A Visual Tour of Spanish Harlem (Gallery)

There's more to 116th Street than just tacos.

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Each week, First We Feast photographer Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay) grabs her camera and hits the streets to explore a different aspect of the food world. Here, she shares her photos and stories.

This week, I ventured to the heart of Spanish Harlem—116th Street—where I met my friend (and FWF contributor) Robert Sietsema for a lunch of tacos and shrimp a la diabla at La Cabana. Sometimes, I love shooting simple dishes like these even more than the artfully composed plates of trendier downtown restaurants—it’s just tough to beat the simple colors and textures of rice, beans, and a pile of shrimp simmered in chipotle sauce.

After finishing our lunch, we walked further along the block and stopped inside Casa el Rodeo, which is notable for food-lovers because of the small stand, Quesadilla Maty, out front. The store inside is packed with shelves of cowboy boots made from alligator skin, along with sombreros, shirts, and belts. The small quesadilla stand under the building facade consists of a small flattop, where an older woman griddles fresh tortillas that she stuffs with meats and serves with cold Jarritos and bowls of pepitas.

For me, what stands out about the area is all the color everywhere—neon-lit signs, bright produce in the streets, and stores full of festive tchotchkes. Robert and I continued walking east along 116th, passing old brownstones and buildings, and stopping inside a pastry shop where a baker was pulling puffy rolls, churros, bisquets, and cookies out of the oven.

The diversity of the area also makes it a fascinating place to explore—within a few blocks, you can eat Poblano-style taco placero, sit at one of the city’s oldest lechoneras, grab a quintessential New York slice at Patsy’s, and pop into a Chinese bakery.

 

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