We’re Jammin’ Still: An Ode to West Indian Restaurants

Carnival revelers on Eastern Parkway
In late January 2020, my husband and I had just arrived back to New York from a vacation in Cartagena, Colombia, and were already fantasizing about our next jaunt. I’ve travelled extensively and had always been meaning to get back to Grenada, a diminutive country in the Caribbean, where I’d visited three years earlier. So when I found a really good deal, I jumped on it. Our excitement was short-lived. Little did I know that our getaway to the Spice Isle was never meant to be.

Many of us expected — or, at least, hoped — that a two week lockdown would ameliorate the current circumstances. Just weeks later, the world we knew vanished, never to be seen again. Since then, I’ve lost count of how many trips and events have been cancelled or planned, yet never brought to fruition due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it rains on your Parade

A feathery backpack of a frontline carnival costume
Labor Day Weekend has always been understood to be the unofficial ending of summer, with its culminating barbecues and final days at the beach for the season. If you’re a New Yorker, you know this also means the world renowned J’ouvert and West Indian Day Parade festivities that go on each Labor Day in Brooklyn. For the second year in a row, the City of New York has announced that the much anticipated West Indian Day Parade is cancelled and its preceding J’ouvert activities have been cancelled.

The parade began in Harlem the 1920s as a nod to the world famous Carnival in Trinidad, which takes places in the days leading up to Lent. Of course, here in New York City, Lent coincides with very cold, harsh weather, so the parade was pushed up to the summer months. By the 1960s, neighborhoods in Brooklyn, like Crown Heights and Flatbush, began to see a massive (See what I did there?) wave of immigration from the Caribbean from countries like Trinidad, Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, Guyana, and Barbados, among several others.

The parade was subsequently moved to the borough’s revered Eastern Parkway (known to locals simply as “the Parkway”), commencing at Utica Avenue and terminating at Grand Army Plaza. Each year, an estimated 1 to 3 million descend upon the Parkway from the Tristate area to as far as Canada and several Caribbean countries,  and with them, millions of dollars flow into the local economy. While the parade may be cancelled, dozens of private parties and concerts will still take place this weekend. That’s a small consolation to the vendors, costume designers, mas bands, who anticipate that stream of revenue.

Traveling Vicariously Through Food

It’s a colossal understatement to say that life since March 2020 has been challenging.  Difficult for individuals, as well as small local businesses, many of which did not make it and were forced to close due to a combination of circumstances. Being unable to travel, dining out became my go-to activity whenever I felt caged in. Sure, I have my favorite stand-bys. However, this period of time has given me the opportunity to really venture out and try something new. I learned this past year, for example, that I love vindaloo, for example, the spicier the better — who knew? All of this is to say that despite not leaving US soil for the better part of a year and a half, I’ve been able to “travel” vicariously through food.

Let’s be honest: COVID-19 has ravaged the economy in many of our communities and a lot of small businesses are barely holding on. Bars and restaurants have had to adjust to the rapidly shifting protocols the city has put into place, losing money along the way. I wanted to take the time to recognize some of the awesome restaurants I’ve been visiting. Since it is Labor Day Weekend, I thought it was appropriate to list some of my favorite Caribbean restaurants. While you can’t be on the Parkway this year (again, ugh), you can still enjoy amazing West Indian food while supporting local businesses.



One of my go-tos after a co-worker put me onto it about four years ago, I’ve been coming back ever since. It would suffice to say that businesses have had to make many adjustments and become creative to stay afloat. Pre-pandemic, ZuriLee and MangoSeed were separate restaurants owned by the three brothers. Once restrictions eased, both restaurants reopened, this time under the same roof, which was is ZuriLee. MangoSeed is known for its modern take on traditional Caribbean meals, while ZuriLee’s forte is brickoven pizza with a West Indian flair. Here, you can get dishes like oxtail pizza and jerk chicken and waffles. They do a brunch on Sundays, featuring bottomless mimosas with flavors like guava and hibiscus, as well as Happy Hour 5 days a week with $5-6 cocktails and sangrias.

Order: For brunch, order the coconut smothered fish and parmesan grits or jerk chicken waffles, for dinner try the Columbia pie, and for drinks I like the spicy Crooklyn or a Sugarcane Lemonade.

755 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11226
Website: https://www.mangoseedbrooklyn.com/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/mangoseedandzurilee/

Sip Unwine

One of the newer kids on the block, Sip Unwine hosts fun activities like karaoke, sip and paint, as well as a weekly brunch with a DJ. Last weekend, for example, they hosted a Women’s Empowerment Brunch on Saturday and a Caribbean Carnival Brunch the following day, featuring staple foods from several islands, such as bake and shark, ackee and saltfish, and tania log. This past November, they were a featured restaurant during New York Tri-State area Black Restaurant Week 2020. They have a wine and cocktail list with Caribbean takes on classics, like the Yaardie Old Fashion.

