbread with a varying recipe depending from where in the West Indies the recipe originated; doubles are a Trinidadian street food of curried chickpeas, or channa, sandwiched between two fried flatbreads.
The heaping portions that are wrapped in roti are definitely enough for a meal and the leftovers for a snack later in the day. But if you plan to sit at the street-facing counter to eat, pace yourself so that you can pick up some candy or a piece of fruit from the street carts on your way back to the Metro-North.
If you’re willing to take the Metro-North three stops north-bound to the Woodlawn stop (which is way faster than going into the city for a casual meal), you will be delighted by the affordability and tastiness of Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop.
The décor of Ali’s is nothing exciting, and from the outside it is quite unassuming. But the inside is clean and tidy, and the aromas that bombard your nostrils are enough to keep you busy for a few minutes before you order.
The only actual decorations are the large menu boards and signs that advertise the specials. The ambiance of the restaurant, or lack thereof, is not a huge loss as the shop is small enough for customers to keep busy with all the Trinidadian treats and delicacies in the case below the counter. Cans of Irish moss drink, caramel wafers and various packages of curry line the shelves.
The friendliness with which each customer is greeted is surprising considering the thick Plexiglas that separates the kitchen from the lobby. One may expect the staff to encourage customers to come in, buy their food and leave, but the lovely ladies at Ali’s seem to really enjoy their work and greet everyone with a “Hi, honey!” or “What can I get you, baby?”
If the line is long enough, as it is apt to be on a busy weekend afternoon, the banter between loyal customers and the women who cook and work the counter and cook are likely to keep any visitor busy and laughing. Be sure to be polite and you may end up with an extra treat in your bag.
A sampling of doubles at Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop, which serves a variety of Caribbean dishes. (Courtesy of Facebook).