Latina.com Local Lowdown
|809 Sangria Bar & Grill
112 Dyckman Street
Cross Street: Between Post and Nagle avenues
809 owner Cirilo Moronta is banking that Inwood is ready for an upscale take on Caribbean classics. The clubby restaurant, named for the DR´s area code, borrows from more than Santo Domingo. Dainty arepas topped with a trio of shredded chicken, pork picadillo and ropa vieja are among recommended starters. The seafood-heavy menu includes the show stopping pargo relleno, a whole red snapper stuffed with seafood risotto and a lightly spiced coconut-tomato sauce. The mix and match churrascaria will appeal to carnivores who want to choose their cut of meat, side and sauce. The pulsing upstairs lounge going strong Thursday through Sunday draws crowds. If you´re looking for a quieter meal, head downstairs—on a recent weeknight, a prime ivory leather corner banquette was filled with a family, newborn and toddlers in tow, proving that you don´t need to be famous to get the VIP treatment.
134 East 48th Street
Cross Street: Between Lexington and Third Avenue
Alma Grill is the handiwork of music mogul Ralph Mercado yet isn’t strictly Latin American in style. Cream tones, rich brown accents and metal beaded curtains give the impression of a tasteful hotel, which makes sense since the stylish restaurant is attached to a Midtown Radisson and primarily serves its guests. Luckily, the food rises above corporate blandness and should attract a broader clientele. Guaranteed favorites like steak frites and roast chicken are available but creative flair can be found in tuna glazed with rum and served with citrus salsa and quinoa salad, as well as lobster ceviche punched up with Thai chiles and passion fruit. Don’t pass up the Alma trio, showcasing of mini versions of crème brule, coconut flan and buttermilk panna cotta.
197 Meserole Avenue
Cross Street: Between Humboldt Street and Bushwick Avenue
This mirrored to the max Ecuadorian eatery on a residential Bushwick avenue bustles, even in the traditionally Puerto Rican enclave. The seaport city of Guayaquil is represented by a ceviche-heavy menu. Deep bowls of octopus, shrimp or black clams (when they’re available) swim in a blush-colored soup of lime juice tangled with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The broth is a reputed hangover cure, though if you order Pilsener, the national beer, the healthy properties might be counteracted. Humitas—sweet, cornhusk wrapped cheese and corn tamale—are a welcome change from also popular starches: rice and plantains.
338 Bedford Avenue
Cross Street: Between South 2nd and 3rd streets Bonita has been given the Williamsburg treatment. By retaining the original retro charm of a former Latin eatery, and keeping the subway tiles, counter stools and glowing comida criollas sign intact, Mexican food has been made hip. The menu is short and sweet, focusing on tacos and burritos. Daily specials like guajillo roasted pork shouldn’t be ignored, though. Guacamole mashed in a molcajete the size of a wash tub, and Baja-style fried fish tacos with chile mayonnaise have won over locals. And the three table salsas: verde, chipotle and pico de gallo, are all fresher and spicier than you might expect in this Brooklyn enclave.
513 E. Sixth Street
Cross Street: Between avenues A and B
Argentinean beef is what´s for dinner at this often-packed East Village steakhouse. Diners can choose from eight different cuts of grilled meat or make like a hungry gaucho and order the parrillada teeming with sweetbreads, short ribs, skirt steak, kidneys and two types of sausage. Vegetables are offered in the form of perfectly crisped french fries, ensalada rusa—a potato salad with green peas, carrots and mayonnaise—and baked spinach and cheese empanadas. South American wine is an obvious choice, though a bottle of Quilmes beer feels right when soccer matches are being broadcast on overhead televisions.
|El Castillo de Jagua
113 Rivington Street
Cross Street: Between Essex and Ludlow streets
Savor a rapidly disappearing segment of the Lower East Side at this Dominican stalwart. Florescent lights, linoleum, big portions and low prices are all part of the package. Old timers huddle over steaming bowls of hearty sancocho at the counter while the occasional newcomer stops in for a Cuban sandwich and a bottle of Presidente. Early birds can have mangú for breakfast: the mashed plantains are served with eggs, fried cheese and salami or a gut-busting combination of all three. Just like an old-fashioned diner, coconut and chocolate cakes are displayed on covered glass pedestals near the cash register.
