Where To Eat In Uptown Manhattan's Little Dominican RepublicLet Shelley Worrell of I AM CARIBBEING take you on a food tour through the neighborhood officially known as the Little Dominican Republic.
Uptown Manhattan is home to the largest Dominican community in the US, and Dominicans are one of the largest immigrant groups in New York City. In fact, the first known immigrant to New York City, Juan Rodiguez (who came here in 1613), was Afro-Dominican. Centuries after his arrival, immigrants from Quisqueya have built a tight-knit community extending from around 145th Street to the northern tip of Manhattan.
In 2018, following the success of Little Caribbean, I AM CARIBBEING was invited to lead the development of Little Dominican Republic alongside community stakeholders, elected officials, and scholars in Washington Heights and Inwood. Later, the very first Little Dominican Republic in New York City (and the world) was designated. Since then, even more streets have been co-named after prominent Dominican activists and community leaders, notably the Mirabal sisters, Dr. Nasry Michelen, and EMT Luis de Pena Jr. According to Washington Heights native and Dominican-American Led Black of Uptown Collective, “Dyckman has become the new center of gravity.”
On recent jaunts through Little DR with Misha Collins and The Infatuation’s VP DEI, Angie Baez, I was immersed in Dominican culture—from bachata, merengue, and reggaeton blaring from literally every corner to dominoes clapping in front of barber shops, all juxtaposed against iconic landmarks like the George Washington Bridge, the Little Red Lighthouse, the Cloisters, and United Palace. It became very evident that this vibrant neighborhood full of tropical vibes and dozens if not hundreds of Dominican businesses old and new is the epicenter of Dominican food in New York City, the Northeast, and arguably the United States. Come hungry and ready to walk, and give yourself twice as much time as you think you’ll need to discover this thriving immigrant neighborhood in the uppermost portion of Manhattan.
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A neighborhood institution, this cash-only, no-frills establishment serves up authentic Dominican cuisine in large portions. I went for the mofongo drenched in garlicky shrimp, and the dish did not disappoint. (Plantain is my jam—I love it fried, mashed, boiled, and everything in between.) I can’t wait to go back for the house specialty pescado al horno, chicharron de pollo, and rice and beans.
This Dominican-Cuban diner is open 24 hours and is famous for its sandwiches like their bistec one prepared with thinly sliced steak and crunchy french fry bits that give it the perfect bite. In addition to the extensive sandwich and burger menu, you’ll also find Caribbean staples like bacalao and mofongo. I tried a pastelito, the codfish salad, and sancocho—and each dish harkened me back to Trinidad, reminding me of the flavors found in aloo pies, salftish buljol, and corn soup.
Habichuelas con dulce is a staple in Dominican culture—especially during the Lenten and Easter seasons—and each version has its own unique flavor. At her stand at 182nd and St. Nick, Doña Nena serves habichuelas con dulce made with sugar, coconut milk, and evaporated milk, along with the trifecta of Caribbean spices: cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. According to Angie Baez, this dessert will "transport any Dominican from the corner of 182nd St to their abuela’s kitchen with just one sip.”
Named after Caribbean seaside promenades, the iconic Malecon has a 12-page menu with daily specials and calls itself the “King of Roasted Chicken.” My go-tos are the octopus salad and mofongo—because (ICYMI) plantain is life. Malecon is the first Dominican restaurant I tried in the Heights that never fails, and if you’re lucky you’ll get to meet the owner’s daughter, Larissa who welcomes you with Dominican hospitality.
For Angie, the star of the show at Malecon is always the arroz con longaniza. “Whether it's in a rice dish or served alongside tostones, longaniza seasoned to perfection with oregano, garlic, and the juice of bitter oranges is a personal favorite of mine,” she says. “Just ask my Tia Tita!”
According to Angie, there’s nothing better than holding a hot cup of coffee while biting into a flaky guava and cheese pastry—and I couldn’t agree more. Go try one of the pastries from El Manantial right now if you haven’t already. (Trust Angie. She’s Dominican American.) This bakery is budget friendly, and it'll satisfy all your sweet-tooth cravings.
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Owned by Dominican serial entrepreneur Susana Osorio—co-founder of a mini empire of Dominican fusion restaurants with outposts in Harlem, The Bronx, Queens, New Jersey, and Little DR’s Dyckman—MamaJuana is across the street from Inwood Hill Park, and it's a great spot for people watching, brunch, or Happy Hour. Dine on the sidewalk here, and enjoy some yucca crab cakes, empanadas, camarones en coco, and cocktails that will transport you directly to Playa Rincon.
On a #MiLittleDR tour led by textile artist Devin Osorio and running coach Wil Tejada, I sampled Dominican street food for the first time—and it didn’t disappoint. At this food truck, I had chimichurri and a well-seasoned Dominican burger served on pan de agua, as well as a more-buttery version of Italian bread topped with a mayo-ketchup sauce, crunchy cabbage, onion, sliced tomato, and quipe (a spicy ground beef delicacy that made its way to DR by way of the Middle East). Others tried an assortment of late-night comfort food: deep fried meats, Dominican-style hot dogs, and, you guessed it, tostones.
This iconic neighborhood bakery is a must-visit for Dominican-style café con leche, chicken, pastelitos, or (if you’re here around midday) a pan tostado con queso y jamon. If you have a celebration coming up, you can never go wrong with Bizcocho Dominicano, a traditional Dominican cake with meringue icing.
Considered an Uptown gem, El Panadero is best known for tropical-flavored pastries, fluffy Dominican-style cakes like dulce de leche, and Cuban sandwiches. Like all other Uptown bakeries, this is also a great place to grab café con leche.