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Aug 18, 2009 01:27 PM

East Harlem food/walking tour?

Hi all,

We've done the LES food/walking tour (and might I say, it's met with rave reviews by guests! Thanks, OP!!) and were wondering if it's possible to do the same kind of thing for East Harlem (or any other area, for that matter).

We're still fairly new to the area and live N of The bronx in Pelham, so if it's a ridiculous idea, keep in mind that we don't know what we're talking about. I have no idea what other (if any) parts of the city are laid out close enough like the LES.

We'll be making our first pilgrimage to Patsy's - our first foray into the Great Pizza Debate - b/c gepgraphically it's most convenient. During the convo about going my hubby wondered if it was possible to do an East Harlem tour. I searched like crazy through the boards, but couldn't find anything.

Thanks in advance for any light you can shed,


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  1. East Harlem is a trickier area, as the concentration of good food, variety, and interesting non-food diversions is a bit thinner than you would find in the Lower East Side. That's not to say that you can't walk around and eat well, however. A quickly-put-together list, assuming a starting point of Patsy's:

    Get various cuchifritos from Cuchifritos, on 116 between Third and Lex. Alcapurrias, pastelitos etc. Since your heart should already be begging for mercy (accounting for prior pizza), get some juice from El Barrio Juice bar -- also on 116, but between First and Second Aves.

    Walk south down First Avenue. Between 110 and 109, head into La Tropezienne for pastries (mocha eclair, tropezienne) and various other bites (the grapefruit parfait is nice).

    Back down First Avenue, turn right onto 108 and stop by Cafe Ollin for a cemita. I recommend the milanesa version, which is a gargantuan, mightily-flavored sandwich based around thinly-pounded fried beef (chipotles, papalo, oaxaca cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and black beans round things out).

    Quick interjection to point out that this food should all be shared. Just the cemita alone is enough to fill a person up for the better part of a day.

    Anyhow, now might be a nice time to track down one of the plentiful shaved ice (piragua) carts. I could single out some specific locations, but you really can't miss them. Unless you wait until January to visit the hood, at which point you should probably scratch this one off the list.

    Speaking of carts, the lady who sells tamales on 110, a bit east of the Lexington subway station entrance, is worth a special trip all on her own. Spicy chicken or pork, sweet tamales, rajas... I used to pick them up for myself on my way to the office. Now, I pick them up for most of the office. She's around early-ish on weekdays, though, so perhaps a tricky pick for this list. Don't forget her arroz con leche if you find her.

    Regardless of how the tamale thing goes, head over to the water. Walk a bit. Maybe take the pedestrian bridge to Ward's Island. Eventually, start heading west on 100. You'll have to shift down to 99, as 100 doesn't run between Second and Third Ave. Before you hit Lexington, as you're going up the hill, stop in at La Galette. Have some coffee, try the fruit punch, get a muffin. If you feel like sitting for a bit, order one of the Senegalese dishes off the menu (maffe, yassa, any of the whole fish). Really lovely stuff.

    If you still have the capacity, turn back north on Lexington and check out the little restaurant row that's sprung up. Moustache for Middle Eastern, Joy Burger, Giovanna's (my girlfriend thinks their pizza is better than Patsy's, and I kinda see where she's coming from), Yo In Yo Out (awful name, good French food), Itzocan Bistro.

    You're also close at this point, to El Paso Taqueria, Amor Cubano, and La Fonda Boricua. If it weren't after 3:30, I'd get into specifics.

    11 Replies
    1. re: big o

      Cafe Ollin's carne enchilada cemita (photo attached) is terrific, too, but as big o advises, be sure to share; you might even ask for it to be cut in quarters. As for the papalo: If you're unfamiliar with this Mexican herb, go light or hold it altogether, or you may find yourself tasting it repeatedly throughout your tour.

      1. re: DaveCook

        Very true about the papalo. When I had my first cemita, it was exciting to find an ingredient that brought a new (to me) flavor to the table. It is, however, an extremely dominant flavor and -- as Dave said -- it doesn't disappear all that quickly.

        1. re: DaveCook

          That looks incredible! It's one of my great regrets that I didn't discover the cemita scene in NYC while living there.

        2. re: big o

          I've heard good things about Sandy an La Isla, but haven't been. Can anyone share opinions on those places?

          1. re: jdf

            I have no experience with Sandy, but if I hadn't mentioned Cuchifritos at the start of my post, I would have mentioned La Isla towards the end. It's worth visiting for the same selection of little fried snacks.

            1. re: jdf

              If this is Lechonera Sandy, I've been once and it wasn't the best Puerto Rican pork I've had. It was certainly an experience to walk in, and startle rightwards when I saw someone standing in front of a wooden block, hacking away at lechon with a machete whilst everyone devoured platters of arroz con gandules with heaps of pork atop.

              1. re: JungMann

                A good lechonera is exactly what I was looking for. Any other suggestions in the area?

                1. re: jdf

                  Nothing I would travel for. There is a lechonera on 125th between 2nd and 1st (I think) that I have been meaning to try. On the bus to LGA, I passed by a blinking neon pig and thought I had to stop by before my first stent.

                  1. re: JungMann

                    If you're looking for a good lechonera in the southern part of East Harlem, you can't do better than El Barrio on 103rd St. (south side) between Third & Lex. Spotless and cheery with great, homestyle food and excellent helps if you know a little Spansh, but you can always point and smile. Much more appetizing place than La Isla, which always looks to me like a stomache bug in the making, though in fairness I have never been.

            2. re: big o

              Might add a flag for Gong Modern Thai on 99th just west of Third, a pleasant, low-key little storefront with a short but focused menu, another promising newcomer to the neighborhood.

              1. re: sgc56

                I've had Gong deliver a few times now, and I agree that they do a very nice job. Definitely worth a visit if you live in the area.

            3. I was going to post the little excursion I made up in the 100s a year ago, but now it looks rather flimsy compared to what big o has arranged. Great options and I certainly will be headed to Cafe Ollin very soon.

              2 Replies
              1. re: JungMann

                I appreciate the kind words. I do wish that I hadn't started writing at 3 in the morning, though, as I definitely would have plotting things out a bit more thoroughly otherwise. As it is, you get a nice feel for the neighborhood's local flavor as well as the newcomers creeping up from the south. But, I definitely left out a lot of good stuff.

                1. re: big o

                  Big O -

                  You are a man among men. Or a woman among women, possibly, but I can't imagine most women would use the word Big in their name. But I digress....

                  That is JUST what I was looking for - thank you so much! You said you might've plotted it out differently. You've explained it well, I think, so I'll try plotting them all on a grid and see if there's another order that makes sense. I'll let you all know what I come up with. Again, I can't thank you enough.