El Barrio / East Harlem - Not For Tourists Guide to New York City - Not For Tourists

Not For Tourists Guide to New York City - Not For Tourists (2016)

Map 20. El Barrio / East Harlem



Neighborhood Overview


Map 20

El Barrio, also known as Spanish Harlem or East Harlem (just don’t call it “SpaHa”), is a neighborhood that is alive with history and culture—Puerto Rican, African American, Mexican, Italian, Dominican and increasingly Asian…it’s really one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. It’s not uncommon to find people playing congas on the street or riding tricked-out bicycles with Puerto Rican tunes blasting from their radios. You can feel a real sense of community in the bodegas and on the streets as residents chat up their neighbors and warmly greet one another with “Papi” or “Mami.” In the summer locals crowd into Thomas Jefferson Park and the abundant community gardens provide locals with the perfect chill out spots. Exploring this neighborhood is highly recommended.

But it’s not all pretty. East Harlem has been through some tough times in the past few decades to say the least. And unfortunately, to a lot of New Yorkers, it is still a place to avoid. Keith Haring’s “Crack is Wack” Mural is a symbol of the urban decay in the 1970s and ‘80s when drugs, poverty, and violence ravaged the neighborhood. Burnt-out buildings were the norm and social problems skyrocketed. Today concrete housing projects dominate the landscape (some very unique like Taino Towers) with a few vacant lots here and there, but crime is way down and rents are creeping up.

In recent years the neighborhood has rapidly changed with new condos sprouting up everywhere (some even with doormen), a growing Mexican population moving in (check out 116th Street between Second and Third for amazing food and groceries), and even a touch of suburbia with the gigantic Costco that opened in 2009.

Before the Puerto Rican migration, Italians used to call East Harlem home. In the 1930s there were tens of thousands of immigrants from Southern Italy living here. The Italian legacy has almost entirely disappeared with the last of the great bakeries closing a few years ago. Today there are only a few remnants left including the gorgeous Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (the first Italian church in New York), the Virgen del Carmen Shrine, and restaurants like Rao’s and Patsy’s Pizza.

Underneath the Metro-North viaduct is another remnant of the old neighborhood, the historic public market La Marqueta. Established by Mayor LaGuardia in 1936, this place was the hub of shopping activity for decades with over 500 vendors. Now it only has a few businesses left selling Puerto Rican delicacies like bacalao. But it is slowly being revived by the city with new vendors selling everything from baked goods to garden supplies. In the meantime, locals pack the public plaza (that looks more like a cage) between 115th & 116th Street on Saturdays in the summer for live music and dancing.

To see the neighborhood in full party mode, head here for the second weekend in June when the Puerto Rican Day Parade is in full swing. On Sunday the parade strolls down Fifth Avenue, but on Saturday Third Avenue and 116th Street come alive for a full-on Puerto Rican party—live music, barbecues on the sidewalk, and lots of Nuyorican pride.

Camaradas is your one-stop hot spot for drinks and live entertainment from old-school DJs to Latin grooves. Mojitos has a friendly bar to knock back a few drinks. The Duck is an uptown country dive that’s as weird as it sounds; requisite women-dancing-on-bar vibe.

El Barrio / East Harlem


Map 20

image Landmarks

✵ Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel ✵

448 E 116th St [Pleasant Ave]


The first Italian parish in NYC.

✵ Danny’s Club & Fashion ✵ 1st Ave & E 114th St

Funky neighborhood fashion shop going strong for 30+ years.

✵ Harlem Courthouse ✵

170 E 121st St [Lexington Ave]

One of the most impressive buildings in Manhattan.

✵ Keith Haring “Crack is Wack” Mural ✵

2nd Ave & E 127th St

Keith was right.

✵ La Marqueta ✵ 1590 Park Ave [E 115th St]


This public market used to be bustling; not so much anymore.

✵ Religious Street Shrine: Virgen del Carmen ✵ 240 E 117th St

Shrine built by Italians in memory of soldiers who died in WW II.

✵ Taino Towers ✵ 3rd Ave & E 123rd St

Unique low-income housing development opened in 1979.

✵ Thomas Jefferson Park ✵

2180 1st Ave [E 112th St]


Green space with a giant pool and bbqs in the summer.

image Coffee

✵ Love Cafe ✵ 283 Pleasant Ave [E 115th St]


Super friendly indie shop almost too good to be true.

Patsy’s pizza really is the “original” New York thin-crust pizza. The slices from the take-out window are the best in NYC. Unless you know the Mayor, Rao’s is another New York restaurant you’ll never see the inside of. 116th Street is a budget culinary wonderland. Try Taco Mix, Sandy, or El Nuevo Caridad.

image Farmers Markets

✵ La Marqueta ✵ Park Ave & E 115th St

Sat 8 am-6 pm, July-Nov

image Nightlife

✵ Amor Cubano ✵ 2018 3rd Ave [E 111th St]


The house band always has this place grooving.

✵ Camaradas El Barrio ✵

2241 1st Ave [E 115th St]


Eclectic live music and tasty bar food. Great vibe.

✵ The Duck ✵ 2171 2nd Ave [E 112th St]


Uptown country dive. Weird as it sounds.

✵ Mojitos ✵ 227 E 116th St [3rd Ave]


Good Mexican happy hour destination.

image Restaurants

✵ A Taste of Seafood ✵

59 E 125th St [Madison Ave]

212-831-5584 $

Fried fish sandwiches on white bread. Lord, have mercy!

✵ Amor Cubano ✵ 2018 3rd Ave [E 111th St]

212-996-1220 $$

Good Cuban food. Great live music.