Order:  For brunch, the loaded jerk fries and eggs, for dinner order the salmon and a side of Trini-style callaloo, and wash it down with a tropical or coconut rum punch.

1197 Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11226
Website: https://www.sipunwine.com/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/sipunwine/

Crown Heights

Savannah Cafe

Savannah Cafe is a Black-owned, woman-owned enterprise. Its namesake is Trinidad’s largest park, Queen’s Park Savannah, terminus of its exuberant carnival. Located on one of the more quiet, residential stretches of Utica Avenue, this spot brightens up the block. Sit-down Trinidadian restaurants are a rarity, even in Brooklyn, making this place a standout. Savannah boasts a covered backyard and each table in the restaurant is named after a town or neighborhood in Trinidad. The food menu features favorites, like the mango pineapple chow, pelau, callaloo, and macaroni pie. They have an ambitious drink menu with carnival and Trini-inspired names, like the Mr. Fete, a nod to Soca star Machel Montano‘s hit song, the Dingolay Margarita, and the Maracas Bay.

Order: Drunkman’s Jerk Chicken or Tobago-style stew pork, a side of mango pineapple Chow, and for drinks (They’re strong, don’t say you weren’t warned!) try the Caroni River Mojito, made with coconut or Mr. Fete, a passion fruit-infused cocktail.

75 Utica Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11213
Website: https://savannahcafebklyn.com/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/savannahcafebklyn/


Trini Jam BK Roti Bar & Grill

Located far into Canarsie, Trini Jam is not the kind of place you just stumble upon. Another relative newcomer to the restaurant scene, I saw it on Instagram for months before I decided to make the trek out there from the Bronx, but I’m sure glad I did. Come with an appetite, because you’ll want to try everything on the menu! The inside is airy with a bar with an outdoor dining set up giving off tiki vibes. They often have music, and the times I’ve gone they had a DJ playing a blend of Soca, Dancehall, and other Caribbean rhythms, as well as a steel panist. The drinks are solid with quintessentials like piña coladas and rum punch, as well as more imaginative ones, like the neon-colored Bob Marley, a boozy slushie (Be careful, it creeps up on you!)

Order: Curry chicken with buss up shot (paratha roti), the stew chicken, with sides of the callaloo and calypso mango chow.

9501 Flatlands Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11236
Website: https://www.trinijambk.com/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/trinijambk/

Park Slope


Opening in 2015, BK9 is located in the shadows of Barclay Center on Park Slope’s main drag, 5th Avenue, an unlikely place for a Caribbean restaurant. The restaurant gets its name from its co-owners, nine childhood friends from Brooklyn of Jamaican, Haitian, and Trinidadian parentage, which is incorporated into the menu.  The fare here has traditional staples, like jerk chicken, as well as modern takes on West Indian dishes and Caribbean takes on American dishes (eggs benedict with plantain, anyone?)

Order: The griot or jerk chicken, with a side of curry mussels, and wash it down a Bajan rum punch (sorrel) or a frozen rum punch (yum!)

62 5th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217
Website: https://www.bk9.nyc/
IG: https://www.instagram.com/bk9restaurant/

What’s your favorite Caribbean spot? Reply in the comments.

Colombian in New York

bandeja paisa

If you order a flan for dessert, you’ve got all of your food groups covered.

Updated: 12/26/2019

I love to head to Jackson Heights or Astoria when I need my Colombian food fix. In fact, Jackson Heights, Queens neighborhood has often been dubbed “Little Colombia.” Roosevelt Avenue, its main artery, has been likened to the Chapinero part of Bogotá. Though Colombians have dispersed from Jackson Heights, Queens is still the epicenter for Colombian-Americans in the United States.

More and more, however, Colombian restaurants are beginning to crop up in unlikely corners of the city (Park Slope, Brooklyn and Morris Park in the Bronx, for example.) Over the years, I’ve tried most of the Colombian restaurants in the city and definitely have my favorites. Though this list is far from exhaustive and very Queens-heavy, I’ve compiled a few of my favorites.

Restaurants to Try

Tierras Colombianas
33-01 Broadway Astoria, NY 11106
Tierras has been around what seems like forever and was part of the first wave of Colombian restaurants in Queens. This family owned establishment’s flagship location was in the heart of Jackson Heights until it closed down about a decade ago. Devouring a mammoth plate of their bandeja paisa while washing it down with a Postobon Manzana soda has been a right of passage for many a Colombian-American.

