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Spices on Quail Street

April 13, 2010

by Licelot Cruz-Altagracia

Albany NY–For those who live in the area and would like a taste of foreign cuisine

(Licelot Cruz-Altagracia)

Mr. Pio Pio meets those needs in the heart of the Pine Hills area. It is difficult to find any other place that offers such a plethora of distinctive flavors. Those who search for a taste of Bandeja Paisa or crave some plantains will find those here. Owner Vilma Santiago and her sister Monica Quinde started this family-owned business on Quail Street three years ago with no prior business experience. Since then Quinde has taken care of the paperwork while her sister runs the show.

Mr. Pio Pio offers a small taste of home-cooked traditional Latin American foods. The owners moved here from New York City and a year after that started the business. Soon after they arrived here the sisters went out to dinner – then came the idea. When they searched for restaurants that served items like those offered in New York, they found no shops with Columbian and Ecuadorian fare.

This dining spot is the only Columbian and Ecuadorian place in the neighborhood. The restaurant is near The Quail Street Market and few steps away from a Baptist church. Inside this establishment the walls are decorated with colorful paintings of country homes. It has a flat screen television in the front corner which plays ESPN sports en espanol and usually runs soccer statistics. Prices vary, but a meal for two can easily run to $20 not including drinks. A plate like the Pio Pio special, which includes half a rotisserie chicken served with rice, beans, a salad and fries, costs $10.25. Drink choices vary from imported sodas which are $2, to natural juices such as mango, passion fruit, papaya and sour sop, for $2.75 a glass. The staff is small with only one waiter, one cook and a cook’s assistant. Family helps staff the restaurant, including even the small children. “This is mainly a family business…the family helps us out,” Quinde said.

Mr. Pio Pio sells a variety of imported sodas such as INCA Kola, a staple of Peruvian culture, the Ecuadorian Fioravanti, Manzana and Tropical just to name a few. The natural juices are a customer favorite, including the papaya, mango passion fruit, lulo, and muro/blackberry. Specialty soups include the traditional “ball” soup which is served with a ball inside the broth, like a dumpling made of plantains and yucca (cassava), hence the name ball soup. The soup has a stewed broth with meat cooked inside the broth until tender. The dumpling is later added into the soup in order to finish cooking with the meat and vegetable.

The shops from as far as Schenectady and Clifton Park. The busiest days for deliveries and walk-ins are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The number one selling item outside of the chicken is the Red Snapper in an avocado sauce and the “carne asada,” a grilled sirloin.

The business has received much support from the surrounding educational institutions such as the University at Albany and Albany High School. Though their main clients are Latinos living in the community, “it’s rare to see anybody who isn’t Latino, but there are a few that come,” said Saul Urbano, assistant to the cook. He helps promote the business as well.

They have thrived for three years from word of mouth and promoting to local schools. They cater to all sorts of college students.

A small family owned and operated business has created quite an impact in the online reviews. On review sites like and where anyone can find reviews. Mr Pio Pio was given reviews like “Absolutely the best. You won’t find Spanish food like this around here. Everything is made fresh and is always quality foods even for me, and I’m a very extremely picky eater.”(anonymous from  Or  ”This is one place that I’m actually excited to return to.”(anonymous from

(Licelot Cruz-Altagracia)

They plan in the next couple of years to open another small establishment in the greater Capital Region area. -30-


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