New York City Food Tour #6: Dominicans in Washington Heights


Traditional Dominican Candies

In his book, Drown, Junot Diaz was right. Washington Heights = Little DR.

Washington Heights, “WAHI” as it is now coined by real estate moguls is synonymous with “Dominican” in NYC. As a Domininican-American myself, this is where I would go to visit my dad’s side of the family. Personally, WAHI was synonymous with baseball, Merengue oozing out of barred windows, apartments where the sazon from some grandma’s cooking formed part of the festival of Dominican-food-smells that emanated from the hallways. Sancocho. Habichuelas con dulce. Empanadas. Tostones. All together in one big cloud in front of apartment 9A.

Welcome to the Heights.


Because we pronounce it “jonron” and not “homerun”

Once a Jewish, Irish -turned- Greek neighborhood in the 80s and 90s, Washington Heights gained popularity among Dominican immigrants who one could say found a similar island home on the tip of Manhattan, one bounded by two rivers.


According to a CUNY monograph, “Washington Heights serves as an intermediary point of settlement, a place where Dominicans can speak Spanish, meet fellow Dominicans, attend mass in Spanish, shop in bodegas, listen to merengue, and remain encapsulated within a Hispanic culture. Voluntary associations and organized public events are not the primary expression of the migrants’ transnational identity, but rather the informal practices of everyday life. Through popular culture, especially through spoken language, music, food, and religion, Dominicans celebrate their sense of belonging to a transnational group. In essence, Washington Heights rekindles the spirit of a moral community among Dominican immigrants in New York City, thereby reinventing Quisqueya on the Hudson.”

With over 66% of all individuals in Washington Heights being Dominican, it forms part of the single largest ethnic community in New York City — one that spans 50 blocks of the city.





Coconut Milk for Days

In one of these 50 blocks, you can indulge in Johnnycakes – in DR pronounced “johhny-ca-kae” — which interestingly enough is a cornmeal flatbread which originated from Native Americans in the US and is still eaten in the West Indies, Jamaica, and in parts of Colombia, the Bahamas, and Saint Croix.

PB033887.JPGAll Kinds of Empanadas

Find yourself a chicharron (pork rinds) street cart — don’t forget to ask for a lime slice and some guineitos (boiled bananas).

PB033884.JPGTraditional Dominican Bizcoho (cake)

Also have some Kippes – an adopted dish from Lebanon– thanks to the Lebanese migration to the island in the 19th century.


And of course, some Mofongo at either the Malecon or La Casa Del Mofongo — yes, it is a traditionally Puerto Rican dish, but we have adopted it and adopted it well.


Just get ready to practice your Spanish.

Places of Interest: 

Take the A or C to 168th Street and Broadway

1.    El Monantial Bakery: 1220 St. Nicholas Ave (between 171st St & 172nd St)

2.    Empanadas Monumental: 4093 Broadway (between 172nd St & 173rd St)

212-923-9300, Hours: M-T: 9 am -11 pm, F & Sa: 9-2am, S: 10am-11.30pm

3.    Malecon Restaurant: 4141 Broadway (between 175th St & 176th St)

212-927-3812: Hours: M-F: 7-1am, Sa & S: 7-2am

4.    El Panadero Bakery: 1380 St. Nicholas Ave (at the corner of 179th St)

5.    Esmeraldo Bakery: 538 W 181st St (between Amsterdam Ave & Audubon Ave):

6.    Habichuelas con dulce Carts: St Nicholas Ave (at the corner of 182nd St)

7.    Malady Chicharrones Cart: St Nicholas Ave (at the corner of 182nd St)

8.    Fresh Shaved Ice or Delicioso Coco Helado Carts (seasonal): St. Nicholas Ave (around 181st St to 183rd St)

9.    La Casa Del Mofongo: 1447 St. Nicholas Ave (between 182nd St & 183rd St): 212-740-1200: Hours: 24/7

10.Tu Pais Supermarket: 1464 St. Nicholas Ave (between 184th & 183rd St): Hours: M-Sa: 7.30am-9am, S: 7.30am – 8am

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