As of a few months ago, it seems like Tierras Colombianas has permanently closed.

Los Arrieros Restaurant
76-02 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, NY 11372
Situated on the corner of the bustling Roosevelt Avenue, diners can feel the rumble of the 7 subway line overhead. This tiny eatery has a limited amount of tables and fills up fast. If you’re just arriving or leaving from the neighborhood, this is the perfect place to hole up with a warm sancocho. Double take: if you’re a foreign film cinephile, this place may look familiar. That’s because it appeared in a scene of the riveting 2004 blockbuster, Maria Full of Grace. It was good enough for María.

Pollos a la Brasa Mario
Various locations
Any Colombian living in New York City has eaten at a Pollo Mario. This no nonsense diner-style restaurant covers the bases when it comes to Andean Colombian food. If you can’t pronounce the name of the dish, just point to the photo or the number on the menu. There is a small chain in Queens, with some locations as far flung as New Jersey and Long Islands. Bonus: many locations are open late, if not 24 hours. The hearty soups and rice is the perfect ending to a night out.

Colombia in Park Slope
376 5th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11215
This is a standout among the dozens of restaurants and bars along Park Slope’s well-heeled 5th Avenue. This narrow restaurant leads to a garden out back where you’ll want to sit on a warm day. The menu contains all of the usual suspects. However, Colombia boasts a full bar and you’ll want to try one of their happy hour specials. I recommend the Colombian mojito, a riff on the classic but with aguardiente in place of rum.

The Empanada Spot (formerly Mama’s Empanadas)
Various locations
More of a take-out place, here you’ll get to sample the Colombian-style empanada in its various forms. Unlike empanadas from other Latin American countries, Colombians use corn-based masarepa instead of flour for the dough and fry it instead of baking it. You’re left with a bright yellow, piping-hot empanada. Here you’ll find your run of the mill beef and queso variety, but Empanada Mama takes it a step further. With choices like rice and pigeon Reggaeton, a nod to Puerto Rico, you’ll also find savory flavors like the arequipe y queso, my personal favorite. The possibilities are endless.

El Fogón Costeño
109-12 Northern Blvd, Corona, NY 11368
Fogón is a wildcard. In a borough full of Andean Colombians, this place is unique in that it serves food from Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. Hidden away in plain site, the restaurant is a hole in the wall on Corona’s bustling Northern Boulevard. It’s a rare treat to find an arepa de huevo or coconut rice, no less butifarra in these parts. Bob to the cumbia and vallenato sounds of Colombia’s coast while tasting your way through the region.

Stop Here for a Drink…Or Two

D’Antigua Bar & Lounge

D’Antigua – or simply “Antigua,” as it’s called by regulars – has been around for well over a decade. About 15 years ago, a blossoming young Colombian musician going by the name Fonseca performed here before an intimate audience. Today he’s one of Colombia’s biggest stars. Stepping into D’Antigua feels like being in a dark lounge somewhere in Chapinero or La Candelaria. Here you’ll find rockeros nursing a beer while nodding to Soda Stereo or artsy college students listening intently to a poetry reading with one of the venue’s signature cocktails in hand. Rock en español fans will fit right in. Party the night away and make new friends at this rock-centric stronghold.

What You Need to Know About Colombian Food

By now, we’ve all read about— and hopefully tasted! — the sublime cuisine of Thailand, Mexico, or India. You know what cuisine doesn’t get enough love? Colombian food! Even among Latin American countries, Peru, Cuba, and even Argentina still get higher billing. I can’t understand why. 

Colombia graffiti

What is Colombian food?

Over the past decade, Colombia has been coming into its own as a travel destination. Visitors are always delighted to learn how varied the South American country is in climate, topography, and culture. The nation of 48 million has some of the most biodiversity on Earth. It’s possible to go from sweater weather to sitting on a beach. In one day. On a flight shorter than your morning commute. This lends itself to some interesting culinary variety. 

I’ve enjoyed a hot bowl of ajiaco on a chilly Andean day, engorged on a hearty plato montañero in the coffee region, and feasted on a fresh red snapper with coconut rice in steamy Cartagena. The topography, biodiversity, and cultural influences are so eclectic that you’ll find amazing food in every region. 

My story begins in Bogotá, the Colombian capital 8,500 feet closer to the stars, as an early millennium tourism tagline proclaims. Whenever someone finds out I lived in Colombia, he’ll often comment about “how hot it must be.” I smile knowingly.

