In the years following the Cuban Revolution, New York City welcomed large numbers of Cuban-Chinese immigrants, and during the 1960s and ’70s, restaurants serving these new residents’ food abounded. This isn’t fusion cooking like Peruvian chifa; rather, it’s a mash-up of both Latin American and Chinese cuisines offered separately, side-by-side. Once a common sight on the Upper West Side and in Chelsea, these restaurants have slowly disappeared as the neighborhoods have changed; the people who built them embrace retirement and old age. This year, Washington Heights lost the beloved Jimmy Oro, and Chelsea’s seen the demise of La Nueva Rampa, La Chinita Linda, and Mi Chinita, to name a few. But remnants of this once-thriving type of restaurant still dot the landscape, and the Garment District recently welcomed a new entrant: Calle Dao, named for a famous street in Havana’s Chinatown, serves good Chino Latino fusion. Built on a foundation of no-frills cooking and barebones atmosphere, here are the remaining representatives of this proud, fading genre.
14. Peking BBQ (58-11 Woodside Avenue, Queens; 718-672-1414)
Locals swear by the rotisserie chicken at this Chinese-Peruvian takeout spot; its red-and-yellow awning stands out on a low-key stretch of Woodside Avenue. A bargain by any standard, everything on the menu save for half-gallon portions of American Chinese food costs under $10, with most items hovering at around half that amount. There aren’t many tables, but most are crowded with plates of glazed spareribs over pork fried rice and that chicken, served as quarters or halves and torn of the bone to be dipped into pungent aji amarillo sauce.
13. New Victory, (48-03 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-431-2938)
Perhaps in response to the wealth of Mexican restaurants in the area, Sunset Park’s New Victory (no relation to La Nueva Victoria on the Upper West Side) serves the spicy seafood cocktail vuelve a la vida, a south-of-the-border hangover cure whose name means “return to life.” Chinese food sticks to the Americanized variety, but crispy General Tso’s is nothing to complain about. For stronger flavors and offal, look to the Latin American portion of the menu and its tripe and lamb stews.
12. El Pabellon De Oro, (1501 Westchester Avenue, Bronx; 718-328-1252)
Load up on Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Chinese favorites at this petite Soundview restaurant in the shadow of the Lexington Avenue line. Cantonese and Szechuan dishes dominate the Chinese offerings, and there’s even a touch of Galician Spain in the form of caldo gallego, a hearty soup fortified with greens and beans. Fried rice is a standout, as are the lobsters, which come from the nearby New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point.
11. Sabor Latino, (2161 Starling Avenue, Bronx; 718-822-0922)
A recent addition to this rarefied group, Sabor Latino was opened in 2007. Chinese-born Robert Ng spent time cooking throughout the Caribbean and at Bronx stalwart Sabrosura. Cooks who’ve also put time in at Flor de Mayo join him, and together they put out a menu with a few more bells and whistles than your average Chino-Latino joint. In particular, look out for mojito-spiced grilled shrimp and Peruvian-style linguine stir-fried with beef, chicken, or shrimp.
10. Sabrosura, (1200 Castle Hill Avenue, Bronx; 718-597-1344)
In business for over 30 years, this Unionport staple boasts a livelier interior than most of its ilk — a gambit that translates to the rest of its menu. The creamsicle-like beverage morir soñando arrives in a fluted colada cup, and the chefs fry plantains and yucca into cups to stuff with seasoned crabmeat, pork, or steak. And while you might not find any shrimp shumai in the mix, combination platters of meats, beans, and rice are served in bento boxes. Don’t miss chofan, a Dominican take on fried rice that tosses the grains with chicken and pork chicharrones.
9. Jardin de China, (3737 Junction Boulevard, Queens; 718-476-3755)
With its tan tables, plush booths, and cafeteria layout, Jardin de China could be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill diner, but here chicken and beef noodle soups share page space with asopao, Caribbean soupy rice cooked congee-style, the grains soaking up the liquid to make a loose porridge. Combination plates, like saucy boneless spareribs with fried rice and sweet plantains, offer the best of both worlds, and there’s even a ropa vieja sandwich if you’re truly aching for that diner aesthetic.
