North Brooklyn

Bulls, Udon and Yerba Mate: Williamsburg restaurants offer unique features

February 8, 2019 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Three new restaurants in North Brooklyn hope to make a name for themselves by offering features that generally aren’t available elsewhere.

Viva Toro:

The first is Viva Toro. At its current location at 188 Berry St. in Williamsburg, it features a mechanical bull, and it plans to open a new venue at 987 Grand St. in East Williamsburg that will also have a technological toro.

The addition of a mechanical bull wasn’t necessarily inspired by the 1974 John Travolta movie “Urban Cowboy,” in which the plot centers upon a romantic triangle and a bull-riding contest. Rather, office manager Justin Roman told the Eagle, it basically fit Viva Toro’s Mexican and Southwestern theme.

“We’re the only place with a mechanical bull in Brooklyn, and we’ve been in movies and TV,” says Roman. “Just recently, `Blue Bloods’ filmed in here.”

The Mexican restaurant’s new location will occupy a space that previously housed a plastic company’s warehouse. It is expected to open in about five months, according to Commercial Observer.

Viva Toros’ menu focuses on Mexican specialties like guacamole, flautas, enchiladas, quesadillas and arroz de la casa.


The second restaurant is Hanon, at 436 Union Ave., which is now open.

What makes Hanon stand out is its focus on udon noodles, a type of thick wheat noodle. There are more than 20 dishes featuring udon on the menu, from tempura mountain yam with white and green udon noodles as well as udon with chopped vegetables and seafood tempura in broth.

What makes Hanon different, manager Kiara Phillips told the Eagle, is that “it’s the focus here. We put a little more care into [udon] by making it from scratch. It’s not just an addition to the menu because it’s something quick and easy to make. It’s our specialty – we put a lot of care into each dish.”

Fried udon noodles with red peppers and shrimp, all slathered in a spicy peanut sauce. AP Photo/Matthew Mead


It has two unusual owners — the Japanese production company Rock’n Roll Japan and the condom maker Sagami rubber, according to Eater. The partners already own a restaurant in Kamakura, Japan, but this is their first eatery in the U.S.

While udon has never reach the popularity of ramen in the U.S., it can be found at some Japanese restaurants in the New York area.

Image via Flickr/



The third restaurant is Portenas, a new cafe dedicated to yerba mate, which is slated to open at 557 Lorimer St. on Friday. Yerba mate, an herb, is used to make a drink that is extremely popular in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and several other South American countries.

“There are no other yerba mate bars – this is a new concept,” a Portenas spokesperson told the Eagle. “Maybe you can order mate in a restaurant or two, but we are a 100 percent yerba mate bar. That means we serve only yerba mate, and most of our food products also have yerba mate.”

Traditionally, according to Grub Street, the mate drink is made by pouring hot water over the dried leaves of the yerba mate plant, then sipped from a wooden gourd with a filtered metal straw.

Chef Fernanda Tabares told the food blog that she hopes Portenas will become “the Starbucks of yerba mate,” and she wants to hire a staff of predominantly immigrant women.

Because the taste of the drink may be unfamiliar and intense to Americans, the restaurant will offer the option of adding milk, sugar and other ingredients. It also will offer empanadas, flavored drinks infused with yerba mate and baked goods.

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