El Altiplano: The Andean Highlands

Bogotá’s average temperature is 58° F (14° C), and it’s grey and rainy much of the year. It’s much more reminiscent of October in New York City. Or Ireland anytime of year, which shares a similar temperature and dampness. A far cry from the rainforest or beach (it’s landlocked), Bogotá has your quintessential sweater weather.

In the morning, there’s no better way to start the day than with a thick hot chocolate. But don’t mistake their hot chocolate with that powdery Swiss Miss mix. Colombians prepare their hot chocolate with bitter dark cocoa, milk, and sugar, giving it a frothy consistency. The liquid is drunk with a slice of soft, salty cheese similar to mozzarella. Wait…did you say cheese? Yes, the sweetness of the chocolate goes well with the savory cheese in this unlikely pairing.

chocolate con queso

A hot chocolate with cheese and bread at Bogotá’s legendary La Puerta Falsa restaurant.

Another breakfast favorite of bogotanos and people of the Cundinamarca/Boyacá departments is changua, a milk and egg-based soup. Some people love it but I’m not one of them. Don’t let me prevent you from enjoying it! 

One soup I do love to eat is ajiaco. Due to its time intensive preparation, it’s often served as a special in restaurants outside the capital. That’s why getting a piping hot bowl of it in Bogotá is a must. The soup’s base includes three varieties of potatoes, corn still on the cob, chicken, and cilantro.


A warm bowl of delicious ajiaco

However, what gives ajiaco its unique taste is guacas, an herb. Guascas are sparsely found in grocery stores outside of Colombia, making the soup that much more special. I’ve made it a few times and have had to hit the streets of Jackson Heights, Queens to specialty stores that carry it. Once ready to eat, it’s served with salty capers, avocado, and white rice. Some people like to add a wallop of sour cream to it. Any way you slice it, it’s delicious and worth the time it takes to find or prepare it. 

We can’t talk about Bogotá without mentioning cañelazo. It’s a hot drink made with aguardiente, an anise-flavored spirit, brown sugar, and boiled water. Though not uniquely Colombian, it’s drunk in other Andean countries where the climate tends to be cooler, each variety a bit different. Some people like to add fruit juice to it. I like mine from a glass with a sugar rim. It’s also common to add a lime for flavor or perhaps a cinnamon stick.  Best enjoyed on a cool evening overlooking the city, cañelazo is common café and bar menu item in Bogotá. 


Drinking a piping hot glass of cañelazo in Bogotá’s bohemian Candelaria.

El Eje Cafetero: The Coffee Region

Despite my love for all things Bogotá, my absolute favorite Colombian dish originates in the Coffee Region. The Coffee Region includes Antioquia, where Medellín is situated, and smaller departments, Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío. A paisa is somebody from that region. Juan Valdez is a paisa

The worst kept secret of that region is their famous plato montañero, also known as la bandeja paisa. Plato montañero translates as “mountain plate” from which it originates (though it’s piled as high as a mountain.) Others affectionately refer to it as heart attack on a plate. I’ll let you be the judge. 

bandeja paisa

I could eat this everyday, but my waistline would pay.

This protein and carb-heavy platter was intended to feed field workers who picked and grew coffee. Eating one plate almost maxes out your daily caloric intake. The affair involves grilled steak — which, in some cases, is substituted with ground meat — white rice, red beans, chicharrón (fried pork rind), avocado, sweet plantains, an arepa (we’ll get to this later), and in the traditional version, chorizo. All topped with a fried egg. 

The plato montañero is considered Colombia’s national dish. For that reason, you’ll find it on menus all over the country, and occasionally in an Ecuadorian or Peruvian restaurant in the States due to its popularity. Paisas are very serious about their food. Don’t be surprised to find magnets, t-shirts, and artwork depicting the dish in craft markets and gift shops.

arepa de juevo

Which came first, the arepa or the egg? In case you’re wondering how they get that egg inside there, read on!

Arepas, Pues!

Indigenous in origin and made of cornmeal, arepas are the quintessential Colombian staple. An arepa is to Colombians what bread and butter is to Europeans. Walk around any Colombian city and you’re sure to encounter somebody peddling them. You’ll see them grilled, baked, and fried, made of yellow or white corn, plain or with cheese, and in cases, stuffed with fillings like meat or chicken. The permutations of this street food vary greatly depending on region. Some of the more common varieties are arepas de choclo, arepas de queso, and arepas de huevo (more on that later.)

