Posted by: Jeffsayyes | January 19, 2010

El Barrio Guide Released!

Sometimes there are important documents that only lie in the underbelly of the internet. I feel these things need to be out in the open so everyone can benefit from it. After viewing this amazing diary of Harlem food, I asked the author to let it out. Here’s Stephen Falla Riff’s Guide to El Barrio & Beyond.

EL BARRIO & BEYOND: Eateries for Hungry Lawyers and Laypeople, Too

There are a ton of restaurants and street food vendors in and around El Barrio. The Mexican restaurants alone are astonishing. Sometimes it seems like there are 2 or 3 on every block. What follows is a selective list of some of my favorite places to eat; all are open for lunch unless otherwise indicated. This list is always subject to revision and addition, as places are opening and closing all the time. Please keep me posted on spots that I’ve missed.

Prepared by Steve Falla Riff (“Hungry Esteban”)
Copyright © 2005 Stephen Falla Riff

Most recent revision: January 14, 2010


La Fonda Boricua, 106th St., between 3d & Lexington Ave. (near 3d).
A neighborhood stand-out for excellent Puerto Rican food. Great soups, roast chicken (pollo al horno), stewed oxtail(rabo guisado), black beans, flan, etc. Exposed brick walls and art work by local artists. Live salsa on Thursday nights.

El Carribeno, 105th St. & Lexington Ave.
A neighborhood institution. Excellent rabo guisado, pernil, roast chicken. Recently reopened following a renovation.

Nuevo Caridad, 116th St. & 2d Ave.
Downtown branch of the Washington Height’s Dominican restaurant features tasty lechon (suckling pig). Lunch specials starting at $4.

La Isla, 104 & 3rd
Cuchifritos place with very good rotisserie chicken. Best for take-out.

Lechonera El Barrio, 172 East 103rd Street (Third Avenue). 212-722-1344
Although it’s called a “Lechonera” I have yet to arrive when they have lechon. However, the pernil (roast pork) is very good. Make sure to request the skin with the pernil. It is crispy, full of flavor, and melts in your mouth (you’ll feel great just before your heart attack). The Cuban sandwich is tasty and enormous.


El Paso Taquerio, 104th Street & Lex. 212-831-9831.
An office favorite. Great tacos & burritos (tasty vegetarian included), sopes (grilled corn cakes), tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and Cemitas (a multi-layered sandwich on a big, toasted sesame bun); first-rate Guacamole. Everything’s good and reasonably priced.

Casa de Los Tacos, 117th Street & 1st Avenue. 212-860-7389.
Simply great tacos at low prices. A classic El Barrio taqueria.

Mexico Lindo, 116th-117th Streets and 2d Avenue.
This Mexican bakery also serves tacos, enchiladas and a tasty pozole. Primarily take-out.

San Francisco de Asis, 1779 Lexington, 110-111th Streets. 212-427-4440.
Good tacos (tasty barbacoa de chivo–barbecued goat), freshly squeezed juices and horchata (rice drink).

Mesa Mexicana, 207 East 117th Street (2d-3d Avenues), 212-289-4380.
Solid standard fare like tacos, tortas, enchiladas, etc., at reasonable prices. Very clean inside. Quiet at lunch time; a good place to linger over coffee or for a lunch meeting.

Pubelas Chula, 167 East 106th St, (3d and Lex) 212-534-4873
It’s a little place next door to La Fonda Boricua that offers tacos, tortas, burritos, sandwiches & wraps and fresh squeezed juices. It’s good & quick and is a “microenterprise” of the type that we like to support. A bit over-priced, though.

Taco Mix, 116th Street, 2d and 3d
A hole in the wall with a very good selection of great tacos. Check out the daily specials (if you dare), including goat, tongue and tripe.

Las Delicias Mexicanas, 2109 3rd Ave, 115-116th Streets (212) 828-3659
Fragrant tortillas freshly made (upon request); a very respectable assortment of tacos, sopes, huaraches, etc., and reasonable prices. Relaxed atmosphere—a real neighborhood joint. You can save $5 per person or more compared to El Paso Taqueria, though the food is not quite as good.


Amor Cubano, 2018 Third Avenue (111th Street). 646-461-3312
Delicious Cuban food in El Barrio. The mojitos are terrific and only $5 during happy hour. Live music some evenings.


Camaradas, 115th St. & 1st Avenue. 212-348-2703.
A bar and restaurant with good lunch specials ($4.95) that has a casual, café-like feel during the day and music, comedy and poetry in the evening. Happy hour from 4-8 PM.

Don Pedros, 96th St. & 2d Avenue.
Cuban Nuevo Latino. Lunch specials. Decent mojitos (Cuban rum, peppermint and sugar cane drink).

Itzocan Bistro, 100th St. & Lexington.
Excellent Mexican-European cooking fusion. Not cheap, but one of NYC’s great values. Highly recommended for dinner and recently began serving lunch, as well. If possible, go only from Wednesday through Saturday (when the principal chef and part-owner is cooking).