|Chiles & Chocolate Oaxacan Kitchen
54 Seventh Avenue
Cross Street: Between Lincoln and St. Johns places
This diminutive Park Slope restaurant that opened in early 2007 boldly states, “We are not a Mexican restaurant.” Instead, they’ve declared their allegiance to the regional cuisine of Oaxaca, which translates to rich, complex moles in three styles: negro, verde and coloradito. All can be applied to chicken breast, stewed pork or grilled vegetables. The classic thick, burnished negro mole contains over twelve ingredients, including chocolate, sesame seeds and plantains. In their effort to strive for authenticity, ancient beverages like champurrado, a warm corn and chocolate concoction, is offered, and guacamole is optionally served topped with fried chapulin—yes, grasshoppers!
320 Amsterdam Avenue
Cross Street: 75th Street
Latin and Japanese food smoothly co-exist at this cavernous Upper West Side restaurant washed with orange accents. If it’s too tough to choose between shrimp fajitas or tempura, the ultimate roll combination is the perfect compromise. Raw fish is paired with mango, avocados and bananas, wrapped in seaweed and served with spicy dipping sauces like creamy wasabi, chipotle and scallion soy. Dessert can be skipped in lieu of a key lime pie cocktail composed of Absolut vanilla, pineapple and lime juice in a sugar-rimmed glass.
170 Waverly Place
Cross Street: Between Sixth and Seventh avenues
Venezuelan food is scarce in the city, and fading fast—Flor’s Kitchen shuttered their East Village location in February 2007. The surviving cozy bi-level West Village spot is a diverse and date-friendly nook. Start with quintessential arepas or simply make a light meal out of the stuffed corn cakes. Substantial dishes like pabellón criollo, saucy shredded meat served with maduros and black beans, are also available. Cachapas, sweet, gooey, corn-studded pancakes topped with melted paisa cheese are worth the estimated 15-minute wait.
|Gonzalez y Gonzalez
Cross Street: Between West Houston and Bleecker streets
Sure, this impossible-to-miss cantina is cheesy figuratively and literally, but sometimes you’re in the mood for nachos, neon lights and a giant sombrero. Avoid the pricey guacamole and stick to Mexican-American favorites like carne asada burritos, enchiladas suizas or decadent drinking snacks like jalapeño kisses, cheese and shrimp stuffed poppers wrapped in bacon. Gonzalez y Gonzalez boasts NYC’s longest bar—margaritas are almost standard issue on every table. The festive décor and biweekly salsa lessons draw crowds from nearby NYU, as well as the Angelika Film Center around the corner.
1575 Lexington Avenue
Cross Street: 101st Street
In 2004, brothers Anselmo and Fermin Bello parlayed their behind-the-scenes cooking talent into their own ambitious Mexican-French restaurant, incongruously placed in Spanish Harlem. The shoebox-sized corner bistro romances couples with a candlelit vibe featuring folk art, Frida Kahlo paintings and, oddly, an ’80s greatest hits soundtrack. Unctuous goat cheese flan spiked with jalapeño and epazote, spicy seafood pozole, rich with oregano, hominy, mussels, firm snapper and jumbo shell-on shrimp, exemplifies their Franco-Hispanic style. And their desserts, like the tequila chocolate cake with brown sugar ice cream, are reason enough to squeeze your way into this welcome addition to the neighborhood.
6405 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 64th and 65th streets
Pupusas are quintessentially Salvadoran, and this whimsically decorated Woodside restaurant serves wonderful examples. Take in pictures of the namesake volcano and clay-tiled indoor roof inhabited by fake iguanas and an armadillo while trying the stuffed, grilled corn cakes. Choose from chicharron, cheese, frijoles or revuelta, a mix of all three. Curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw (sometimes available with papaya), thin, lightly spiced tomato sauce and a bottle of Suprema beer are necessary accompaniments. This isn’t light fare; easily sharable meat-based entrees are served with rice, beans, cheese, sweet plantains and corn tortillas. Simple and satisfying res con salpicon, beef soup, is a weekend favorite.
