In addition to numerous takeout establisments and casual eateries serving Latin food, Washington Heights and Inwood are home to bistros and upscale restaurants that also specialize in Latin flavors. Some of these restaurants hew to a specific national cuisine; others offer a medley of Latin American dishes. And a few especially adventurous restaurants pair their New World flavors with ingredients and techniques from countries as far-flung as Thailand and Japan.
597 West 207th Street (between Vermilyea Avenue and Broadway)
This convivial bar and grill touts itself as offering Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, but you’ll find dishes from several other Latin American countries peppering the menu too. Seafood aficionados will love the casuela de mariscos, a stew of Colombian origin that includes calamari, clams, lobster, mussels, and shrimp; those hungering for red meat will be happy to know that the restaurant considers churrasco its specialty. Can’t decide between seafood and meat? Go for the Latin version of surf and turf, mar y terra: lobster, shrimp, and steak happily sharing a plate. You’ll also find Mexican restaurant staples such as burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, and tacos with some less-common variations (snapper tacos, mushroom quesadillas). Or you can make an entire meal of appetizers, which include bisque de chipotle con maiz, a corn soup topped with shrimp; roasted corn on the cob served on a skewer and embellished with cotija cheese and chipotle mayo; and Guadalupe camarones, fried shrimp in a tortilla with mango and jicama served with more chipotle mayo.
4384 Broadway (near West 187th Street)
Pupusas are a specialty of La Cabaña Salvadoreña. Image: René Mayorga/Flickr
Another cozy storefront restaurant, La Cabaña Salvadoreña has been serving Salvadoran food and beverages since 1995. That means plenty of pupusas, thick tortillas made with corn flour or rice flour; these are served with everything from loroco, green unopened flower buds native to Central America, to pork to cheese. Another Salvadoran specialty on the menu is yuca, or cassava root, fried or boiled and served with pieces of fried pork. Like Guadalupe, La Cabaña Salvadoreña goes beyond the borders of its native land to fill out the menu, offering Mexican-style steak and chicken breast, and even chicken parmigiana and chicken francese. Whatever you order, wash it down with a Salvadoran beverage such as horchata (made from jicaro seeds ground with rice, cocoa, cinnamon, and other spices), parcha (passion fruit) juice, or morir soñando, a Creamsicle-like smoothie made with orange juice, evaporated milk, and sugar.
3764 Broadway (between West 156th and West 157th Streets)
La Libertad describes its cuisine as “Salvadorian-Latin-Italian.” With its brick and wood-planked walls and earthy hues, its dining room would be equally at home in Tuscany or Sonsonate. Penne vodka and fettuccini Alfredo are on the menu, but so are pupusas, mariscada (a stew featuring calamari, chayote squash, crabmeat, mussels, shrimp, and yuca), and grilled jalapeños as a side dish. The weekend brunch menu is equally global; options include huevos rancheros, eggs Florentine, chocolate-chip pancakes, and Cuban sandwiches.
247 Dyckman Street (between Seaman and Payson Avenues)
Not simply a café, Mamajuana is a full-fledged restaurant and bar that is open for dinner and weekend brunch, offers an extensive cocktail menu, and hosts events such as Indulge Fridays and I Love Mamajuana Saturdays with live deejays. New Latin dishes, some with a hint of Asian flavors, dominate. Start with croquettes made of yuca with chicken, pork, and shrimp, or plantains stuffed with fricasseed cod or ropa vieja, a type of stewed beef. For your entrée, you might find it difficult to choose from chivo al horno (oven-roasted goat) served with black beans and rice, salmon stuffed with crabmeat and topped with mango mojito sauce, and chicken breast stuffed with Dominican longaniza sausage and served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The drinks menu includes a variety of mojitos and innovative cocktails such as the Mamajuana Martini (rum and Bailey’s Irish Cream) and Coco Fire, which pairs house-made coconut liqueur with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire.
237 Dyckman Street (between Broadway and Seaman Avenue)
Not sure what Asian-Latino fusion cuisine encompasses? You will be after a meal at Mamasushi. As its name suggests, the restaurant has a sushi menu, but in addition to traditional rolls, you can opt for house rolls such as Peje y Parcha (salmon tempura and smoked salmon, bacon, sweet plantain, avocado, passion fruit sauce) or Las Terrenas (shrimp tempura, fried cheese, avocado, salmon, calamari, and coconut sauce). Traditional tempura is offered alongside specialties such as Camaron Tempura, a medley of shrimp tempura, bacon, sweet plantain, crispy white cheese, grilled steak or chicken, and an East-meets-West combo of spicy kani and sofrito sauces. The appetizer choices are similarly eclectic: Maine lobster with udon and smoked Gouda drizzled with truffle essence; crispy pork belly and goat cheese bites; a ceviche of the day; miso soup. If you simply cannot decide, you can select a five-course or seven-course omakase—chef’s choice—meal instead.
141 Nagle Avenue (between Sickles Street and Hillside Avenue)
Nebula Bar & Kitchen is another Latin-Asian fusion restaurant, though in this case Thai cuisine represents Asia. Spacious and bright, with a wall of glass doors that open onto the sidewalk in warm weather, the restaurant features unexpected flavor pairings in such dishes as pork chops served with Thai tamarind sauce over chicharon mofongo (fried mashed plantains with pork cracklings) and plantain chips with Thai chili shrimp. Or you can start with a Latin dish such as ceviche and follow it up with an Eastern entrée such as grilled salmon with Thai coconut curry sauce, or pair a traditional Asian appetizer such as shrimp shumai with a European entrée such as linguini and shrimp in a lemon-wine sauce.
223 Dyckman Street (between Broadway and Seaman Avenue)
A self-described Mexican grill and agave bar, Papasito boasts that it offers more than 150 tequilas (agave is a key ingredient in tequila). There is also a full list of wines, beers, and other libations to choose from, including pitchers of sangria and caipirinha. Rich in Mexican specialties, the food portion of the menu complements the beverages perfectly. Starters include tamales with bay scallops, lobster, shrimp, and avocado in a tequila cream sauce, quesadillas, tacos, and empanadas. Be sure to leave room for the entrees; among the offerings are enchiladas, chimichangas, herb-crusted chicken with garlic-tequila butter and malanga mash, and seafood paella with a nopal-poblano escabeche. If by some chance you’re still not sated, treat yourself to one of the homemade desserts such as chocolate flan, churros with cajeta (a Mexican caramel sauce), and quesillo, a type of cheesecake.
431 West 202nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
Japanese-Latin fusion at Sushi Mambo. Image: Shannon McGee/Flickr
Sushi Mambo’s chef, Mitsuhisa Nishio, was born to Japanese parents who immigrated to the Dominican Republic, which explains his Caribbean-Japanese cuisine. In addition to traditional Japanese appetizers and sushi rolls, the menu includes fusion rolls such as El Rey (chicken tempura, fried cheese, avocado, sweet plantain, and spicy kani sauce) and Latin Lover (lobster salad, cucumber, flying fish roe, sweet plantain, avocado, and a “hit of wasabi”). Entrees in the fusion vein include soba noodles with shrimp and Dominican seasoning and grilled salmon with raspberry ponzu sauce accompanied by garlic yuca mash, though other options include Dominican fried rice and bento boxes with tempura.