Patsy’s, 118-119th St. & 1st Avenue.
Not to be confused with the Patsy’s pizzerias downtown, this is the original and best, due to its coal oven-fired pizzas. Nice dining room. Also serves a general menu of good Italian food.

Piatto d’Oro, 109th St. between 2d & 3d Avens. 828-2929
Neighborhood Italian. Reasonable prices. Excellent, old-fashioned Italian restaurant atmosphere and decent food.


Orbit, 116th St. & 1st Ave. Dinner only. 212-348-7818
The East Village meets El Barrio. Interesting Italian-oriented menu; a bit over-priced for the neighborhood. Jazz, blues, Afro-Cuban music some nights.

Joy Burger Bar, 1567 Lexington Avenue (corner of 100th St.). 212-289-6222
Excellent char-grilled burgers in three sizes: “much”, “midi” and “maxi” with a wide variety of tasty toppings. Also, sandwiches, wraps and schnitzel (breaded, fried chicken breast), homemade frieds and refreshing salads. Very friendly owners and casual, comfortable atmosphere.

Moustache, 102nd Street & Lexington Avenue. 212-228-2022
A Middle Eastern restaurant that bakes home-made pita while you wait and has wonderful falafel, creamy hummus, and a specialty called pitza, which is like a thin crust pizza, except that it is baked on a pita-like crust, and has Middle Eastern toppings. The grilled baby lamb ribs are another highlight. The meat is pounded thin and then grilled and is full of flavor. The Moustache in the East Village is great, and I expect that they will maintain high standards in this new outpost.

Ricardo Steakhouse, 110th St. & 2d Ave. 212-289-5895
Pricey steak house with impressive wine list, but it has lunch specials in the $8-$12 range that are a good value for what you get (including pork chops, skirt steak sandwich and seafood salad). They have also introduced a selection of pastas.

Creole Cafe, 2167 Third Avenue (118th Street). 212-876-8838
Good soups, crab cakes, ribs and drinks. Cajun/creole cuisine. Jazz brunch on Sundays.

Magic Table Café,1590 Lexington Avenue (entrance between Lex. & Park) 212) 289-2955
Honest and delicious home cooking by two German ladies in a charming, inconspicuous side street location. The meatloaf and schnitzel are mainstays, as are the home-made desserts. On the down-side, rumor has it that if you eat here you will smell like meatloaf all day.

Yo In Yo Out, Lex between 100th and 101st. 212-987-5350
A cool little cafe with 65 cent coffee, fresh baked goods, crepes, sandwiches and large, tasty. salads, all reasonably-priced.

Triple A Restaurant, 106th Street and Second Avenue. (212) 410-6950

One of the few diners in the neighborhood. Serves a good breakfast (weak coffee, though) and is a meeting spot for the old-timers and true locals. Apart from breakfast the food is, to be charitable, not memorable.


Le Tropezienne, 1st Ave. between 109-110th Sts.
French bakery & small café with excellent baguettes (morning special of half baguette & coffee is a good bet) & pastries. Also has rich soups, sandwiches and quiches for lunch.

Savoy, 110th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues
A wide selection of coffee drinks (espresso, cappucino & lattes in addition to the regular coffee) and an interesting mix of pastries, ranging from an excellent, flaky cheese danish to a variety of Chinese sponge cakes and buns. The proprietor stated that they are planning to add tables.

East Harlem Café, 104th Street and Lexington Avenue
Michelle Cruz’s newly opened café is our answer to Starbuck’s: individually owned, very comfortable (with two couches), friendly, and with good coffee, espresso and a small selection of pastries and sandwiches. Free wi-fi is a plus.

Mexico Lindo, 117th Street & 2d Ave.
Very good Mexican bakery that also serves tacos, enchiladas and other lunch specials.

Morrone’s Bakery, 116th St. between 1st-2nd Avenue. Some of the best brick oven bread in town and excellent proscuitto and provolone breads, too. It appears that they have closed. L

Blimpie’s, 3rd Ave between 106-107 Sts.
Believe it or not, they make a decent cup of coffee. Hot condensed milk with the coffee, too.


Chinatown East, 93rd St. & 3rd Ave. 212-987-3500.
Decent Chinese food. Lunch specials provide plenty of food.

El Paso Taquerio, 104th Street & Lex. 212-831-9831. Described above.

Pubelas Chula, 167 East 106th St, (3d and Lex) 212-534-4873. Described above.

Mesa Mexicana, 207 East 117th Street (2d-3d Avenues), 212-289-4380.
Described above.

Ricardo Steak House. 212-289-5895. Described above.

Joy Burger Bar. 212-289-6222. Described above.

Moustache. 212-828-0030. Described above.

Triple A Restaurant, 106th Street and Second Avenue. (212) 410-6950


LFB Lounge, 106th Street between 2d and 3d Avenues
A bar and nightclub from the owners of La Fonda Boricua (see restaurant description above) that has become a gathering place in El Barrio. Cocktails, salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz.. Tasty bar foods include tender short ribs. Live salsa and Afro-Cuban music.