25-35 36th Avenue
Cross Street: 28th Street
Show up early for Malagueta´s Saturday-only feijoada, the Brazilian national dish of stewed black beans, pork, sausage, ribs and bacon served with collard greens and farofa (toasted manioc flour)—it frequently sells out before dinner time. This candlelit white tablecloth café on a quiet Astoria corner melds the tropical moqueca de camarao, a Bahian-style shrimp stew with palm oil, peppers and coconut milk, with dishes you wouldn´t expect on the streets of São Paulo, like lombo de porco, pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and bacon vinaigrette. For a sweet finale, chocolate mousse is just as popular as manjar, their coconut pudding.
136 West 46th Street
Cross Street: Between Sixth and Seventh avenues
Midtown’s Cuban-style, Dominican-run holdout hasn’t changed in years. Three brown vinyl stools facing three foil-wrapped sandwich presses greet you as you squeeze into the entryway. A long row of steam tables filled with a changing roster of daily specials stretches out to the left. Lunchtime hordes line up for aluminum containers of pernil or tripe with rice and beans, but the star might be the toasty sandwiches Cubanos: roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard are warmed and flattened into compact torpedoes and the inclusion of unorthodox salami slices add extra oomph.
82 Washington Avenue
Cross Street: Between Park and Flushing avenues
Housed in the ground floor of luxury lofts on a gritty block near Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, Mojito seems deliciously out of place. A Cuban cigar box motif blends with the exposed pipes, cement floor industrial-chic, and attracts Clinton Hill denizens and Pratt students in droves. The freebie garlic bread with three piquant dipping sauces promises good things to come. Gently priced ropa vieja and chuletas don’t disappoint, though a less conventional entrée-sized mojito churrasco salad overflowing with grilled chicken, mango, white cheese, avocados, tomatoes and fried onions is a satisfying alternative for the rice and bean averse. Tumbler-sized mojitos are powerful: you’ve got fifteen—yep, 15—different rums to choose from!
652 Union Street
Cross Street: Between 4th and 5th avenues
Occupying the ground floor of a Park Slope brownstone, Palo Santo exudes folksy chic. Chunky wooden furniture, colorful mosaics and Andean murals lend a handcrafted touch, while the inventive food also carries a personal imprint. Half-Haitian chef and owner Jacques Gautier melds Caribbean and South American flavors into an ever-changing collection of dishes that are prepared in an open kitchen flanked by bar seating (patrons in these perches can order a $45 chef´s tasting menu). Expect things like seafood asopado, a soupy rice, and obscure herbs that might give a botanist pause. Duck medallions in mole sauce are accompanied with a black bean-topped corn cake graced with fronds of Mexican papalo and pepicha. Don´t forget a full wallet—the establishment is cash only.
92 Seventh Avenue South
Cross Street: Between Grove and Barrow streets
Peruvian chicken chains are nothing new in NYC, but this West Village poultry purveyor is the only one straight out of Lima. To the delight of homesick South Americans, the first U.S. outpost opened in December 2006 and has been doing brisk business with all nationalities. Marinated in 14 secret ingredients (likely including indigenous huacatay), pollo brasa is unquestionably the main attraction. Tacu tacu, rice and bean croquettes, yuquitas, yucca fries and knobby Inca corn on the cob are choice sides, and tiny ramekins of mayonnaise and pale yellow aji sauce arrive as dips. Brave souls should investigate anticuchos, grilled beef heart slices on skewers. A list of cocktails is worth a look, from traditional frothy pisco sour to the thoroughly modern Piscopolitan.
47 Eighth Avenue
Cross Street: Between Horatio and Jane Streets
The glowing wood-fired oven is a focal point in this welcoming West Village wine bar decorated with dangling lamps and swank decades-old Spanish magazine ads. Thin, charred-edge pizzas topped with ropa vieja and manchego or shredded chicken and crema fresca might belie Pasita´s South American roots, but Venezuelan tapas called pasapalos also complement the reasonably priced list of South American and Spanish vino. Red pepper and cumin-covered cheese puffs, tequeños or arepitas, mini corn cakes with guasacaca (an avocado salsa) and nata cheese pair up nicely with a glass of fruity Zolo Malbec from Argentina.
