Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Inwood AND Washington Heights for chicharron, rice, beans and more.


It began more than twenty years ago, when Victor and Albania Rodriguez started serving rogue batches of chicharrones out of the back of a bodega in Washington Heights. The community ate it up, literally, and the family couldn't keep up with demand, so in the early aughts the Rodriguez crew opened their first restaurant, Elsa La Reina Del Chicharron, on the corner of Broadway and Academy Street. And I'm pretty sure there's been a line at the counter ever since.

La Reina's realm has expanded considerably since then, with four spots including the Inwood original, a second in Washington Heights, and two more recent outposts in Fordam in the Bronx, and in Teaneck, New Jersey. To satisfy a chicharron craving, this past weekend I revisited both Manhattan locations for the first time in over a year and am thrilled to report that, other than what appears to be a stalled expansion in Inwood, they're both the same glorious, no-frills, old-school, NYC Dominican joints that you may remember.

There are official menus at both locations, but really you just order whatever they have ready. Fortunately, that always includes chicharrones, those pieces deep fried pork belly, bones and skin intact, which are sold by the pound and hacked into pieces. Most people get take out—it's a local crowd, and everyone seems to be a regular—but there are a few stools at a couple of counters in both locations. (For what it's worth, the Heights dining area is the more spacious of the two.) TVs are on but muted at both places, the music is loud, and, if you're lucky, the women behind the counter will be singing along.


The awning in Inwood proclaims these to be El Mejor Chicharron Del Mundo and, while I have not tasted every single serving of fried pig in the world, they are without question, and consistently over the years, the best I've had in NYC. This is true pork perfection, with almost every hunk delivering equal parts crackling skin, loads of sweet fat, and chunks of juicy meat.

Two, maybe three, ribs make for a hefty, satisfying meal—they're so rich, a little goes a long way—and the lime wedges are not just for show; squeeze them all over the plate, as the citrus helps cut the intensity of all that fat. A vinegary hot sauce at the Heights location also adds some acid, though, unfortunately the Inwood spot only had Tabasco on hand when I was there.

Remarkably, all of the other food is almost on the same level as the chicharron. Again, you have to kind of figure out what's available, but the Mondongo, or tripe stew, in Inwood was excellent,, as was the well-seasoned Red Beans and fluffy White Rice, which to me is pretty much the supreme comfort food. At the Heights location I tried the hen, called Gallina, which was fall-off-the-bone tender and, because they were out of rice, a mound of first-rate potato salad.

After all that fat, salt, and meat you're going to want something sweet. For that, grab a bottle of sugary Country Club Soda, or get a Creme de Leche from the bins by the register—it has the texture of maple sugar, but the flavor is more like condensed milk, or even caramel.


La Reina's chicharron, with rice and beans on the side, is one of my all-time favorite NYC meals. And even with the expansion, and however many hundreds of thousands of fried ribs they sold over the years, the Rodriquez family still puts a whole lot of love into their food. Worth however long it takes you on the A train to get here.

The Inwood La Reina is located at 4840 Broadway, at the corner of Academy Street (212-304-1070); the Washington Heights restaurant is at 1249 St. Nicholas Avenue, between 172nd and 173rd Streets (212-795-3667). Both are open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., though you might want to call to confirm.