la Fonda Boricua
el Barrio, New York City

la Fonda Boricua, el Barrio, New York City
1169 East 106th St. (bet Lexington & Third Aves)
New York City, NY – (212) 410-72929

Ten years ago, on the corner of 106th Street and Third Avenue in the heart of East Harlem (known to us locals as ‘El Barrio’), you would have found a small luncheonette called ‘George & Ginas’. Virgenes Diaz, or ‘Gina’ as she was affectionately known, had owned several successful eateries in the neighborhood. But it was this one – her last one – which would become the East Harlem icon that today is known as La Fonda Boricua.

In 2000, the stage widened, when Jorge’s brother Roberto arrived from Puerto Rico to help him expand the business. The two brothers would prove an excellent team, doubling the size of La Fonda in a year, and adding a robust catering service component to their young business.

La Fonda is now a spacious place with exposed brick walls, plants and comfortable seating for 75. The walls are filled with paintings, from artists like Fernando Salicrup, Marcos Dimas, and Jose Morales.

While that is enough to draw you in, the food makes you want to stay, like a mellow octopus salad ($10), in which tender pieces of meat are mixed with cubed peppers and onions, cilantro and a lightly peppery vinaigrette. Chicharrones of pork ($6) is another such dish — chunks of pork, each with a crisp layer of skin, a glistening line of fat over tender meat. Each bite is superbly flavorful and incredibly rich. Chicharrones of chicken ($6) is Caribbean fried chicken, crisp and greaseless, with each piece seemingly offering its own flavor.

Pork dishes include roast port shoulder ($7), full of garlic and pepper with pieces of crisp skin tossed in and chewy, satisfying baked pork chops ($6) smothered in onions. Steak ($6), marinated in tangy citrus juice and pounded thin, is remarkably tender and also comes covered in onions. Arroz con pollo ($6), classic Puerto Rican dish of flavorful, slightly smoky chicken surrounded by yellow rice, is also satisfying.

So if you’ve never been, I hope you’ll stop by soon for a true taste of Puerto Rican hospitality in the historic neighborhood of East Harlem. And if you are already a loyal and regular customer, I’ve got good news for you too: The best is yet to come.