The Best Restaurants In East Harlem

Where to get great pernil, the perfect plain pizza, vegan chicharrones, and more in El Barrio.
A spread of food from El Kallejon on a table in their backyard.

photo credit: Kate Previte

Known as Spanish Harlem, El Barrio, or just plain East Harlem, this 40-block neighborhood, from East 96th up to Harlem River Drive, is known for its deep Puerto Rican and Cuban roots. This is where you go when you want roast pork from a lechonera that’s been around for decades, or to spend your night table-dancing to Cuban jazz. But there are also exciting new places popping up all the time. These days, some of the best comida puertorriqueña you can get in el Barrio is vegan. You’ll also find good Mexican options, West African food, and a Peruvian wine bar among our East Harlem favorites.

The Spots

photo credit: David A. Lee

West African

East Harlem

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerDining SoloLunchSerious Take-Out Operation
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This casual restaurant across from Central Park is where you’ll find Senegalese chef and cookbook author Pierre Thiam’s take on West African food. Grab a spot in a spacious dining room that’s decorated with colorful murals, and order via your table’s QR code. Make your own bright and flavorful grain bowl by pairing steak, salmon, chicken or a couple of vegetarian options with attieke or jollof rice, then add sides and sauces like yassa, packed with caramelized onions. Try all of the accompanying hot sauces, and remember that they have some tasty pre-bottled cocktails—very useful when you’re just across the street from the northeast corner of Central Park.

For special occasions, Contento is one of your top options in the neighborhood. It’s a beautiful space with brick walls and framed paper-cut prints, and it was built to be entirely accessible, with accommodating details like a partially lowered bar. They have a rotating menu full of seasonal, Peruvian-inspired food: short ribs covered in a peanut sauce for example, and roasted duck on herby green rice. Try as many impressive plates from the “Large” section as you can afford, and don’t forget the wine—there’s even a list with options from impactful growers. Come here with your wealthier friends or family members, and always start with some crispy yuca.

You won’t find anything resembling El Kallejon’s signature dishes elsewhere in the city—escargots in silky pasilla sauce, crispy beef brain flautas sprinkled with tobiko, or baby shark toasts with kalbi sauce. This Mexican restaurant has multinational influences, but their love for the motherland runs deep. Every inch of the subterranean space on East 117th Street is covered in Huichol cats, rainbow piñatas, mariachi instruments, and grinning sugar skulls. This is where you go for a special date night in the neighborhood, or a leisurely catch-up with mezcal-loving friends. If it’s warm outside, ask for a table on the back patio.

Hit up the Langston Hughes House on 127th Street, then grab lunch at this tiny counter that’s been around for over 30 years. Beneath the neon sign that spells its name with an upside-down pig, you’ll spot roast pork, sausage, and cuchifrito hanging in the window. Inside, you’ll find all the straightforward Puerto Rican classics: stewed bacalao, rellenos de papa, pollo rostizado, pastelillos, and morcilla. Our go-tos here are the roast chicken and lechón with crackly skin.

This Ivorian restaurant on 117th Street, in the shadow of the elevated Metro North tracks, serves some incredible West African food in a casual setting. The place is pared down, with steel high-top tables, red brick walls and musical instruments strung up at random, but the dishes are prepared with a lot of care. While we especially like the kedjenou with guinea fowl, all of the stews are layered with complex flavors like chile, black pepper or smoked fish. A gooey ball of plakali complements them perfectly. Also order a side of alloco—sweet plantains, chopped small, with a spicy red sauce. The whole menu is worth exploring, and it’s a good option for takeout or a weeknight meal. 

Bangklyn is part Thai restaurant and part used clothing store—so if you’ve never eaten shrimp green curry next to a pile of vintage bowling jackets, this is the place to start. The small space has a few tables and a kitchen counter, where the owner prepares light, straightforward Thai comfort food. We usually go for the soothing tamarind coconut milk noodles, especially with crab, and Southern fried chicken covered in crispy shallots. Feel free to check out the hand-picked denim and tees as you wait for your food.

When you spot the gleaming piles of roast chicken and fried pork in the front window on 116th Street, you’ll know that you’ve arrived at Cuchifritos. Inside this classic Puerto Rican counter spot, it can take a minute to get the servers’ attention, but once you do, start with beef-filled fritters called alcapurrias, and the tamale-like pasteles stuffed with pork. Don't forget the chicken and chicharron you first saw outside. Sides of rice and beans and tostones might feel like too much at this point, but don’t overthink it and just get both.