Camaradas, 115th St. & 1st Avenue. 212-348-2703.
Described above in the “Nuevo Latino” section.

SpaHa Lounge, Lexington Avenue, between 103 and 104th Street
Although it is nice to have another bar in the neighborhood, this place feels like it was designed and marketed for the yuppies who occupy the new condos and rentals located nearby. On the bright side,
happy hours drinks are $3 (beers) and $4 for hard liquor (including margaritas, martinis, Mojitos, etc., which are not bad).


There is a great profusion of street vendors in El Barrio, selling arroz con leche (a sweet rice and milk porridge), tamales (cornmeal studded with chiles, meat or cheese), tacos, fruit (in the summer, mangos on a stick cut to resemble flowers), and helados (ices, but with much better flavor than the commercial variety found below 96th Street). I regularly patronize these vendors, being somewhat careful about the hygienic standards of the ones who sell hot food. Current favorites include

• The Mexicana vendor stationed in the morning at the northeast corner of 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue (arroz con leche and lovely tamales).

· Just about all of the tamales vendors in the neighborhood serve soothing and delicious tamales, oozing corn flavor and fragrance, and often packing the spicy kick of guajillo, or other chiles. Try the rajas (green chiles) con queso, for a yummy introduction.

• The taco truck on East 105th Street, near the northeast corner of Third Avenue.

• The piraguas (shaved ice with flavored syrups) and icies vendors just about everywhere.

• The taco vendor sometimes found at 116th St & 2d avenue who grabs fists full of masa harina (corn meal) and makes fresh tortillas on the spot, loaded up with unusual stuff like flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) and hongos (mushrooms).

For information about the significant economic and social value of street vending, check out: and


There is great and diverse gastronomic life in upper Manhattan beyond El Barrio.

Charles’ Southern Kitchen, 2837 Eighth Avenue (151st St), 212-926-4313
If you have not been to Charles’, you must go. God put skillet-fried chicken like this on the planet for a reason–to be widely enjoyed. Also, terrific smothered pork chops, ribs and chicken fried steak. All you can eat buffet and all the home-made iced tea and lemonade you can drink, all for only $10 until 4 pm. A worthwhile gut-buster. Quality of Charles’ was variable in 2006–ranging from excellent to so-so.

A Taste of Seafood, 59 East 125th Street (corner of Madison Avenue). 212-831-5584
Fried seafood and chicken. The crispy, succulent fried shrimp is irresistible. Also excellent collard greens (dripping fat and studded with bits of pork) and creamy macaroni and cheese. The fried whiting is reputed to be excellent as well, but I’ve never advanced past the shrimp. Get there early (by 11:45 a.m. to avoid the lines snaking out the door of the narrow shop (counter service and take-out only) and bring your cardiologist, just in case.

Harlem Native, 161 Lenox Avenue (118th Street). 212-665-2525
A diverse menu with Caribbean, French and Moroccan influences. The pecan-crusted fried catfish with cheese grits (think polenta dripping butter and cheese) and collard greens can be exemplary: the pecan batter is crispy and the fish moist and delicious. A mound of fish, grits and greens on your fork sets the stage for sensual pleasure. The Morrocan fried chicken is favored by some, but I like my chicken with skin and bone attached and I found this version to be banal. Native is said to have excellent early-bird specials and a superior bar.

Miss Mamie’s Spoonbread Too, 366 West 110th Street. 212-865-6744
Serious soul food. I am a big fan of the perfectly fried catfish and the savory oxtail, simmered in a syrupy sauce evocative of molasses, brown sugar, nutmeg and other spices. If they run out of oxtail, try the tender short ribs. The usual sides are well done: collard greens, yams, mac n’cheese, etc. The banana pudding is a Harlem classic. Tasty, home-made sweet tea and lemonade. N.B. Stay away from Miss Mamie’s sister restaurant (known as Miss Maude’s) on Lenox Avenue, which can’t hold a candle to this one.

Sisters Cuisine, 1391 Madison Avenue (entrance on 124th St). 212-410-3000
A very tasty and satisfying Caribbean and southern-style restaurant. Items like chicken roti, goat curry, codfish cakes and soul food styles including yams, collard greens and macaroni and cheese.

Copyright © 2005 Stephen Falla Riff

Incredible thanks go to Stephen Falla Riff.


  1. Outstanding! Everyone eating out has to see your guide first. thanks, javier

  2. There is very popular newcomer missing on your list. Its an individually owned cafe, SpaHa Cafe, El Barrio, that has become very popular among both newcomers as well as long time leaders of the community. It is known for offering healthy and vegetarian options as well for being involved and giving back to the community. Right now they have a cool exhibit showcasing Manny Vega’s art as well as a wall honoring Puerto Rican leaders from in and outside the community. Respect!

    • Yes, i love SpaHa Cafe! They are the only place in East Harlem to offer high quality espresso cafe, healthy food, salads, soups and smoothis. they even have vegan and gluten free options. Adding that the owner lives in the community and seems to care a whole lot about it, i am a big fan!

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