This week, planning to go explore the 116th Street stop on the 6 train, we popped out of the subway on a chilly Saturday afternoon. After a few minutes walking around, scoping some West Indian shops, talking to locals and seeing the barren marketplace under the Metro North Viaduct above Park Avenue we decided to return there in the warmer months. We will probably wait till La Marqueta Internacional opens in the summer, all the better to include exploring what seems to be a great new project for a neighborhood whose diverse residents historically are quite proud their colorful heritages, and not shy about showing it off and sharing it with all. Really, after reading this how can we not be excited at the prospects.
La Marqueta will have room for a wide variety of tenants, ranging from wholesalers to retailers, small cafés to anchor restaurants, and a variety of small kiosks that highlight East Harlem's unique cultural history, as well as its evolving future. We hope that La Marqueta tenants will meet the existing and growing demand in East Harlem for venues to buy fresh meat, fish and produce, as well as offer a unique blend of ethnic foods, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of our community.
South was the way home; so south we went, happy to find an assortment of other places serving solid food and even an intriguingly placed uptown steakhouse.
Cold, hungry and on the move, we stopped at a small taqueria called El Chile (located at 167 East 106th) and sampled some tacos ($2) and flautas, but nothing struck a chord with us. While snooping around on the way out, we came to the conclusion that despite the name, we may have ordered poorly. The front glass counter looked set up for sandwiches first and foremost, and the single deep fryer (sans hood) screamed Torta Milanesa. Right next store, we stumbled into a small Mexican bakery and found some flan ($1) to end the session.
Better luck was had chasing tacos down by the subway station. Unlike the great spots around 116th street, the 2 main choices here, El Paso Taqueria and Santa Clarita (last restaurant listed via hyperlink), have waitress service. At the latter, we fell for both the Al Pastor and Carnitas tacos served along with tasty salsas. Other fillings keeping warm in a fat bath by the counter looked promising as well. El Paso disappointed despite a wide sampling of antojitos with various meats, the lone exceptions to blah being a delicious Suadero taco and some Chorizo and Potato Flautas. Given the singular visit, the lack of entrees ordered, and its reputation, we must return soon to El Paso.
Please remember that all this Mexican is being graded on the NYC curve, while we have a few great spots, we do not have the across the board consistency in experience our West Coast brethren enjoy.
Over at Ricardo Steak House our large group definitely enjoyed our midweek meal, starting with good Fried Calamari ($8) served with a nod to the neighborhoods’ past in the form of a sprinkling of zucchini mixed in, and the only decent raw clams this far northeast in Manhattan. Priced in the same league as the big steakhouses (Porterhouse for 2 - $70, Rib Eye - $34), we would be more comfortable if this place was about 25% more affordable, makes it easier to overlook the odd selection of Premium Gold Angus beef instead of superior Prime beef like most city spots. That said, with excellent sides, an outdoor terrace and a wide variety of post-dinner entertainment, Ricardo’s has a bunch going for it.
Another restaurant nearby with elevated ambitions is the long running La Fonda Boricua. Originally one of the numerous Puerto Rican luncheonettes that dotted the area serving great home-style food, new owners took over in 1996 and fleshed it out to a full-scale restaurant stocked with thick wood tables and a full bar. Thankfully the food did not get lost in translation. We loved all the meats we had, and on the beans/rice continuum we loved the beans and struck out with the rice both times, watery once and burned the next. Overall a fine place chock full of vibe and neighborhoodyness.
During the course of the travels, Gothamist came across a handful of good small markets. Actually, one was great and the others were able to fill in some of the gaps. Located on a steep hill just south of the subway station, El Tepeyac has a fantastic selection of meats, cheeses, and vegetables – including hard to find items like avocado leaves. Unfortunately all the dried red chilies were stale, for a much better, fresher selection we liked Arizona Frutas & Vegetales. The Casablanca Meat Market was closed during a Sunday market visit, since we hear good things we will have to head back there this week as well. Look for a recipe next week.
Should you head up that way, review the East Harlem Board of Tourism site and make a day out of it.
We could not make it to Piatto d' Oro on First Avenue, anyone have some information to share ?