An arepa de choclo is easy to spot. With its bright yellow color, it has a sweet taste, similar to cornbread, with kernels still intact. Sometimes a salty white cheese may be added to the mix for a gooey treat. In New York City, these have become common place at street fairs and carnivals sold as “mozzarepas“. Don’t mistake these with the similarly sized arepa de queso, which is white and more starchy than sweet. You might compare it to a Salvadoran pupusa in taste. 

You’ll also see the arepa rellena, a stuffed arepa — an arepa sandwich, if you will. Arepas rellenas are disputed territory. They’re huge in both Colombia and Venezuela, albeit, prepared slightly differently. These are made with the white corn type, grilled or fried on a skillet, then cut down the middle. You’ll find them stuffed with shredded meat, chicken, even plantains, cheese, or beans. Increasingly, you’ll find Venezuelan-style arepa shops cropping up around Colombia. Regardless of what side of the border these originate on, Colombians and Venezuelans can both agree that arepas are life.

La Dulzura: The Sweetness

arequipe and ice cream on top of a waffle

A arequipe waffle at my favorite Colombian chain, Crepes & Waffles.

One thing I always overindulge in whenever I stumble upon it is arequipe. Americans call it caramel, Argentinians call it dulce de leche, and Mexicans call it cajeta. Whatever you call it, it’s a sweet treat. It’s a simple confection to make with milk and sugar, sometimes with a touch of vanilla for good measure. Colombians use arequipe on ice cream, on cakes, and in pastries. A favorite among street vendors, sold in plastic containers, as well as clay jars. Arequipe may just be Colombia’s answer to Nutella.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Similarly, where there’s arequipe, there are obleas. You can pair the thin, disk-shaped wafers together to create a “sandwich,” usually featuring arequipe as the filling. The combo of the wafer and arequipe is similar to a Dutch stroopwafel. You can even get yours with coconut flakes, sprinkles, or peanuts. 

A dessert that I’ve never seen outside Colombia is cuajada con melao, or cheese curd with sugar cane syrup. Like hot chocolate with cheese, it sounds like an odd combo but it’s delicious. The cheese you’ll need for it is difficult to find outside the country, but you can use a soft, white cheese like mozzarella, queso blanco or queso fresco as a stand in. The cheese is then drenched with sweet sugar cane syrup. I had this homemade on a farm in the countryside. !Qué delicia! 

Colombia’s Caribbean Coast

fried fish with plantains and coconut rice

What could be better than eating this on the beach?

If the Coffee Region’s signature dish is el plato montañero, the Caribbean Coast’s may be pescado frito (fried fish.) Seafood is the name of the game in cities like Cartagena, Barranquilla, and Santa Marta. This dish transcends class, as you’ll find it on the tables of beach shacks and top rated restaurants alike. The salt water fish is typically mojarra roja (tilapia), or sometimes pargo rojo (red snapper.) The fish is fried whole —head included – until it’s crispy, and served on a bed of sweet and savory arroz con coco (coconut rice.)

Getting back to arepas, for a sec. To the uninitiated, the arepa de huevo is a mystery. Unique to the Caribbean coast, this ultimate street food features a fried egg. How exactly do they get the fried egg into the arepa? These arepas are fried in oil, removed from the heat, and sliced down the middle. Once the incision is made, an egg is dropped inside the pocket, and fried again. It’s tricky to prepare but makes for a crispy, if greasy snack. Spice things up with a touch of ají, Colombian hot sauce.

While you’re at it, beat the scorch of the coast and grab yourself a cold glass of aguapanela, Colombia’s answer to lemonade. Here, as in most of Latin America and the Caribbean, you’ll find limes instead o lemons. Take the juice and sweeten with hardened sugarcane, and ta-dah! Easy and delicious on a hot day.

In essence, you cannot generalize Colombian food; it’s like sampling the cuisine of several countries at once. Though some of these food items can be elusive in the United States and Europe,  it’s worth hunting down a Colombian restaurant or grocery.

A Night Out with #TheBronxBloggers

On Tuesday, August 11th, I visited the *new* Yankee Stadium for the first time. Well, that’s not exactly true. What I did do was visit the Hard Rock Café at Yankee Stadium. That being said, while technically within the stadium, you do not need to go through any kind of security gate to enter the restaurant, as the entrance is on the street at River Avenue and 161 Street.
Before I continue, I must first make a confession:

A little of five years ago, I moved out of the South Bronx, just blocks to the east of Yankee Stadium. I was there during the duration of the demolition of the original stadium, which was bittersweet to both fans and residents. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a baseball fan and haven’t been to a game there since high school (I’ll plead the 5th on what year that was.) It was unclear if and when I’d ever set foot in the new stadium.