264 Cypress Avenue
Cross Street: Between East 138th and 139th streets
The Bronx branch of one of NYC’s favorite Peruvian pollo specialists is an airy Mott Haven escape. Lilting acoustic guitar and saffron colored walls decorated with Incan glyphs attract extended families that linger over the generous matador combo. The plates just keep on coming, along with a whole rotisserie chicken and a delicious green mayo-based chile dipping sauce. Expect a whirlwind of rice and beans, avocado salad, tostones and salchipapas, a loco mix of french fries and frankfurters. (Why didn’t anyone think of that before?!) Earthenware pitchers of fruit-laden sangria complete the well-rounded meal.
1013 E. 163rd Street
Cross Street: Between Simpson Street and Southern Boulevard
This tiny Hunts Point taqueria could easily go unnoticed, and since it’s not in a particularly Mexican neighborhood, traditions aren’t strictly adhered to. Atypical items like shredded lettuce and tomato come default on tacos and hamburgers are even on the menu. But the griddle filled to capacity with quesadillas is a tip-off to their specialty: Tortillas are crafted from fresh masa and pressed before your eyes. Fillings include mushrooms, huitlacoche or chile strips and are held together with melted muenster cheese. Real Azteca’s owners hail from Michoacán in southern Mexico, and their weekends-only birria, a spicy goat stew, is a hallmark of the region.
1200 Castle Hill Avenue
Cross Street: Gleason Avenue
Bronx accents mingle with Spanish and Chinese at this nautically themed Castle Hill institution. As Chino-Latino joints dwindle, this crowd pleaser keeps churning out old-school fusion like avocado adorned chofan, chicharron and chicken studded fried rice. Plantains and yucca get equal billing as lo mein and linguini on the laminated picture menu. Inventions such as inside-out mofongo—formed into a bowl shape and filled with creole-sauced meat or seafood—are the result of owner Nelson Ng´s seven years in the Dominican Republic.
|Salud! Restaurant & Bar
142 Beekman Street
Cross Street: Front Street
Lazily whirling ceiling fans, plantation blinds, and congas in the corner might make you forget that you´re steps away from the South Street Seaport. This slice of Miami on the East River draws hungry shoppers and an after work crowd seeking mojitos and Pan-Latino tapas. Artfully plated tasting portions of maduros filled with spicy beef and Monterey jack, Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche and lobster tacos are snacky options, while full-sized entrees like seafood paella and grilled Argentinean skirt steak will satisfy larger appetites. Live Cuban jazz fills the small, multi-tiered space on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
|San Antonio Bakery #2
36-20 Astoria Boulevard
Cross Street: 37th Street
Owner Ruben Guzman, is practically Astoria’s ambassador to everything Chilean. Everyone receives a warm welcome, even if there’s not a South American bone in their body. Substantial, baked empanadas filled with chopped beef, green olives, raisins and hard boiled egg are a good starting point. Completos, hot dogs topped with avocado, sauerkraut, mayonnaise and tomatoes are presented on a little red plastic stand and can be found on nearly every table. Lomitos and churrascos, pork and beef sandwiches come with similar toppings on chewy freshly baked rolls. The front glass case is lined with dulce de leche treats like alfajores, meringue covered cookies. Don’t forget to try a can of Pap, a Chilean papaya soda. If you’re curious where San Antonio #1 is—that’s in Long Island, where all of the baking is done.
