Years pass and trends go with them, but the dishes at New York's oldest Latin restaurants and the emotions they evoke, continue to lure in crowds no matter the weather or the economic climate. These historic gems have the unique ability to adapt to changing sensibilities while still maintaining their charm, and of course, their time-honored recipes.
Though their stories and cuisines differ, these five classic New York City restaurants all started with the same goal: to cater to a transplanted Latin community searching for the taste of home. It just so happens that they hit the mark so precisely that they continue to please crowds decades later. Click on to see where you should be eating.
First established in 1959, El Parador is the oldest Mexican restaurant in New York City. In its 55 years, El Parador has served countless patrons, including Angela Lansbury, Walter Cronkite, and even members of the Kennedy family.
Clearly, they’re doing something very right, perhaps their classic menu items. Their Mole Poblano, the national dish of Mexico, is made just the way abuela made it with a complex and slow-simmered sauce. And that house margarita? It was the first margarita ever served in New York City. It’s a perfect recipe that’s never gone out of style.
But El Parador's tried and true traditional classics are only the beginning; they are equally focused on contemporary Mexican cooking and have incorporated new classics (like these Baja California Fish Tacos served with an avocado and tomatillo salsa). With options like that, they'll be open for another 55 years, at least.
Closely associated with the the Spanish Benevolent Society (Centro Español) located just above it, La Nacional is, in a way, the oldest Spanish restaurant in all of New York City as it was established in 1886. However, it’s not officially awarded this distinction since it served exclusively Spanish members of El Centro for the first 100 years it was in operation.
Now open to the public, La Nacional stays very true to its heritage, with a menu replete with rustic Spanish favorites done correctly: with care and time. Pillowy croquetas are served hot out of the fryer, and platos camperos are brimming with jamon Serrano, cured chorizo, and salty queso manchego. Needless to say, their paella nacional can't be missed: huge portions of saffron rice are made to order, with assorted seafood, chicken, green peas, and piquillo peppers.
Rumors recently circulated that this important piece of New York history was closing its doors after 84 years of operation. Thankfully, these rumors were laid to rest when confused patrons learned that the restaurant was simply bought by Chelsea Hotels CEO, Ed Scheetz, who intends to retain the restaurant's integrity and charm.
A diverse crowd frequents this restaurant: Chelsea natives returning to their beloved watering hole, newcomers anxious to hear the stories El Quijote has garnered after 85 years next to the Hotel Chelsea, and foodies who seek the promise of traditional Spanish cuisine. No matter which group you belong to, you'll surely leave with a smile, especially if you order El Quijote's caldo gallego, one of the best (if not the best) in the city. Peruse their extensive menu and settle down to a meal of huge, shareable portions.
Victor del Corral and his family first opened Victor's Cafe in the Upper West side in 1963. After a runaway success, they outgrew their space and moved to a larger locale on 52nd street, where they're still going strong as a pre and post-theater crowd favorite.
As always, this restaurant and bar caters to its star-studded clientele with a menu of both traditional and modern Cuban favorites. More than five decades of business proves that this Cuban joint's ropa vieja can't be beat; the skirt steak is simmered in tomato sauce, garlic, onions, and peppers for a hearty and beloved dish that goes perfectly with a side of maduros and a couple mojitos.
Taza De Oro
This hole in the wall has been serving stateside Caribbeans since 1957. For almost 60 years, Puerto Ricans starved for the comforts of home have walked through this door for the taste of their childhood. Certain staples are always available but a good part of the menu changes everyday, so be sure to call ahead when you go (when, not if).
Though this gem hidden in Chelsea serves up the usual favorite crowd-pleasers like fried chicharrones de pollo and pernil, arguably, the best part of this no frills joint are the rustic classics usually only found at your abuela's house. Try dishes like salted cod salad, tripe stew (mondongo) and liver with sautéed onions (higado encebollado).