I arrived at about 6:15 in the afternoon, which turned out to be a very humid, muggy day in the PM due to the morning rain. I was pleasantly surprised to be hit with cool air and immediately seated by staff. I work just a short walk south of the stadium, so I’m constantly in the neighborhood. Game days mean traffic, crowded public transportation (even more so than usual), and noise. Lots of whistling, chanting, and sports fans doing what they do. I usually avoid the vicinity at that time. In the early evening and not a game day, so understandably the restaurant was not crowded.

There is a decent sized workforce in the immediate area given that our borough hall, courts, and Office of Tourism are all located here. In passing friends of mine who have worked in the courts have always griped about the lack of quality food in the area. Perhaps for the aforementioned reasons or because Hard Rock Café is so heavily embedded into the tourist infrastructure of almost every major city worldwide, it somehow never occurred to me to try it out. Upon being seated and handed a menu, one major misconception I had was immediately dispelled: that prices here were going to be high given the restaurant is geared towards tourists. The prices were surprisingly moderate for the venue, not much different than your local Applebee’s or Chilli’s.

The drink menu was pretty extensive, with Goose Island IPA on special this month, as well as a line of summer-influenced cocktails. I can get a beer at the local grocery, so I decided I’d try out the cocktail menu. I first ordered the Summer Splash Daiquiri, which is pretty much a fruity smoothie with a lemon-y taste, courtesy of the Bacardi Limón rum. I was quite hungry, so I slurped it down rather quickly. I next sampled the Island Mai Tai, which contained a liquor not often thought of when discussing summery adult beverages: whiskey. I must admit, it gave the drink another layer to it and enhanced it. For all you non-drinkers, no worries: there’s the Berry Blues, an alcohol-free cooler.

Shortly after, we ordered appetizers: the sampler to share. Not being able to decide what degree of spiciness we wanted the wings, the helpful waitress gave us the sauces on the side. I preferred the spiciest sauce myself. After, I gravitated toward a loaded potato skin with various cheeses and veggies on top. The main object of this visit was to test out the Goose Island IPA Tropical Burger, August’s special of the month, which I ordered medium, though it would appear the one I received was medium-well, though this could be because everyone else ordered it that way. I would have preferred mine juicier. The fries were good, but the main attraction was that the burger was adorned with cheese, a pineapple, and various other fruits; very filling.

Dessert? I was so full by then that I couldn’t take another bit of anything. Nicole aka “BronxMama,” ordered the ice cream sundae, which the menu claimed could be “shared,” which is vague. Oh, no. This sucker could easily feed a family of 4. BronxPR (aka Joyce) and Shoemom ordered the molten lava cake, which if I’d had any more space in my stomach, would have gladly eaten.

The space here is large in a round room surrounded by multiple TV screens blasting music videos (even in the ladies room!) The wall was complete with John Lennon’s sunglasses and Billy Joel’s wardrobe, and Ace Frehley‘s guitar. More: I’m no KISS fan, but Ace is a Bedford Park guy who lived on the same corner I did! Would I go back? Sure. This looks like it’d be a fun place for a first date, a family afternoon out, or for professionals in the area to grab drinks after work.

Día de Los Muertos: Mexican Cuisine in the Bronx

Note: Updated on October 29, 2019

New York is a city where you can get a feel for dozens of cultures without leaving the borough. After all,  the  7 train subway line that runs from Manhattan’s Westside to Queens is known as the “International Express.” When people think of the Mexican diaspora in New York, they typically think of  Jackson Heights and Corona in Queens, Sunset Park in Brooklyn, and perhaps East Harlem in Manhattan. The least obvious place may be the Bronx, but that’s where a rapidly growing Mexican population is flourishing.

Feeling festive at Mexicozina restaurant in Mott Haven

Feeling festive at Mexicozina’s 149th St. location

With a Latino population that makes up well over half the borough (which also boasts the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans after the island itself), behind Dominicans, Mexicans are the next largest immigrant group in the Bronx . Nowhere, perhaps, is this more obvious then in the Mott Haven and Melrose sections of the South Bronx. This has resulted in taquerías, specialty stores, and restaurants cropping up all over.


Unlike California or Texas where you have populations that are from all over Mexico, New York City is host primarily to Mexicans from Puebla, which is both a city and state southeast of Mexico City, along with smaller groups from Oaxaca and Michoacán. Theses sensibilities are reflected in their cooking, which has recently gotten some accolades (read: Mayor deBlasio has dined at Mott Haven’s La Morada restaurant this past spring.)

