Over the years, many of New York’s richest cultural enclaves have become Disney-fied to the point where their authenticity is virtually non-existent, while other once-ethnic neighborhoods have been gentrified and are now home to a broader community. Spanish Harlem, a former stronghold of Latin life in New York City, is one such area.
Sandwiched in the Northeastern corner of Manhattan, pockets of the original “El Barrio” still exist for those who yearn for the flavors of home. Chuchifritos serves up Puerto Rican favorites like fresh-squeezed tropical juices, mofongo and tostones, that transport a steady stream of diners back to the streets of Old San Juan.
If you’re up for street dining, you can sample a variety of traditional, home-made Latino bites from vendors sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Keep an eye out for the ladies who specialize in making tantalizing papusas. They shouldn’t be too hard to spot. These flavorful corn tortilla- stuffed snacks are so popular with the locals that the lines are around the block—so find them early because they run out fast!
Spanish Harlem offers up a lot more than food. Residents in need of old world homeopathic remedies head straight to Justo Botanica where owner/expert, Julio, will prescribe the ideal concoction for any ailment.
Claudio’s Barber Shop is the backbone of the Latino Community and serves as a communal meeting place for resident’s who have called Spanish Harlem home for decades. If he’s not too busy cutting hair, Claudio will gladly share the colorful stories behind the numerous photos that he proudly displays on the shops faded mint green walls.
Vibrant murals, intricate mosaics and expressive graffiti are a testament to the great Latino migrations that defined Spanish Harlem. Most notably, The Spirit of East Harlem, painted in 1973 by local artist, Hank Prussing and restored by Manny Vega in 1999 pays loving tribute to the residents who paved the way for generations to come.
It’s well worth a trip on the 6 train to experience the few authentic treasures that keep the spirit of Spanish Harlem alive.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Sarita Dan