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Noah Sheidlower / Columbia Daily Spectator

Spectator explores some of the fantastic yet underrated Latin American eateries in the Columbia area.

With a population that is approximately 44 percent Latinx or Hispanic, Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights feature a wide array of Latinx cuisines ranging from Puerto Rican to Dominican to Oaxacan fare. Some of these restaurants have taken a hit amid the pandemic: Cascabel Taqueria, a restaurant on Broadway specializing in Mexican-style street food and beverages, has permanently closed, while Cuban eatery Harlem’s Floridita and Dominican restaurant El Nuevo Tina remain temporarily shuttered. Still, 14 Latin American eateries in the Columbia area remain open, ready for Columbia-affiliated patronage.

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, which traditionally honors both Hispanic and Latinx Americans, Spectator explores some of the fantastic yet underrated Latin American eateries in the Columbia area.

Tropical Sensation, 953 Amsterdam Avenue

Just a few blocks from campus, Tropical Sensation offers classic Dominican and Puerto Rican fare in an informal, yet festive atmosphere. Featuring curbside outdoor seating, Tropical Sensation specializes in seafood and grilled meats, as well as regional specialties like locrio, a yellow rice dish with longaniza sausage.

Meals begin with popular starters such as Dominican-style empanadas, chicken wings in a guava-passion fruit barbecue sauce, and chicken croquettes. After, Tropical Sensation serves specialty dishes like mofongo—a Puerto Rican dish made with mashed fried green plantains or yucca and accompanied by options like fried Dominican cheese, chicken, or chicharron—while also breathing new life into traditional dishes like ropa vieja, a Cuban shredded skirt steak stewed in a tomato sauce. Their options of atlantic salmon, filet of sole, and red snapper stand out among the seafood options available.

Also notable are their fusion pasta dishes, which blend Latin cooking with Italian cuisine. Dishes such as Caribbean-style lasagna stand out among more traditional fare like breaded eggplant parmigiana and breaded shrimp smothered in marinara sauce with cheese and pasta.

Don Ramon, 973 Columbus Avenue

Opened in 2018, Don Ramon is a small Dominican restaurant on Columbus Avenue that offers affordable breakfast and dinner options. Tiny colorful flags blow in the wind above the restaurant’s simple black awning as diners enjoy traditional Dominican dishes alongside passion fruit and tamarind juices.

Like Tropical Sensation, Don Ramon offers a selection of mofongo dishes as well as seafood like shrimp and salmon prepared in garlic and Creole-inspired sauces. Chicken is featured prominently on their menu and stars in dishes like roasted chicken with rice and beans, lemon chicken, and French-style chicken with mushroom sauce. Among the eatery’s heartwarming and creative soups is mondongo prepared with tripe and sancocho—a hearty soup made with beef and potatoes.

Don Ramon offers over a dozen daily specials including goat stew, stewed oxtail in a garlicky and delectable sauce, roasted pork called pernil, and pepper steak with onions.

Coma Bueno, 944 Columbus Avenue

With a similar menu to nearby Don Ramon, Coma Bueno is a hole in the wall Dominican eatery currently offering outdoor seating for diners craving mofongo or classic Dominican sandwiches. With a laid-back, diner-style interior, the eatery remains a staple of Columbus Avenue’s diverse culinary scene.

Notable dishes at Coma Bueno include chicken in a wine sauce, breaded steak alongside fried plantains called tostones, and fish in a light coconut sauce. Chuletas, or grilled pork chops, are among Coma Bueno’s specialties. In addition to a number of Dominican rice dishes, Coma Bueno also offers traditional pastries like papaya cake and coconut pudding.

Acosta Restaurant, 934 Amsterdam Avenue

The tiny Acosta Restaurant serves up a number of unique Dominican dishes. The cramped but cozy interior features a large hot plate with colorful daily specials such as chicken stews, tender beef, and sweet plantains.

Among the restaurant’s specialties are their Acosta-style juicy steak with rice and beans, fried chicken chunks, and mofongo. Acosta’s menu includes a number of specialties like soupy rice with shrimp, stewed codfish, sauteed pig feet, and rice with chicken gizzards. The restaurant also offers family combinations with options like whiting, pork chops, grilled chicken, and boneless chicken with a number of Dominican side dishes.

Taqueria Y Fonda, 968 Amsterdam Avenue

A staple of Columbia’s dining scene, Taqueria Y Fonda is a popular Mexican eatery known for its street-style fare. With lime-green walls and a lively atmosphere, students have historically sought out the restaurant for its relatively affordable prices and vibrant flavors.

Before indulging in Taqueria Y Fonda’s signature tacos, diners often enjoy spicy chilate soup with herbs, fish soup, and cactus salad. Tacos range from the more typical chorizo, al pastor, and carne asada to the less common tripe, pork ear, and beef tongue.

In addition to their famous tacos, Taqueria Y Fonda also offers a variety of creative entrees like pipian— your choice of meat served in a pumpkin seed sauce; mole rojo, chicken prepared in a sweet red sauce with peppers, raisins, and chocolate; and chile ajo featuring dried guajillo chiles and meat in a garlic sauce. More typical dishes such as enchiladas, quesadillas, and tostadas also feature prominently on the menu alongside alambres, a kind of deconstructed taco with choice of meat, guacamole, bacon, and Oaxaca cheese over tortilla.

Panchos, 964 Amsterdam Avenue

A few doors down from Taqueria Y Fonda, Panchos serves traditional Mexican fare at cheaper prices than Taqueria Y Fonda, but with a smaller menu. The tiny restaurant with a few tables outside offers both Mexican cuisine and more American-style options like omelettes, hamburgers, heroes, and gyros.

Their Mexican breakfasts include huevos rancheros with chorizo, eggs with steak, and a breakfast burrito with chorizo and mozzarella. Tacos, tortas, nachos, and burritos are served with a choice of pork, chicken, chorizo, al pastor, fish, salted beef called cecina, and a few other options. Panchos also offers sopes, small tortillas with rounded edges served with a choice of protein; chilaquiles, corn tortillas lightly fried with queso fresco; and molletes, an open-faced sandwich with beans and cheese.

El Puerto Seafood, 511 W 125th Street

Part-seafood market and part-restaurant, El Puerto Seafood prepares a large variety of seafood using traditional Puerto Rican and Dominican influences. This “little piece of City Island on 125th Street,” as the eatery is billed on its website, offers over 60 seafood dishes prepared alongside fried green plantains, fried sweet potatoes, and vegetables.

Among El Puerto’s fried seafood options are locally sourced blue snapper, porgy, kingfish, and red snapper. Most seafood options, including scallops, snow crab, and blue crab are also served steamed. Many chef’s specialties are hard to find elsewhere in West Harlem, including conch meat, stuffed lobster tail with crab meat, and mofongo with squid and mussels. Also notable is their asopao, a Puerto Rican stew with rice and seafood like shrimp and lobster.

Deputy editor Noah Sheidlower can be contacted at noah.sheidlower@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Tropical Sensation Don Ramon Coma Bueno Acosta Restaurant Taqueria Y Fonda Panchos El Puerto Seafood Cuisine Noah Sheidlower
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