Insider's Guide to El Barrio

El Museo del Barrio
Jul 22, 2015 6:52PM

A quick guide to El Barrio! Here you'll find a list of restaurants that offer a piece of Latin American culture through their cuisines, music shops and bookstores that perpetuate the sounds and languages of the people, and inspiring public works of art by Latin American, Central American, and Caribbean artists. 

Written by: Camila Arria-Maury

The rich, vibrant, Puerto Rican culture here in El Barrio is something that can only be experienced by a complete immersion. The unique restaurants, stores and murals in this neighborhood all have something to offer during your visit to El Museo.

An appreciation of cuisine, a centerpiece for almost any culture, permeates throughout the neighborhood. Restaurant San Cristobal, located at 339 east 108th street, offers home-style Mexican food, including their famous cemitas, in a comfortable, home-like atmosphere. Amor Cubano, found at 2018 east 111th street on 3rd avenue, serves Cuban cuisine and boasts specialties such as vaca frita, sopa de pollo, and an El Cubano sandwich. Wednesdays-Sundays, this homey restaurant’s staff puts on live musical performances that the whole family will enjoy.

El Kallejon, a cash only establishment, offers Latin fusion cuisine and is located at 209 east 117th street. It serves dishes like tapas, ceviches, tostas, fundidos, and tacos.  Along with a variety of sangrias, this locale possesses a backyard area for warmer weather, and also puts on live musical shows on weekends. The loungey, relaxed atmosphere is definitely something to experience while visiting the neighborhood.  Another cash only restaurant is called Camaradas El Barrio. Located at 2241 115th street and 1st avenue, this rustic, downtown chic inspired destination offers Puerto Rican tapas-style meals as well as delicious empanadas. DJs and local musicians are commonly seen eating here.

A cozy family-owned café, Cascalote Latin Bistro, located at 2126 east between 109th and 110th streets on 2nd avenue, boasts a blend of classic Latin dishes. Peruvian-style roasted chicken, paella, grilled pork chops, tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are only some of the foods you will find here. If you’re left with some space after enjoying your meal, their flan and tres leches desserts are definitely worth a taste. Serving some of the best coffee in El Barrio, the East Harlem Café, at 1651 east 104th street, also provides visitors with the chance to participate in a library book exchange, weekly open mics, and live soul music the last Sunday of every month. 

Founded in 1936, La Marqueta, a large market space in the neighborhood on 115th street and Park avenue, is home to an ever-growing number of market sellers. Mama Grace’s Afro-Caribbean Food, Velez Grocery, and Viva Produce, are only three of the many stands that remain in business after upwards of 20 years of experience at La Marqueta. It is open Mondays-Wednesdays from 8am-5pm and Thursdays-Saturdays from 8am-6pm. Another market, the Casablanca Meat Market on 110th street between Lexington and Park avenues, is a family-owned butcher shop that was established in 1949.  This butcher shop keeps community members supplied with the freshest cuts of meat in the neighborhood and can even provide clients with a whole pig for roasting. (With two weeks advanced notice!)

Music and literature are two other aspects of Latin culture that are well represented in El Barrio. Casa Latina Music Shop, 151 east 116th street between Lexington and 3rd avenues, is a family-owned and operated Latin music store.  There you can expect to find all types of Latin music, videos, instruments, and rare collectibles. It is open Mondays-Saturdays from 9am-6pm and is definitely worth a visit. La Casa Azul Bookstore, located at 143 east 103rd street between Lexington and Park avenues, is a staple to the community. Serving as a meeting space for the community, La Casa Azul carries novels in both English and Spanish, as well as children’s books in both languages. The bookstore also holds frequent author readings, book clubs and film screenings. Although it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, it is open on Wednesdays-Saturdays from 12pm-8pm and on Sundays from 12pm-6pm. This establishment is a must-see in the neighborhood during your visit to El Museo. 

Thanks to El Museo’s location on 5th avenue between 104th and 105th streets, the Conservatory Garden is easily accessible. Entered through Vanderbilt Gate on 105th and 5th avenue, this section of Central Park is something the whole family will enjoy. The Garden itself is 6 acres and possesses 3 separate garden areas: the north garden, the central garden, and the south garden.  In the north garden, there is a fountain called Untermyer fountain and it houses a popular bronze statue by Walter Schott called Three Dancing Maidens. The central garden has a large lawn surrounded by hedges and white and pink spring-blooming crabapple trees. There is also a walkway on the far end of the garden that is covered by a beautiful wisteria. The south garden is home to Frances Hodgeson Burnett Memorial Fountain, a tribute made by Bessie Potter Vonnoh to the author of The Secret Garden. The two main characters, Mary and Dickon, stand at one end of a small water lily pool. The Conservatory Garden, an official Quiet Zone, offers the perfect environment to take a walk, to read or to hold an intimate event like a wedding. It is the perfect way to end a busy day of neighborhood sightseeing.     

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“Los Muros Hablan”, an international urban art and music festival, was brought to El Barrio by La Respuesta, a leading Puerto Rican art center. The project looks for abandoned or unused spaces, mostly sides of buildings and walls, for artists to decorate as they deem appropriate. Artists from all over Latin and Central America as well as the Caribbean came to El Barrio to leave a fragment of themselves and of their beliefs behind. All of these murals were done during the “Los Muros Hablan” event in 2013.

Axel Void, born in 1986 to a Haitian mother and Spanish father, is one of the artists who contributed to LMH. His mural on 103rd street and 2nd avenue is a mural based on a photo taken by Martha Cooper in 1978. Void was able to collaborate with Cooper in the making of this mural. It depicts young boys in New York building a house out of scraps.

LNY, Lunar New Year, is an anonymous artist from Cuenca, Ecuador. At the age of 14, inspired by the open-air political graffiti he saw growing up, he moved to west New York. Now, he creates art all over the world. In an interview with a little over a year ago, LNY explained the meaning behind this mural on 100th street between 3rd and 2nd avenues called “The End of Race”. He used the image of a Bronx native he met whose name was “Libertad”, “liberty” in Spanish. She is depicted holding her child, surrounded by the walls of the Freedom Tower, One World Trade. "The simplest metaphor for this would be there's a rebirth or the future of the U.S. represented through World Trade One," LNY said. "But it's also about the resurgence of this generation of people that are like myself. I feel really good that I can represent that."

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Another mural, created by Celso González and Roberto Biaggi (Cero Design & Built, Inc.), can be found on 116th street between Madison and Park avenues. Both artists are from Puerto Rico and have had a lot of experience working together. This mosaic mural, “Duality”, features a beautiful, colorful, mirrored bird that brings energy to the community. 

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David “Don Rimx” Sepulveda Cruz was born and raised in San Juan, PR in public housing developments. Don Rimx grew interested in drawing at very young age, exploring the blend of classical and modern art methods. His murals reflect classical art techniques as well as a mix of modern techniques. Although having come across some criticism, this mural of a chicken head, located on 100th street between 3rd and Lexington avenues, remains a vibrant contribution to the neighborhood.

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On 111th street between 3rd and Lexington avenues, you’ll find a mural by Jufe. Juan Fernández Rivera, born in 1985 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico uses his own unique style to paint his murals. Employing different methods of painting such as pointillism, tracing, and wire framing, Jufe creates murals that have great depth and leave the viewer momentarily speechless despite the seemingly simple result. 

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If you’re left wanting more places to visit, El Museo offers Around the Block Tours from late April through late September. This program consists of a sensory-rich walking tour of El Barrio, which allows visitors to take in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. Stops include local businesses, murals, community gardens, and cultural institutions. Check them out Here!

El Museo del Barrio