Eat Your Way Through the Bronx

The mole poblano at La Morada

The mole poblano at La Morada

Before you head to Manhattan to gorge on the Tex-Mex for Día de Los Muertos, you should take a second look at what the Bronx is cookin’:

La Morada
308 Willis Avenue
Bronx, NY 10454

This is as mom and pop as it gets. This family-owned neighborhood stronghold is owned and operated by a couple and their three young adult-aged children serving up oaxaqueño cuisine. It features a small book lending library and has been featured in no less than the New York Times and New York Daily News. Several varieties of mole  are available and chef/mother, Natalia, is known to whip up specialties on the fly.

Over the past few years, La Morada has found itself in the media, achieving critical acclaim. You may recognize Marco Saavedra, the owner’s son. His story has garnered media attention as he’s become a symbol of the battle that young undocumented adults in obtaining legal status. You can read more about the restaurant and about Marco here.

Xochimilco Restaurant
653 Melrose Ave
Bronx, NY 10455

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is: Baron Ambrosia, the Bronx’s culinary hometown hero of Cooking Channel fame featured it in a 2009 episode, which received a write up in the New York Times (yeah, Bronx cuisine is serious stuff.) The restaurant takes it name from what’s left of a tiny community within historic Mexico City, recognized by UNESCO. It’s a neighborhood favorite.

503 Jackson Ave.
Bronx, NY 10455

watermelon agua fresca

A delicious watermelon agua fresca at Mexicosina.

Originally a tiny restaurant so small that you were practically sharing a table with other diners, it’s expanded. In 2012, the owner moved to a larger venue closer to the Hub, where the action is, before expanding to an additional location on nearby Jackson Avenue. The 149th Street location, which served margaritas and sangrias, and featured an enclosed porch, closed down a few years back when the building was sold. The restaurant’s popularity has facilitated its expansion into the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. Though you can no longer sip a boozy tequila drink, Mexicosina’s agua frescas, fresh fruit-based beverages, are a standout.


Seis Vecinos
640 Prospect Ave.
Bronx NY 10455

Guacamole at Seis Vecinos

Guacamole at Seis Vecinos

The newest kid on the block, this restaurant not only serves up traditional Mexican food, but throws in some Central American staples (pupusas and balaedas, anyone?) for good measure. The place serves up good piña coladas and hearty guacamole. After work, the mood is festive with friends and families celebrating TGIF. After a good run on East 149th Street near St. Mary’s Park, the restaurant relocated to a larger, more upscale venue on Prospect Avenue.

Learn more about these restaurants and the South Bronx’s growing Mexican community.

Flushing, Queens: $20 and a Mission

Flushing, Queens is the last stop of the “International express”, the nickname for the 7 train line. It’s also home to one of the city’s largest Asian population, primarily Chinese and Koreans.

One of the goals on my Day Zero list was to visit the Queens Botanical Garden. The day before I’d visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which I can get into free due to my New York Botanical Garden membership. I’d been to the my Brooklyn counterpart many times, but for whatever reason I’d forgotten there was also a garden in Queens. I decided I’d take the trek to Queens and check it out.

I’m a big travel junkie and on weekends I like to explore the five boroughs and the outskirts when I get a chance. Sometimes to get the full experience you need to travel like a local away from home but get the full tourist experience at home. That’s what I decided to do. First stop: Main Street, Flushing, the last stop on the 7 train.


I had not eaten before leaving the Bronx and Flushing is known for its great Asian cuisine, especially Chinese and Korean. I decided to let my nose and stomach be my guide. I walked down Main Street south towards the garden. I’d never been the way except once or twice on a bus ride to Jamaica, but that was years ago.

I crossed underneath the Long Island Railroad trestle and landed in front of a bunch of open air windows selling food to go apparently known as AA Plaza. They sold all kind of Chinese goodies, some familiar and others I had never seen before. I settled on these tiny balls I saw on a stick that smelled good. The lady at the window informed me that these were fish balls and cost a dollar for about four on the “kebab.” I agreed, paid the lady, and went on my way. They were actually quite mild, slightly spicy, and delicious.


I soon crossed the street and stumbled upon a similar type set up: an open window with displays of food being sold. This particular stall specialized in poultry and rice. I saw a good looking plastic container of brown rice, but decided to be more adventurous. I settled on a container of honey roasted duck. I paid the man the asking price of $5.95 (another bargain) and was on my way. The actual meat was not as fatty as I’d imagined, had a texture similar to turkey, and a slightly sweet taste not too different from turkey or chicken.

