It all started with a churro. Kallie Pappas, a “home-trained baker” who grew up in Flushing and lived in Astoria before moving out East Northport with her daughters, had long dreamed of one day opening a restaurant. But it wasn’t until her kids got older (her youngest is now 17) and, crucially, her friend Juan Cortez handed her one of his freshly-made churros, that the planning accelerated.

“Juan made me a churro and I fell in love with it,” Pappas told Gothamist this past weekend. “And I was like, those have to be sold somewhere because they’re so good! That was the start… but then I was thinking oooh let’s add some ice cream–I love making my ice creams–and then we thought, let’s add some food, too….”

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And then came the pandemic, which, somewhat counter-intuitively, only strengthened her resolve. “I just wanted to live my dream, to see if I can make it happen, and just take a chance in life,” Pappas said. “After COVID hit, and everything that’s happened since, I felt like — life is short, there’s no time like the present, let’s just try it.”

The menu at Dulce Cultura is stacked with appealing choices. There are a dozen kinds of quesadillas, several tortas, a few burritos, as well as loaded nachos, banderillas (or “Mexican street dogs”), tamales, Birria Esquites (which sounds like a lot), and Cheesy Mexi Fries, which I had vegetarian-style with sweet corn and roasted cauliflower.

The fries were terrific, a huge serving of crisp potatoes buried under a ridiculous amount of bright orange cheese sauce. Pappas delivered two kinds of housemade hot sauce to my table with this dish, one made from habanero, the other from ghost pepper, and it was stoner food heaven.

Birria Taco (two for $10), Fish Taco (two for $10), Pork Belly Taco (two for $13)

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Tacos are the centerpiece of the savory side of things here, and the three I ate were excellent. Cortez isn’t skimpy with his ingredients with these either, and the Pork Belly starred a massive slab of pig, fatty and tender and nicely balanced by a pile of chipotle slaw. The Fish Taco came filled with flaky filets lightly battered and fried, more of that slaw, plus a well-conceived mango pineapple salsa. And the beefy Birria was a beast, rich, juicy, and sloppy on its own and made even more so when dipped in the consomme.

Other taco options include Chorizo with cheese, Chicken Fajita with roasted corn sauce, Carne Asada, Al Pastor, Shrimp with avocado, and Mushroom with Oaxaca cheese. All tacos come two to an order, usually for around $9, but you can mix and match among the varieties, or stuff yourself silly with a trio.

Save room for dessert, if possible. Or come back some other time just for the sweets, which include a full array of homemade ice cream in flavors like Passion Fruit, Nutella Concha, Chocolate, Mango, and Biscoff Cookie Butter. You can add a host of different sugary syrups and toppings to make a sundae, or pair your scoops with a fresh concha for an ice cream sandwich. I did this with Pappas’s chunky Cinnamon Churro, and it was delicious, an indulgence that was all reward, no regret.

And, of course, there are Cortez’s churros, which you order just as regular “sticks,” or stuffed with things like Nutella or dulce de leche, or as “Loop Churros” in flavors like Fruity Pebbles, S’mores, and Almond Joy. Pappas is still waiting for her beer and wine license, but in the meantime there’s coffee, Jarritos, and some decent Horchata.

Dulce Cultura is a homey affair. On Saturday afternoon Pappas was busy baking, plating, and dispensing a seemingly limitless supply of friendly hospitality to everyone who came in; her middle daughter spent time working the counter while also running food and bussing the tables; and Cortez was cranking it out back in the kitchen.

Pappas and Cortez designed and basically built the place themselves–“before work, after work, it took six months of blood, sweat, and tears”–which has a nifty sheltered sidewalk seating area, plus tables inside set before a colorful banquette or a cushioned window bench. Spooky season decorations are out in force right now, too.

Inside Dulce Cultura

Pappas says she’s thrilled to be back in Astoria every day. “You know when you walk in somewhere and it just feels right? This just felt right. This is a great neighborhood. Everyone is so friendly. I love everyone in the community, it’s great.” Given how many passersby stopped to greet Pappas as I sat there and wolfed down my meal, I’d say the feeling was mutual.

Dulce Cultura is located at 42-20 31st Avenue, at the corner of 43rtd Street, and is currently open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Closed Monday. (914-829-8801; @dulceculturany)

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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