Friday, November 18, 2011

A Good Find in the Upper West: El Malecón

Cafe Con Leche at El Malecon
Two people can eat really well for $20 in New York.  And no, I’m not talking about upstate New York. I’m talking right here in the city I live, on the island of Manhattan. 

I discovered El Malecón the way most good food finds come- through a friend who lives next door to it.  Indeed, I do not have much of a reason to be hanging out on W. 97th and Amsterdam were it not for visiting this friend.  But the day she first took me to eat at this gem of a Puerto Rican restaurant was the day I started thinking up reasons I might need to spend more time in this far North section of the Upper West Side.

You see and hear the deliciousness of El Malecón before you taste it.  The store-front is plain (it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps) save for the golden brown chickens rotating in an endless circle on the window rotisserie.  And if you were to wonder the about the authenticity of this place, one pause to listen to the conversation at the busy tables and all doubts are put to rest- everyone speaks Spanish. 

Rotisserie chicken and all the fixins'
I don’t speak Spanish, gracias, but that wasn’t a problem.  The waiters speak English too.  I’ve been a couple of times and though the servers recommend a half a chicken per person, a half a chicken for two people to share is more than enough.  The reason is that this luscious bird comes with a lot of friends- yellow rice, black beans, and really excellent buttered bread.  Add sides of fried plantains and yucca, they might just have to roll you out the door. 

Boiled yucca with pickled red onions is as unappealing to eat as it is too look at.  But other than that one failure, every side I’ve had has been almost good enough to make a meal in of itself. 

Total cost for this feast for two with café con leche to finish? $15-$20, lunch or dinner.

The décor is plain and the service sometimes non existent (not unusual to be served food with no utensils with which to eat and no server in sight) but the food is really good, really filling, and a far cry from the pretension of “casual” restaurants in other unnamed neighborhoods.  I might not suggest El Malecón for date night, but for an Upper West Side adventure- say after a trip to the Natural History Museum or before catching a show at Symphony Space- this restaurant is just right. 

From one friend to another, you will thank me next time you are on the far Upper West looking for a place to eat.  You’re welcome.  Or as they say at El Malecón, de nada. 

El Malecón- 764 Amsterdam Ave (at 97th St.), New York, NY

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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