✵ Camaradas El Barrio ✵

2241 1st Ave [E 115th St]

212-348-2703 $$

Spanish/Puerto Rican/tapas/music. Nice!

✵ Charlie’s Place ✵

1960 Madison Ave [E 125th St]

212-410-0277 $$

Harlem’s first sushi bar.

✵ Cuchifritos ✵ 168 E 116th St [Lexington Ave]

212-876-4846 $

Puerto Rican fried treats.

✵ El Aguila ✵ 137 E 116th St [Lexington Ave]

212-410-2450 $

Porktastic bustling taco joint. Open 24-7!

✵ El Nuevo Caridad ✵ 2257 2nd Ave [E 116th St]

212-860-8187 $

Dominican baseball stars approve of this chicken.

✵ El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant ✵

209 E 116th St [3rd Ave]

212-876-3055 $$

Tiny but good.

✵ Golden Krust ✵

2085 Lexington Ave [E 126th St]

212-722-5253 $

It’s all about the patties.

✵ Harley’s Smokeshack ✵

355 E 116th St [1st Ave]

212-828-6723 $$$

They smoke it, so you can eat it—turkey wings to meatballs.

✵ IHOP ✵ 2082 Lexington Ave [E 125th St]

212-860-0844 $$

Pancakes and carafes of coffee, plus a 24-hour window.

✵ Kahlua’s Café ✵ 2117 3rd Ave [E 116th St]

212-348-0311 $$

Awesome Mexi-grub. Tiny, loud, and fun.

✵ Kiosk ✵ 80 E 116th St [Park Ave]

212-348-9010 $$

Tiny Moroccan joint with live entertainment sometimes.

✵ Makana ✵ 2245 1st Ave [E 115th St]

212-996-3534 $$

A great little Hawaiian-Japanese BBQ takes Manhattan.

✵ Mojitos ✵ 227 E 116th St [3rd Ave]

212-828-8635 $$

Live music Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

✵ Patsy’s Pizzeria ✵ 2287 1st Ave [E 118th St]

212-534-9783 $$

The original thin-crust pizza. Best take-out slices in NY.

✵ Pee Dee Steakhouse ✵

2006 3rd Ave [E 110th St]

212-996-3300 $

Grilled meats for cheap.

✵ Polash ✵ 2179 3rd Ave [E 119th St]

212-410-0276 $$

Surprisingly solid uptown Indian Restaurant.

✵ Rao’s ✵ 455 E 114th St [1st Ave]

212-722-6709 $$$$$

An Italian institution, but you’ll never get in.

✵ Ricardo Steak House ✵

2145 2nd Ave [E 110th St]

212-289-5895 $$

Steak, bar, outside patio with upscale vibe and valet parking.

✵ Sandy Restaurant ✵ 2261 2nd Ave [E 116th St]

212-348-8654 $

Neighborhood Dominican joint. Try the lechon asado.

✵ Taco Mix ✵ 234 E 116 St [3rd Ave]

212-289-2963 $

The best tacos in El Barrio. Go for the al pastor.

Casablanca Meat Market is always packed, and for good reason with excellent homemade sausages. For do-it-yourself projects The Demolition Depot is a gold mine (but where do they get this stuff?). Latin music fans swear by Casa Latina Music Store. There’s even a touch of suburbia in East Harlem with Costco.

image Shopping

✵ Capri Bakery ✵ 186 E 116th St [3rd Ave]


Spanish El Barrio bakery.

✵ Casa Latina Music Shop ✵

151 E 116th St [Lexington Ave]


El Barrio’s oldest record store.

✵ Casablanca Meat Market ✵

125 E 110th St [Park Ave]


The line out the door every Saturday says it all.

✵ Costco ✵ 517 E 117 St [Pleasant Ave]


Giving Long Islanders another reason to drive into the city.

✵ The Demolition Depot ✵

216 E 125th St [3rd Ave]


Amazing selection of architectural salvage.

✵ Don Paco Lopez Panaderia ✵

2129 3rd Ave [E 116th St]


Mexican bakery famous for Three Kings Day cake.

✵ Eagle Home Centers ✵

2254 2nd Ave [E 115th St]


Update the tile in your kitchen or bathroom.

✵ Goodwill Thrift Store ✵

2231 3rd Ave [E 122nd St]


A few floors of used stuff (some of it pretty good).

✵ Heavy Metal Bike Shop ✵

2016 3rd Ave [E 110th St]


Pedal to the metal for repairs and parts.

✵ La Marqueta ✵ 1590 Park Ave [E 115th St]


A couple Puerto Rican food stalls. Still waiting to be revived.

✵ Lore Decorators ✵ 2201 3rd Ave [E 120th St]


Well Known by Madison Avenue clientele, Reupholster your sidewalk/dumpster chair.

✵ Mi Mexico Lindo Bakery ✵

2267 2nd Ave [E 116th St]


Grab a tray at this old-school bakery.

✵ Raices Dominican Cigars ✵

2250 1st Ave [E 116th St]


Hand-rolled cigars. With a smoking room!

✵ Raskin Carpets ✵ 2246 3rd Ave [E 122nd St]


Long time East Harlem store has Santa at Xmas.

✵ Savoy Bakery ✵ 170 E 110th St [3rd Ave]


Lots of tasty sponge cakes.

✵ V&M American Outlet ✵

2226 3rd Ave [E 121st St]


Everything for your apartment

✵ V.I.M. ✵ 2239 3rd Ave [E 122nd St]


Street wear—jeans, sneakers, tops—for all.

✵ Young Fish Market ✵ 2004 3rd Ave [E 110th St]


Get it fresh or fried.