I am a big fan of Chinese bakeries. I discovered this when I lived briefly in Woodside. There was a bakery under the 7 train in the 50s that I’d frequent to pick up a slice of cake or cookies. When I sawQQ Cafe & Bakery, I made a dash across the street. I saw cheesecake and a creme brulee that looked good, but I decided to go with something different.

A mother and father with a toddler stood in front of me who looked confused as they bombarded the girl behind the counter with questions. I spotted a display of what appeared to be cracked eggs smoking on the counter. I later found out that these were duck eggs, a Chinese delicacy. Not quite my cup of tea (no pun intended.) I found a brightly shaded green cake that the sales girl told me was green tea cake with apple filling. $1.50? I’ll take it! The green tea flavor was subtle but the apple filling was sweet and moist. I happily ate it up as I walked.

I finally hap733985_3046503459087_1876799447_npened upon the garden. It was much smaller than either the one in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and the entrance was not apparent at first.  I flashed my garden pass to the girl in the booth who said the entry

was free for the next few hours, and handed me a map. To people who are not fans of botany as I am, a garden is a garden. I looked at my map and realized there was really nothing in the way of a conservatory like the aforementioned gardens have, which are considerably larger. I walked on. It seemed more like a park than a botanical garden. It was pleasant enough and I walked leisurely through, admiring the scented garden and bridges built over small streams.

I left, slightly disappointed, and headed back up Main Street towards the 7 train. I decided that I wanted to check out some of the local grocery stores, whose interesting displays on the sidewalks drew me in. I walked into the Good Fortune Supermarket, interested in the exotic fruits and vegetables I saw, a produce worker encouraging me to take a look. So I did.


Dragon fruit aka pitaya

I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous eat, but I will be honest in sharing that there were many things I would have serious reservations about trying and could not identify. I appeared to be the only non-Chinese/Asian shopper in sight, which was no deterrent. Most of the signage identifying the items were in Chinese, though the produce and seafood also had English.


I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous eat, but I will be honest in sharing that there were many things I would have serious reservations about trying and could not identify. I appeared to be the only non-Chinese/Asian shopper in sight, which was no deterrent. Most of the signage identifying the items were in Chinese, though the produce and seafood also had English.


I think that the other shoppers probably knew that I was as interested in exploring as I was in actually shopping. While I myself would not necessarily be eating what was sold, I did find it interesting to check out what the offered and it appeared quite fresh as many of animals were still alive.


I decided to head on my way and see what else was in store for me (unintended pun #2.)

Some things I would eat or were just very fun to look at. It became a challenge to see how much I could eat with the $20 bill I had. You cannot go to a Chinatown and not buy bubble tea. I headed to Comebuy, which I admit that I have been here before and I knew that I could get something fun and tasty. I ordered a green apple bubble tea ($4.50.) Not too traditional, but had a satisfyingly sweet taste similar to ice tea with a Jolly Rancher and just as green. To those who have never had one, the “bubbles” are actually black tapioca pearls that expand and take on the taste of whatever liquid you put them in. They have a soft, sticky, jelly consistency.


My green apple green tea with tapioca or “bubbles”

I headed to one more bakery to sample a regular green bubble tea (the I think all the sugar got to me) at Maxin Bakery. By then, as you might imagine, I was stuffed. I also purchased anther green tea cake that I planned to eat for breakfast the following morning. I walked to the Q44 bus stop and headed back to the Bronx.

Total spent for the day? Just under $18.

McLean Avenue Fall Festival 2014

McLean Avenue in Yonkers and Woodlawn in the Bronx are the epicenters for the Irish diaspora. The neighborhood is contiguous, one side being in the Bronx and the other in Westchester. The main avenue is lined with bars, restaurants, and Irish specialty stores . The accent is often more of a lilt than a gruff New York one.

Today is the annual fall festival, celebrated in September just as summer is ending. The street is closed off and full of music, family, food, and souvenirs from the Emerald Isle. For the second year in a row I’ve decided to tote my camera along. The day is a mixture of rainy and clouds, coincidentally the same as you’d find in Ireland, where I’d had a notoriously hard time photographing for that reason.

Two neighborhood lads sitting on a bench observed me and suggested I take a few shots of them, which you’ll find below. After wandering around for a bit, I finished the day up at Rory Dolan’s, where it seems every Irish family has celebrated a birthday, communion, or  wedding at some point (my own great uncle’s 90th surprise party with relatives flown in from County Mayo, case in point.)

The Bronx-based MCNY offers tours of the area, which trace the history and present of immigrant neighborhoods in New York, such as the Irish, Italians, Latinos, and African-Americans. For anyone interested in the Irish experience  McLean/Woodlawn neighborhood is not to be missed.