400 East 57th Street
When you consider that in New York, finding Puerto Rican fare that’s not served from steam tables at a lunch counter is rare, you’ll soon realize that the moderately-priced sit-down restaurant Sofrito is quite unique. When you consider that it’s restaurateur Jimmy Rodriguez’s latest venture, it makes perfect sense. Jimmy brings glitz, punchy cocktails and sweeping chic to an otherwise subdued Sutton Place street. Flaky pastelitos are a great way to start, and since you can choose beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetable fillings, no one’s left out. Boricua delights have been prettied up and the mariscos are irresistible. Try the creamy seafood stew teeming with shrimp, crab legs and served with tostones on the side or the crispy red snapper bulging with coconut rice stuffing.
|Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine
73 New Street
Cross Street: Between Beaver Street and Exchange Place
A Peruvian family, the Lunas, have modernized the classic Latin lunch counter into a successful chain—their fifth location opened March 2007 in midtown. Sophie’s filling and reasonably priced beans and rice combos appeal to all strata of office workers, it’s nearly impossible to snag a seat between noon and 2 pm and the take-out line is consistently long. The unmistakable scent of roasted pork wafts onto the sidewalk, and must be the reason why the pernil is a menu mainstay, Monday through Friday. Other specials like stewed goat and oxtails are only available select days of the week. Cubanos are also a hit and a quick snack can be made of the fried empanadas displayed in the window.
4503 Fifth Avenue
Cross Street: Between 45th and 46th streets
Sunset Park is teeming with taquerias, and Tacos Matamoros is a Fifth Avenue favorite. Jukebox ballads serenade families and couples in the sparsely-furnished dining room. Pint-sized tacos are only a buck a pop, so take advantage and experiment with fillings! Pork al pastor sliced from the twirling spit is a stand out, but don’t shy away from tripa or lengua. Hearty tortas and cemitas are safe bets and simple platters of grilled bistec with tomato-speckled rice and cotija-sprinked beans are satisfying. You won´t find cervezas on the menu, but sweet horchata and tangy tamarindo are on tap.
29 Clinton Street
Cross Street: Stanton Street
What’s a wine bar without snacks? Tapeo 29, secluded behind a heavy unmarked door on a Lower East Side corner, provides tasting flights of wine with appropriate Spanish accompaniments. After choosing between red or white, you’ll be given three generous glasses and an equal amount of cheeses or tapas. Your wedges might include murcia, a goat cheese with a wine-soaked rind, smoky idiazabal and sharp cheddar-like mahon. Tapas range from simple olives and grilled garlic shrimp to bacon-wrapped dates and chorizo braised in cider. Diners can sit at the prominent U-shaped bar or share tables against the brick walls of the dimly-lit room.
8218 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 82nd and 83rd streets
Jackson Heights has Colombian options galore, but this roomy, booth-only diner can almost guarantee that no one leaves hungry: its speciality, Bandeja campesina, is a quick introduction to the cuisine and practically serves as breakfast, lunch and dinner in one! An oval platter barely manages to contain layers of steak, sweet plantains, soupy red beans, white rice, strip of chicharron, arepa, eggs sunny-side up and avocado slices. Daintier options include soups of the day like Saturday’s chicken or Wednesday’s ox tail served with an arepa. Frothy fruit batidos are refreshing and lulo (similar to an orange) is muy Colombiano.
37 East 28th Street
Cross Street: Between Park and Madison avenues
In early 2006 Dominican chef-owner Alex Ureña opened his avant-garde Spanish namesake in the Flatiron district. The narrow room draped in hushed cream, brown and burnt sienna tones attracts upscale clientele and foodies seeking creative flavor pairings. Texturas de foie gras is a decadent triple threat. Paté is presented wonton style with plum puree, in a terrine with cocoa and chocolate and mixed with yogurt and currants in a tiny cup. Cubes of glistening suckling pig crown wilted lettuce and shiitakes and are surrounded by green apple puree and truffle sauce in the cochinillo confitado. Sparkling cava makes perfect sense with the elegantly quirky fare.
10-43 44th Drive
Cross Street: Between 10th and 11th streets
This Latino bistro is literally a beacon on an otherwise desolate stretch in Long Island City. Reasonably priced lunches appeal to nearby Citibank workers, but at night things get more ambitious. Local art enhances the brick walls, DJs play world beats and deep house on Friday nights and their garden patio is a warm-weather option. Country-hop with Argentinean skirt steak with mashed potatoes and chimichurri salsa or tropical grilled shrimp with coconut rice and pineapple jalapeño mojo. Brazilian cahaça-laced caipirinhas go along with nearly everything.