|A colorful sunset from East Harlem –credit|
Up until a few years ago, my friends could hear me lamenting about the utter lack of authentic Mexican food anywhere in Manhattan. Sure, Blockheads makes for a great summer margarita stop, and Rosa Mexicano is delicious (if not a little pricey). But what about authentic, double tortilla-layered tacos and creative corn/bean/cheese combinations? That being said; my life in New York lacked a certain… spice. That is until I moved to East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, El Barrio, or in some circles, “that neighborhood by Target.” (The 116th Street Target is only half as busy as the Brooklyn Target, so keep that in mind the next time you need toilet paper and shampoo).
While it takes some coaxing to get my friends to venture above 110th Street, they never regret the trip when I finally get them one stop further to 116th. Nestled between Second and Third Avenues, my apartment is situated just two blocks from the 6 train in a fifth-floor walk-up with huge windows and a real, separate bedroom –– for $1,050 per month. Compared to the average rent of over $3,000 per month in Manhattan, my rent falls into that elusive “cheap but livable” category, which so many New Yorkers search for in vain. But cheap rent isn’t the reason I’ve fallen in love with East Harlem. The reasons run much deeper than that.
|I’ve fallen in love with East Harlem for more reasons than cheap rent. –credit|
First of all, East Harlem is the New York Mecca of Mexican food. Real, authentic Mexican food! Mole sauce, two-dollar taco stands, salads with salsa for dressing and Cotija and Oaxaca cheese galore. Just walk down 116th and choose almost any restaurant from Lexington to Pleasant Avenue; they will all be good, and cheap. I particularly like Hot Jalapeño, which opened a little over a year ago and serves some of the most delish Mexican food I’ve tasted. Don’t get me started on the slightly spicy, homemade Mexican hot chocolate they always have brewing in the back. That alone is cause to visit our hood, especially on snowy days like those we’ve had lately.
After drinking too many glasses of hot chocolate, a healthy dose of exercise is in order, so I venture to 111th Street past the all-weather, quarter-mile track in Jefferson Park. I take the small walking bridge over the FDR and reach one of the quietest stretches of walkway along the East River. During the summer you’ll come across a few fisherman as you make your way along the path, or you can stop to view any events that might be happening at Randall’s Island just across the river.
|Fishing along the tranquil East River–credit|
For those who prefer more than a good walk, El Museo Del Barrio is just a bit further, located on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street. For just $9, you can peruse the ever-changing art exhibits from Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American artists. Check out the calendar before your visit to make sure you stop by during one of the comedy shows, latin music performances, or Spanish book discussions at the museum, all of which are worth the price of admission alone.
After all that exploring and eating, I find myself making increasingly frequent stops for a latte or a glass of wine, depending on my mood, at D’amore Winebar and Caffe. The lattes are some of the best in Manhattan, made with strong Italian espresso and thick, creamy frothed milk. This soothing cup of Joe tops off everything I could possibly need in a neighborhood.
So if you haven’t been already, come uptown to East Harlem and say “hello.” The food is always tasty, and the rent is (relatively) cheap. But more than anything, I love exploring the area from the East River to Central Park, which includes delicious eats, a diverse collection of museums, and rich culture.
|Come experience the culture of East Harlem. –credit