Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Jessamyn Rodriguez's East Harlem
Jessamyn Rodriguez is a serious eater in every sense of the term. The first female bread baker in Restaurant Daniel's bread-baking program, Jessamyn went on to combine her baking talents with her passion for social justice by starting Hot Bread Kitchen, the not-for-profit social enterprise bakery that provides paid bread baking training to foreign born, low-income women. Up until now, their delicious bread was mostly available in greenmarkets and restaurants in New York. The organization, which operates out of Spanish Harlem, has recently grown to include their own storefront, Hot Bread Almacen, in the market space La Marqueta.
Jessamyn spends much of her time at this space, a home-away-from-home, nibbling on bites from other vendors or chowing down on El Almacen's Bialy al Barrio breakfast sandwich. But when she gets off work, she likes to take her daughter out for tacos or mariachi in East Harlem, occasionally hoofing it to the West side for a particularly strong, well-deserved cocktail.
Breakfast: Jahlookova Health Mart does the best smoothies and juices. I go on the weekends and get the carrot ginger juice, which is super spicy and gingery.
Sandwich: Café Ollin is a Mexican place that makes a carnitas cemita with avocado, queso fresco, beans, tomato, onions, chipotle, and peppers. You have to get everything on it: it's big enough to feed a family. I get it delivered to work.
Dive bar: Lolita's is a Mexican restaurant, but they have mariachi music there. I go with my daughter for happy hour since she likes the mariachi. The flautas are pretty good too. I wouldn't recommend the other food, but the beer is cold and the mariachi is fun.
Bar food: I recently discovered that Earl's Beer and Cheese is a great after-work drinks place. The menu is really limited, and they don't accept substitutions, but their pairings for the grilled cheeses are great. I'll get whatever grilled cheese is on the menu, and one of their great beers on tap.
Takeout: For Latin, I go to El Barrio Restaurant. They do Dominican-style arroz y habichuelas. When I'm starting to feel a cold coming on, I'll go for the caldo de pollo. For $4, they give you like a whole chicken and a ton of garlicky broth.
Friday night meal: Going to Fishers of Men is the ideal way to end the week. I order the fried fish; I like the whiting. They do sides of mac and cheese which is really delicious.
Dessert: Beurre and Sel is a great new cookie bakery in La Marqueta. The World Peace cookie is a chocolate-y number that's really over the top. It's a great afternoon snack since it has a lot of bittersweet chocolate to wake you up late. All of their cookies are creamy, delicious, and filled with butter.
Date night: Fonda Boriqua was closed for renovation for a while, but they're back now. It's Puerto Rican food, so we get the roast chicken, rice and beans, plantains, and Presidentes. It's like a cantina, and dark, with wood walls.
Late-night eats: After a late night of baking, Taco Mix is one of my favorite places. It reminds me of being in Mexico City. They have a bubbling, boiling urn of fresh pork cooking all the time, and they serve the most authentic al pastor: theirs is done on a pork rotisserie with pineapple on top. Their oreja (pig's ear) taco is more adventurous, but totally amazing. They also have the best variety of toppings: a whole bunch of pickled peppers, radishes, limes, spicy chili peppers that you can select from out on the counter. It's a stand-up place, good for a quick lunch or late-night snack.
Can't-miss neighborhood spot: La Casa Azul is a really cool bookstore, very off-the-beaten-path. They do a lot of readings there, and have a café where they serve coffee and pastries.
And if you don't mind venturing to West Harlem ...
Coffee: On the weekends, I go to Levain Bakery. I order an Americano, and get it with the coffee cake, which is really good.
Pizza: Bad Horse does really good specialty pizzas with super thin-crusts. I don't usually order vegetarian pizza, but theirs pizza has really delicious marinated eggplant.
Beer garden: Bier International is a German beer garden, with really good sausages and potatoes. It's fun on the weekends.
Cocktail bar: I live right by 67 Orange. You can't see inside, so I was intimidated to go in at first. I love their "Upper Manhattan": it's a riff on the Manhattan, and the first time I had it, it totally knocked my socks off.