Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood, or El Barrio as it’s referred to by locals, boasts some of the city’s most vibrant and varied art, restaurant, and cultural scenes. Emphasizing the importance of community, East Harlem welcomes visitors and locals alike, making it a great place to explore and experience new things. Here are 10 of our favorite destinations in one of New York’s most inviting areas.
For nearly 40 years, art enthusiasts have been making the pilgrimage to New York City’s Graffiti Hall of Fame located in East Harlem. Local Ray “Sting Ray” Rodriguez created the attraction in 1980, back when street art wasn’t so respected, as a safe space for Harlem artists to hone their craft. Today, the open-air hall of fame, appropriately situated in a children’s schoolyard, still welcomes locals as well as far-flung artists, plus photographers and fans of the medium.
Blanka Amezkua, Untitled, 2016, Collage of text bubbles from recycled Mexican adult comic books | Courtesy of the artists
Its special attention to underrepresented artists of color sets El Museo Del Barrio apart amongst the city’s many art museums. While it was founded in 1969, the institution’s holdings span more than 800 years, making it the country’s “preeminent forum and resource” for Caribbean, Latino, and Latin American art. Some works in the 6,500-object permanent collection, such as 20th-century Nuyorican fine prints and contemporary art from New York-based Latino artists, can only be found here.
Ethnically diverse East Harlem is a haven for foodies, whose itinerary should include a trip to the neighborhood’s Taco Mix. This authentic Mexican taqueria serves one of the best tacos in New York City. Order the signature al pastor, spit-roasted pork caramelized with pineapple juice, and save room for a chorizo taco with homemade salsa.
Serious shoppers may be surprised to learn that one of New York City’s top antique shops calls the largely residential East Harlem home. Demolition Depot, located on Third Ave and 125th Street, comprises four stories of “irreplaceable artifacts,” including homewares and other objects salvaged from the now-defunct Biltmore and Vanderbilt Hotels. With items like vintage MTA Subway signs and imported British callboxes amongst its inventory, the Depot promises unique finds.
Opened in 2004, Ricardo Steak House is a pillar of the Harlem restaurant scene. The cuts, including a classic New York Strip and Ricardo’s fan-favorite T-bone steak, are the only steakhouse standard found here; an in-house DJ, décor by local artists, and made-to-order brunch drinks like the watermelon mimosa and double berry bellini remind diners they’re in East Harlem, a neighborhood that made the steakhouse its own.
Central Park is easily accessible from both East and West Harlem, though the former grants visitors a direct path to one of the park’s best-kept secrets. Open the iron gate, made in Paris in 1894, on Fifth Avenue and 104th Street, and be transported to Italy, France, and England by way of the Central Park Conservatory Gardens. Comprising three gardens with distinct styles—Italian (tiered hedges and a 12-foot-high jet fountain), French (Walter Schott’s romantic Three Dancing Maidens sculpture), and English (shrubs and perennial plants)—this attraction brings a piece of Europe to the U.S.
The original Patsy’s Pizzeria at First Ave and 118th Street is the same as longtime locals will remember it. The historic pizzeria has been serving East Harlem since 1933 when it perfected the coal-fired pie that would bring in Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, Francis Ford Coppola, and generations of food lovers.
La Marqueta is beloved by East Harlem residents, who have witnessed the 82-year-old attraction evolve along with the neighborhood. The Park Avenue Retail Market opened in 1936 just as East Harlem began its 30-year transition into Spanish Harlem. The market became La Marqueta—a space where Latino New Yorkers could and can continue to find ethnic foods that are not widely available, live traditional music, and a strong sense of comunidad, or community.
Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes lived in East Harlem from 1947 to 1967. His 1869-built brownstone at Fifth Ave and 127th Street is now on the National Register of Historic Places and the home of Harlem nonprofit I, Too Arts Collective. At events, including public readings and writing workshops, explore the home of a legendary artist while supporting those whom he inspired.