Sunday, February 1, 2009

East Harlem 101

Technically East Harlem – also know as El Barrio or Spanish Harlem – starts at 96th St. and goes up to 125th St. from Central Park to the East River. But most people think it starts a bit further up – around 100th St. It's a culturally diverse neighborhood – settled either temporarily or permanently by immigrants since the late 1800s. The first to settle in the area were the Germans, then the Irish and Italians – whose mark is still felt by certain restaurants and shops mostly east of 1st Ave. Much of East Harlem's culture is currently defined by the recent immigrants from Puerto Rico and Mexico getting the nicknames Spanish Harlem and El Barrio (or "the neighborhood" in Spanish). Recently, as East Harlem's story continues to be written, the area has become more gentrified as new buildings go up and the area becomes the new destination for those priced out of lower areas of Manhattan.

Read Up on Your Hood, Some Great East Harlem Books:
In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio
by: Philippe Bourgois
A sociology view of East Harlem in the late 80's during the height of the crack-epidemic there. A sad and powerful look into the area. You'll see how far East Harlem has come.

The Tenants of East Harlem
by: Russell Leigh Sharman
The lives of seven East Harlem residents tell the story of the area's immigration and history. Included in this work is the life of the author, a recent East Harlem resident.

Flying Over 96th Street: Memoir of an East Harlem White Boy

by: Thomas L. Webber
A coming-of-age memoir from a man who's minister father moves the family to East Harlem in the 1950s.

Ricardo Steak House

The VIP Section of East Harlem

The party spills out onto 2nd Ave in front of East Harlem's Ricardo Steakhouse almost every night. If you see strings of lights hanging outside and hear pumping music coming from inside you know you've found the right pace. Walking into this restaurant is like being welcomed into the VIP section of a new East Harlem. You're greeted by excited hostesses and read the list of enticing specials by enthusiastic waiters. If you want a break from the music the outdoor patio in the back offers some quiet and privacy, and it's covered and heated in the cooler months.

The restaurant is large but manages to be homey with bright paintings along the walls and an open kitchen. There isn't a bad cut of steak here, but the oysters and the mixed grill are also worth a try. If you are eating with an East Harlem skeptic – someone who doesn't believe you can get a fantastic meal in the area – take them here. And don't forget this place when you're out with a large party, they sing a powerful "Happy Birthday."

The restaurant is currently expanding. There will be a second floor and a lounge area coming soon.

Location: 2145 2nd Avenue, between 110th and 111th Streets.

Phone: (212) 289-5895

Recommended Dishes/Drinks: Ricardo Mixed Grill, Ricardo Filet Mignon, New York Strip, Margaritas
Average Dish Price: $26

Ricado Steak House