3 must-visit Hispanic restaurants in NYC

Fonda has been an NYC staple for more than a decade and celebrates regional Mexican cooking. Photo credit: Rachel Vanni

An upscale Washington Heights restaurant that’s showcasing Dominican food like no other in New York, a Mexican neighborhood staple where neighbors regularly walk in wearing flip-flops, and a Puerto Rican gem in the heart of Spanish Harlem that’s been going strong for more than 30 years—it’s clear that the breadth of Hispanic cooking is being proudly celebrated all across this city.

The start of Hispanic Heritage Month is just another reason to be excited to go to these restaurants, whether you’re a first-timer or a regular. With that, read on for three must-visit Hispanic restaurants in NYC.

Fonda (multiple locations)

A chiles en nogada dish at NYC restaurant Fonda with two green peppers sitting in a white sauce and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.

Fonda’s new Hispanic Heritage Month special, chiles en nogada, is a nod to Mexico’s flag. Photo credit: Fonda

Roberto Santibañez had already made a name for himself as the culinary director of the popular Rosa Mexicano restaurants in New York. But he craved a more neighborhoody vibe—and with that came the opening of Park Slope’s Fonda in 2009. Santibañez certainly hit the casual mark, as it’s not uncommon to see people here in sweatpants and slippers. 

“We are not pretentious,” Santibañez says. “You can come here to have a plate of enchiladas and a beer, and New Yorkers really appreciate that.”

In the years since debuting in Park Slope, Santibañez has added locations in Chelsea and Tribeca, where the same mantra holds true. Plus, the restaurant’s become a go-to destination for regional Mexican cooking. Rich Oaxacan mole negro is a favorite here, as are the braised duck-stuffed soft corn tortillas bathed in a spicy habañero sauce. A special for Hispanic Heritage Month is chiles en nogada, beef-stuffed poblano peppers in a fruity, creamy white sauce studded with pomegranate seeds—the green, white, and red a nod to the Mexican flag.

That’s because Santibañez and his team will never serve anything they won’t feed their families. “My team brings their families here because they feel proud of what we serve, and we make it from our hearts,” he says.

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Jalao (Washington Heights)

A whole fried fish placed on a wooden tray with condiments in small bowls around it at NYC Dominican restaurant Jalao.

Jalao spotlights upscale versions of Dominican staples like this whole fried fish with plenty of condiments for dipping. Photo credit: Jalao

Dominican restaurants are thriving in Washington Heights and Inwood, but no one’s showcasing the cuisine quite like MasterChef Dominican Republic winner Noemi Guzman is at her upscale Radio Hotel restaurant. “I wanted a place to represent Dominican culture in its highest form,” she says via a translator.

That means dishes are showstoppers: Pescado frito, or whole fried fish, arrives on a wooden tray with several condiments for dipping, like Dominican herb-and lime sauce wasaka. Sancocho, a traditional meat stew, is served in elegant ceramic bowls with thinly sliced avocado. And the goat croquettes are perfect, crispy golden-brown orbs to be dunked into the cilantro and basil aioli. “With every bite, I hope you’ll feel the happiness that Caribbean people represent,” Guzman says.

Jalao turns one with a celebration on September 28—it’s the best time to take in the restaurant’s colorful murals, the Carnival masks, live music, and dancing—and, of course, Guzman’s cooking chops.

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La Fonda (East Harlem)

La Fonda owner James Gonzalez serving customers at his East Harlem restaurant

La Fonda has been a haven for Puerto Rican food and community for more than 30 years. Photo credit: La Fonda

This more-than-30-year-old Spanish Harlem institution (not to be confused with Fonda) has changed owners a few times over the years, but one thing has remained constant: its dedication to serving top-notch Puerto Rican food. “There are very few dine-in Puerto Rican restaurants left in New York compared to 20 years ago,” says current owner James Gonzalez. “Keeping it alive is keeping our culture alive.”

And Gonzalez won’t rest there. He’s determined to get Puerto Rican food the respect it deserves and is gunning for a MICHELIN star. “We hope to someday be the first Puerto Rican restaurant to do that,” he says. 

To that end, no stone is left unturned in the kitchen. Many of the dishes require more than 20 ingredients and can often take between a couple of hours to a whole day to make. Mofongo, the garlicky fried plantains and meat dish, is a standout at La Fonda along with the pernil, roast pork shoulder that’s slowly prepared in an oven for six to eight hours for extra tenderness. 

Add to that the restaurant’s frequent live salsa performances, Latin jazz, and comedy nights—and this is a party you won’t want to miss.

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Tanay Warerkar is OpenTable’s NYC writer and a content marketing manager.