Upper West Side, NYC — Instagram has now been a long proven ground for foodies (still hate that term since many of them, in my opinion, don't truly appreciate food culture with any real respect or understanding) to discover new, exciting dishes, and the restaurants serving them up. It has also become a valuable way for the restaurants to reach out to active food-lovers and introduce themselves.
Playa Betty's started liking some of the images on my KAC Food Instagram several months ago. Like many other restaurants I've found/discovered on Insta, Playa Betty's went immediately onto my non-official "to-try" list.
It jumped to the top of the list once I came across a picture of their churro ice cream sandwich. The next day it was warm enough, and a quick (first) look at their full menu intrigued me with a creatively impressive variety of tacos, including some filled with short ribs or fried oysters.
Unfortunately, those exact two varieties of tacos that I finally ventured across Central Park to the Upper West Side were not available on the lunch menu the pre-noon time a walked into the place.
No worries, plenty still available to appease the epicurean adventurer in me, as I started with the "Marley" taco, featuring Jamaican-style jerk chicken and braised collard greens.
Brightly spicy seasoned juicy sliced chicken is deftly balanced with earthy and aromatic collards, and topped with diced ripe tomato and cilantro. Great bites throughout.
And now having a new friend — and professional chef — who is, with love, trying to broaden my appetite with encouraging me to eat more meatless dishes, the I Can Hass Taco? taco, with tempura-fried hass avocado, black beans, cotija cheese, and jalapeño cream.
I wound up loving this taco, afraid at first that possibly too much was going on in such a small handful, but the layers of flavors, temperatures, and textures balanced themselves out most admirably. Crispy hot tempura shell gives way to a just warmed through fresh hass avocado. A spot of rich, earthy black beans are countered by the slightly sweet and tangy kicky heat of the jalapeno cream, and pico de gallo has just enough bright, heady vinegar to cut through the fat, residual oil, and cream and properly cleanse the palate for the next enjoyable bite.
With neither taco being at all "heavy", I did have room (in my mind, at least) to order the churro ice cream sandwich. I wanted to dismiss even the idea of a churro ice cream sandwich as yet another Instagram "gimmick" — see, cronut or rainbow bagel or cotton candy milkshake — but this was executed expertly. The housemade flattened churro "buns" were flaky crispy on the outside, crumbly firm on the inside, still emanating the the sweet aroma of cinnamon (even after the 5 minutes or so of pictures I took of it before diving into it), and the ice cream, Madagascar Vanilla gelato from Dolce Amore in Brooklyn, held to the perfect setness, not suffering from being too cold and solid in the middle or too soft or quickly melting on the outside.
I fully understand that in this day and age of social media, any company needs to employ any tool they can to create interest or buzz for their business. maybe none more so than the restaurant industry. So while a "mashup" dessert or a taco named after Bob Marley might fall, to some, under the category of "fun & games", everything that I had from the kitchen at Playa Betty's showed me that the management and kitchen take their food very seriously.
PLAYA BETTY'S | 320 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10023 | (212) 712-0777 | www.playabettys.com