Admittedly, I do not make it to East Harlem enough. I know I am missing a whole lot of awesome regional Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican and pan-Spanish foods as well as tons of other foods and drinks, plus that general East Harlem sazón in the air. My loss. I will do better.
I finally broke my East Harlem drought a couple of weeks back when I headed across 125th Street to meet and eat at the 28-year strong, Lechonera La Isla (256 E. 125th St., between 2nd and 3rd avenues, 212-996-1972) for Uptown Restaurant Week. As I am the new associate producer of the Harlem EatUp! festival, my mission was to meet the owners and invite them to participate…and to enjoy crispy skin.
Just yards from the entrance to the Triborough Bridge, the small neon sign and spread of roast pork, sausage and cuchifrito beckoned me in. I had to two-step past the line of construction workers waiting for their orders and others at the counter digging into copious plates of food.
As soon as I got a seat I ordered the $10 special of roasted pork with rice and beans plus garlic sauce and habanero salsa. I made sure to shimmy my way back to the front to see the server clinically drop that cleaver repeatedly for the perfect serving.
When my order arrived, with no time to waste, I went straight for that skin! Crispy, flavorful and delicious. My fellow diners were not as hyped about the skin so I slid theirs on my plate for later.
Aside from the skin, the rest of the plate did not disappoint. The meat was tender and succulent. The beans were so good we got seconds and asked for the recipe, too. Son of the owners, Rosa and Hector Quinoz, Jonathan was generous to share the simple vegetarian recipe with us.
During our visit, the lunch line never died down. We all pushed our half empty plates away happy. I boxed it all up for another time. But before we could ask for the check, I was reminded one should never leave without having Rosa’s flan. Okay. They were right! Great texture, sweet but not too sweet.
And since the bacalao salad was looking at me from the fridge behind the counter, I decided to take it home, too. Salt cod seasoned with onions, peppers and garlic plus tender pieces of potato. It was gone in five minutes and the pork leftovers in three.
So, in conclusion, we learned lechón means “pork” and Lechonera La Isla means “damn, that’s good!”
Happy eating and thanks for reading!
Kysha Harris is a food writer and editor, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service in NYC for over 15 years. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @SCHOPgirl, on Facebook, /SCHOPnyc, and her blog, www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? Invitations! Email AmNewsFOOD at AmNewsFOOD@SCHOPnyc.com. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @NYAmNewsFOOD and tag us with #SoAmNewsFOOD with your food finds!