This French spot occupies a prominent corner of the historic La Marqueta, under the Metro North tracks between 111th and 115th Streets. Start your visit to the marketplace with some coffee or bistro-ish lunch at Amuse Bouche before make the rounds to the other stalls. They have pretty good baguettes and quiches, but their bigger breakfast plates and daily specials feel surprisingly lux for a food stall. We’ve had enjoyable full meals at the tables just outside: custardy brioche french toast, slabs of rich duck Shepherd's pie, and smokey Cajun shrimp stew with rice. Stop by on a weekend, when the scent of melted butter, used to make their excellent croque monsieur, fills the Park Avenue space.

This restaurant in East Harlem can make you Mexican food for any occasion. Get a smoky chorizo breakfast burrito to go, or stay a while with a plate of huevos rancheros. Come by for their bottomless brunch deal, or order $8 margs at Happy Hour, alongside some deep fried, cheese-stuffed chile relleno. If you want a snack, they have everything from cheese arepas to birria fries. You can even buy a big bag of Mexican candies. Ollin is known for their festive spirit—the family-run business is always decked out in big flower garlands, colorful papel picado, skeletons, and holiday decor. Come hungry with one or two other people (these are close quarters), and look out for special events like drag brunches and Dia De Los Muertos parties.

This Puerto Rican restaurant is another staple of Spanish Harlem. Families file into booths at dinner and brunch, sharing tail-on shrimp monfongo and plátanos in garlicky salsa de ajo or salsa tomate. Or, try the chuleta kan kan too, a cut of pork first created in Puerto Rico in 1957. Not in the mood for meat? You can get vegan jackfruit pernil, mushroom meat mofonguitos, and more plant-based comida puertorriqueña at La Fonda on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when Black Rican Vegan’s pop-up takes over the kitchen.

Before it was Spanish Harlem, it was Italian Harlem, and Patsy’s was one of the neighborhood’s first pizzerias when it opened in 1933. It’s been in the same location since, serving classic New York slices and pies in a room that looks like it’s evaded time, with classic dark wood, tile floors, and white table cloths. The walls are lined with framed photos of Patsy’s history, as well as another pizzeria staple: pictures with famous patrons. If you usually get your pies delivered, make some plans to eat a perfect plain slice inside this historical site sometime, and find your favorite celebrities on the wall.

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

$$$$Perfect For:Live Music


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An outdoor mural of a smiling Celia Cruz welcomes you to this Cuban restaurant, where they host live Afro-Cuban jazz on the weekends. People start filing in on Fridays and Saturdays around 7pm, just in time to get a dinner order in before the music starts at 7:30pm. Whether you go for the tender, tomato-heavy ropa vieja, a classic yellow arroz con pollo, or one of the seafood paellas with saffron-scented rice, it’s definitely a good idea to eat a bunch of meat before you spend the rest of your night by the bar, drinking mojitos and dancing around waiters.

Doña Maty is our favorite late-night option in the neighborhood. Open 24 hours, this Mexican spot is known for their quesadillas: six-inch, handmade tortillas with lightly charred edges, folded over lettuce, crema, cotija, and a fistful of fillings like tinga de pollo or bistec con papas. At $9, one is a satisfying snack, but adding a $5 salsa picada will make it a meal. The nautical-themed room has potted ferns and decorative hulls on the wall, and on weeknights, it’s a peaceful place to eat tacos and stare at the TV after a late shift. But on weekends, all bets are off. At peak post-bar hours, it’s everyone’s first pit stop before the walk home. They also have a second location on East 110th that closes at 10pm.

Gaudir is a quiet Spanish tapas spot on 2nd Ave. that checks all the date night boxes. The narrow, red room only fits a few small tables for two, and the one you want to nab is by the fireplace in the back. They keep the menu short: some decent tapas, charcuterie, a few mains, and three types of paella for a minimum of two people to share. We’re partial to the arroz de montaña with juicy pork ribs, and there’s a solid Spanish wine collection to choose from. It never gets too busy, so you can plan on staying a while to finish the bottle.

If you’re looking for a neighborhood spot to catch up with friends or meet a date IRL for the first time, The Good Good has you covered. The abandoned-looking storefront is a stark contrast to the party inside, brought to you by bright orange seating, bold geometric patterns, and upbeat tunes. This sister spot to The Edge serves Caribbean-inspired food, like a coconut fish sandwich that we like for its spicy BBQ slaw, and crispy, fluffy yams with a honey peri peri glaze. It’s open late everyday, so you can stick around for some cocktails and wine if the date is going well.

Would you like to start your day with a fancy coffee and pistachio croissant? Do you live or work within walking distance of 117th and Lexington?  If you answered yes to one or both of these questions, we’d like to talk to you about Super Nice Bakery. Make your way to this unassuming takeout window for coffee, pastries, and donuts with flavors like glazed loganberry and mango chili. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll be on your way with a chicory latte and a new lease on life.

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