The best ethnic food is often the most difficult to find. So each week we'll spin the globe and search for a new other-worldly spot to expand our eating horizons around the Valley.
This week we go to Poland at Europa Pastry Cafe.
I've lived around the corner from Europa Pastry Cafe for years, but never stopped in, possibly deterred by the "pastry" in the title. However while browsing restaurants online, I stumbled onto a review where someone gushed about Europa's great hot meals: pierogi, cabbage, sauerkraut.
Sounds plenty ethnic to me.
Authenticity-rating: A party came in for a pick up order and started chatting with the shop people in Polish...which was enough for me to believe that the joint was authentic.
But then a friend of Polish decent who just moved here from Brooklyn (home of amazing ethnic restaurants) visited the cafe for one of their European sandwiches. "It was really good," he enthused, and suggested it might become a frequent lunch stop.
What to order: The most popular dish is the stuffed cabbage which you can order alone (for $3.50 each) or together with pierogi. The small plate ($7.50) comes with 4 pierogi and 1 stuffed cabbage. The large ($8.75) includes 2 cabbages. The large plate was plenty for two people to split -- and leave a little room for a pastry.
Also available on the hot menu, a sausage and sauerkraut plate and flaki, aka tripe soup. "You shouldn't order that," suggested the girl behind the counter, as if "tripe" wasn't deterrent enough.
Looking for something lighter? They also have a selection of hot or cold European sandwiches, which are made on rye bread, rolls or bagels and served with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and cheese.
On display, a wall of fresh breads, a case of meats and cheeses, and several cases of baked goods. There's a freezer with frozen pierogi for home consumption.
I pointed out a powdered pastry and asked what it was called.
"Try," said the woman behind the counter as she grabbed one with a set of tongs and held it out for me.
The pastry, whose name she said meant "angel wings" was light, crispy, and not nearly as sweet as it appeared (to me, a good thing). Upon recommendation, I had the blueberry jagody, which looked like a donut, but again, tasted less sweet than it appeared.
The ambience: Like many delicious ethnic restaurants, Europa Pastry Cafe is a small no-nonsense restaurant/market nestled in a strip mall.
There are about 6-8 tables inside and a table outside. The rest of space is packed with Polish goods (newspapers, magazines), the aforementioned food cases, shelves of dry goods and even more European sweets.
The service is friendly and the staff is more than happy to make recommendations and explanations for anything unfamiliar.
Vegetarian-friendly: There are some vegetarian options; You can order pierogi stuffed with cheese or a cheese sandwich, but I wouldn't say "friendly."
Read what the folks at Yelp had to say about it.
Europa Pastry Cafe is located at 6522 N 16th Street just north of Maryland. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Know of a good ethnic restaurant we should check out. Let us know in the Comments section below.