By Debra Liu
It’s Fat Tuesday and there’s really nothing else you should be thinking about except for po’boys and beignets. If you’re wondering where to find the real deal in NYC – fully “dressed” po’boys and freshly, fried melt-in-your-mouth beignets – then you’re already on the right path: Cheeky Sandwiches.
The moment I walked into Cheeky, a small sandwich shop hidden in the Lower East Side at the edge of Chinatown, I realized, even before stepping in (a white picket fence lines the front of the restaurant), that I was about to be embraced by the closest piece of New Orleans I’ll ever find in NYC. Immediately, the ambience was warm, with a spunky and friendly charm – white brick walls surround the interior, one painted with a slogan in deep red, “A toast to the ducks that live in the swamp…” and another covered with faces of the owners’ friends. (Mental note: potential date spot.)
Ricardo Rivera and Din Yates are the co-owners of Cheeky, which opened about 4 years ago and according to Din, who grew up in New Orleans, he actually did not originally intend for it to be a New Orleans-inspired restaurant. “You’d be surprised because when I was opening, I didn’t think it was going to be a New Orleans restaurant at all. It was supposed to be just sandwiches and that’s all I wanted. I wanted to do sandwiches I liked and I like po’boys,” Din told me as he simultaneously fried oysters for the po’boy I was going to devour shortly. And at that time, according to Din, there wasn’t anyone out there doing real po’boys. “There are places that call sandwiches po’boys but they aren’t really po’boys,” said Din.
In addition to shrimp and oyster po’boys, Cheeky offers 5 other sandwiches, including fried chicken on a buttermilk biscuit and a veggie muffalata on an olive roll. The bread for the sandwiches is sourced straight from New Orleans (now that’s authentic!). They also have sides such as bread pudding and of course, beignets (ben-yay’s) and Zapp’s Chips from Louisiana.
The chicken sandwich and the buttermilk biscuits are the most popular items on the menu. Ricardo’s favorite item on the menu is the beef sandwich which is a braised short rib with horseradish sauce and arugula on cherry tomatoes challah bread. Ricardo also really enjoys the veggie muffalata. According to Ricardo, “Nobody used to order the veggie, but then I started telling people how good it was and people started to order it.”
What makes Cheeky stand out? Din says, “I think the ambience may be it.” It’s a friendly, down-to-earth place with good food. No pretenses.
As for his favorite foods in general, Din loves his mom’s cooking and also, vanilla ice cream: “Ice cream is my favorite food. It rushes to my body and I can feel it tingling in my skin. I try to eat it daily.”
Ricardo and Din are seriously two of the most fun people to talk to. Little known fact about Ricardo, he used to be a comedian! “I played a character called peanut butter baby and wore a diaper with a peanut butter jar on my neck,” Ricardo told me. When asked why he doesn’t wear this costume at the restaurant, Ricardo replied, “there could possibly be some food safety issues.”
If I lived or worked near Cheeky, I would literally go there every day to hang out with them, and of course to eat. So if you have a chance today, or tomorrow, stop by Cheeky for a bite of New Orleans flavor and say hi to Ricardo and Din. You’ll be glad you did. And if you’re ever craving a Cheeky sandwich at any point, you can order delivery too: Order Now
(As part of FoodtoEat’s Munch Madness, we’ll be giving away beignets catered by Cheeky Sandwiches to one lucky winner – just place any food order on 3/4 on FoodtoEat to be entered to win. Don’t miss out!)
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