The cashier runs outside, out the back door, and inside, through the side door, swinging open a fridge door for a pair of Jarritos, and runs back outside, out the side door, and inside, through the back door. With each sprint, a paper bag is packed and handed out the back door to a waiting electric bike.

Here, at the base of a five-story residential building on a less than 400-square-foot acute triangular site, five people (two running cashiers and three cooks) work nonstop behind a counter. The counter blocks them from the triangle’s apex, where two side doors and a fridge await foot traffic. However, there is little such traffic. Various maps fail to mark this spot and there is no website; it’s a sort of “locals only” deal, except few locals seem to know it. On the other hand, online orders come in nonstop. A continuously printing printer, running cashiers, and zipping electric bikes.

The various delivery apps feature photographs of food, but omit any trace of the place itself.

The place itself sits at the convergence of exiting highway traffic and wearily crossing pedestrians, signaled by foggy windows behind which the cooks work — and also its many doors. While not visibly apparent, it is in the city’s first net-zero energy building, set on an “irregular” site in an undesirable location as proof-of-concept that net-zero can happen anywhere, and noteworthy enough to warrant a New York Times writeup at its inception.

When ordering online from here, without an image of what here actually is, this sort of dark kitchen lets us imagine. Imagine a festive hub brimming with groups sharing fresh food. Imagine an artisan’s kitchen with passionate chefs dedicated to recipes made from scratch. Imagine a family-run institution, with all hands on deck cooking recipes passed down for generations. Imagine a classic dive that strikes the perfect mix of gruff and authenticity.

But the beautiful choreography of the doors is a privileged vantage one could never just imagine. A hypnotizing triangulation of each task mutes the highway rumble. Fear strikes the rare onlooker with each order seeming to push beyond kitchen capacity. Curiosity peaks watching the staff bop between small level changes. Warmth feels out of place, but oozes anyway, in this barren angular nook. An order prints. The staff reorganize and the cooks assemble. Lids are pinched. Paper bags are swatted open. An electric bike arrives. A cashier runs outside.

Neena Verma is a practicing architect, teacher and writer based in New York City. Her work queries the limits of contemporary architectural discourse — culturally, geographically and temporally. She is currently an Architecture Writing Fellow at the Cooper Union, faculty at Parsons School of Design and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and principal of an eponymous practice that pursues small-scale, forward-thinking architectural works.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.



We’ve grown used to things being strange. And to things being very familiar. A series of short texts by architect and writer Neena Verma on the ins and outs of our whereabouts.