New York is a world city where you can get a feel for dozens of cultures without even leaving your 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.
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.)
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’:
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 two 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 the mom, Natalia, is known to whip up specialties on the fly.
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.
Mexicozina (two locations)
503 Jackson Ave. and 444 E 149th Street
Bronx, NY 10455
Originally a tiny restaurant on the other side of 149th St. so small that you were practically sharing a table with other diners, the owner has moved closer to the Hub, where the action is, opening up two restaurants. This is one of few places nearby that sell drinks, so order a sangria or margarita on the rocks. The location on 149 St. gets packed, especially during the day, though the trade off is that there is an enclosed porch in back for the warmer months.
The newest kid on the block, this restaurant not only serves up traditional Mexican food, but throw 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.
Learn more about these restaurants and the South Bronx’s growing Mexican community.