When Luis Hernandez and Maria Medina opened their restaurant, Café Zona Sur (4314 4th Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets) four years ago, they didn’t realize just how much the place would become a neighborhood staple.
“I didn’t feel connected to the neighborhood until we opened,” Medina, a former Queens resident says. Now, they get a mixed clientele of “old and new, everyone knows each other,” she explains, as she drifts in and out of conversation with a regular patron who is sitting nearby and sipping his coffee.
The pair speak fondly of the neighborhood, and how, through their restaurant, they’ve built stronger relationships with the residents. Originally from Mexico, Hernandez settled down in Sunset Park because of its tight-knit community. “It’s a great neighborhood with a lot of roots,” he notes, adding that “neighbors watch out for each other”.
Situated on a busy street heavy with traffic and Mexican eateries, Hernandez, who has lived in Sunset Park for over twenty years, wanted to create something a little different. Recognizing the potential of a slowly changing neighborhood, he envisioned a spot suited for more variety.
“I wanted a place to sit down and relax and have good coffee, wine, and food,” he says. Hernandez, the head chef and co-owner, has previously worked in various restaurants preparing French and Italian cuisines. He was inspired by his own experiences when opening Café Zona Sur.
The menu reflects an array of modern dishes as well as conventional comfort foods and standards often found in French, Italian and Mexican menus.
Some mainstay dinner options include hamburgers with freshly ground beef, and traditional Mexican and French sandwiches like chicken tortas and une croque monsieur, made with melted gruyere cheese and grilled ham. Diners can also find pasta and pizza entrees if Italian fare is more their style.
The purposely rustic design of the café invites a comfortable atmosphere for diners, with a wooden interior and small tables adorned with candles and pinecone centerpieces. During warmer months, a spacious backyard patio offers outdoor seating.
When asked what is special about their restaurant, Medina explains that they are careful not to over-season the food. Their simple technique is to “bring out the natural flavor of the food,” she says. They also offer a brunch menu serving La Colombe coffee, pastries, and rotating pancake specials.
The Dining Rundown: Café Zona Sur
Where: 4314 4th Avenue (between 43rd and 44th Streets)
Hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 8am-10pm; Sundays, 8am-4pm; Brunch served Saturdays-Sundays, 8am-4pm