8. La Nueva Victoria, (2536 Broadway, 212-865-1810)
Serving bronzed, boneless chicharron de pollo, aromatic soupy rice, and various other Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban dishes, La Nueva Victoria has spiced up its Upper West Side corner for over 40 years. Originally named China Victoria, new ownership brought a menu overhaul, incorporating Szechuan food into the menu as the spicy regional Chinese cuisine gained popularity. Cocktails, like the Sex on the Beach-inspired “Butter,” lean toward the strong, fruity, and syrupy sweet.
7. Sapolo, (501 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-789-7788)
Popular with Pratt students and locals alike, this Clinton Hill late-night favorite beckons with its fluorescent light display, replete with car-driving, thumbs-up-giving man tacked onto the building’s roof. The interior is equally flashy, with faux-art deco ceiling fixtures and a bar pumping out brightly colored cocktails. Sit down for complimentary fried noodles with duck sauce before tucking into greaseless fried rice, craggy egg foo young mountains, and boneless chicken chicharrones.
6. Mi Estrella, (88-19 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens; 718-429-8973)
With equal prowess in both the Spanish and Chinese sections of the menu, Mi Estrella puts forth noteworthy stews featuring an array of animal parts, from pork trotters to salt cod and thick-sliced tongue. Egg foo young arrives on stemmed circular silver platters covered in gravy, and Cantonese lobster hits the table in a haze of aromatic ginger and scallions. Formerly “Grande Estrella,” it takes up a massive corner space steps from the Elmhurst 7 train stop.
5. New Apolo, (502 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 11211)
The colorful graffiti on New Apolo’s Union Avenue wall is the only indication that this restaurant might secretly be East Williamsburg’s premiere partying headquarters. The kitchen serves up Puerto Rican, Cantonese, and Szechuan specialties under multicolored neon lighting. Three frozen cocktail machines spin behind the bar; they contribute to a long menu of ultra-boozy drinks with cheeky names like “Nut Cracker” and “Thug Passion,” offered in sizes up to a quart. Proceed with caution.
4. La Caridad 78, (2199 Broadway, 212-874-2780)
Thanks to a Seinfeld reference and a certain amount of street cred that’s built up over the years, La Caridad remains the torchbearer for Chino-Latino cuisine, even if some of its Americanized Chinese food feels archaic by today’s standards. Large prawns in black bean sauce don’t disappoint, nor do golden brown egg rolls filled with pork and shrimp. Cuban-style chopped beef and roast pork tumble over their plate edges, and piquant chorizo and chickpea stew is good enough to forgive the lack of mofongo.
3. Dinastia China, (145 West 72nd Street, 212-362-3801)
This Upper West Side gem peddles its Chino-Latino wares on a wide expanse of West 72nd Street. As much a holdover from a different era as nearby Gray’s Papaya, Dinastia ladles a mean Yat Gaw Mein, the Cajun spiced noodle soup made famous by New Orleans Chinese restaurants. Also not to miss: shatter crisp fried calamari coated in lotus root flour and dry fried in the Szechuan style.
2. Flor de Mayo, (484 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-787-3388)
A neighborhood favorite for decades, Flor De Mayo is an Upper West Side institution, offering affordable food in a section of the island that desperately needs casual dining options. Platters of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken crowd tables already bearing servings of rice with soupy black beans, fried plantains, and pork egg foo young. The most impressive plate to grace the narrow dining room is a portion of Hong Kong-inspired pork rib chops. Pounded thin and fried crisp in thickly applied batter, the knobby slabs weep meat juice. The kitchen makes its own sweet and sour sauce, and we must applaud them for getting the color so frighteningly fake blood red (UWS families should keep this in mind for any tiny vampires roaming the streets this Halloween). Despite its dubious composition, it’s piquant as advertised and does a fine job cutting through the chop’s richness.
1. El Paraiso, (149 West 14th Street, 212-675-7698)
This barebones Chelsea mess hall carries on, seemingly oblivious to the mass-scale gentrification at hand all around it on a busy stretch of West 14th Street. After a change of ownership a few years ago, the Chinese menu is stronger than the Cuban side, though tamales brim with pork flavor. El Paraiso’s mofongo may not have that familiar tomato gravy kick any longer, but it tastes oddly American with its Chinese brown sauce, which at least carries a faint kick of herbs. Best in show is a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the bird meat gently blanched and in large chunks. Garnished with fried onions, the comforting mix of braised greens, egg noodles, carrots, and bean sprouts makes for an easy and filling lunch or dinner under $6.