After passing several Spanish food restaurants, a bakery or two, a brand spanking-new diner one may not recognize, you continue on your trek up Lexington Avenue. Your destination is a neighborhood staple called La Fonda Boricua.
As someone more familiar with the westside of Harlem than the east, I learned about La Fonda Boricua, again, from â€œThrowdown with Bobby Flayâ€. The challenge was for Chef Flay to combat owner Jorge Ayala for a superior Arroz con Pollo recipe, a staple in Latin American cuisine and at the restaurant. Arroz con pollo has always been a favorite dish of mine from the days that Iâ€™d eat it at a friend’s house as a child to eating large dishes at a nice Spanish restaurant near The City College of New York. The tangy and savory rice with finely boiled, broiled, or rotisseried chicken with one of my particular favorite spicesâ€“â€“adoboâ€“â€“made me long for the days when I had a two hour break between classes and could pay $5 for a large plate of food that stimulated by taste buds. For ten years Jorge and his brother Roberto have nurtured their restaurant and dishes to put it on the New York City map. And Flay is not the only media personality to take notice. Weather correspondent Al Roker also did a show for Food Network entitled â€œRoker on the Roadâ€ visiting this prime location.
When first entering La Fonda Boricua it reminds you of any local Spanish food restaurant with a bustling wait staff and buffet of delectables. Men and women are busy behind the counters getting plates of fried plantain, rice, stewed meats, and Coco Rico to serve. But make sure to throw all restaurant generalities out the window. Thereâ€™s no hostess or host to show you to your seat. Instead you find your place and wait patiently as someone comes to take your order. Thereâ€™s room for about fifty or so making it an intimate environment but not overly so. The colors of red, white, and green are dominant along the walls, cushioned benches, and wooden tables even though the owners hail from Puerto Rico. You can spot the natives from the newcomers as those who just arrived ask for menus and are informed that they â€œdonâ€™t have anyâ€ whereas the locals spout their orders with ease and no hesitation. Donâ€™t fret though, your server politely adds that sheâ€™s more than happy to let you know what they have available. My mind was set on arroz con pollo. I would not be swayed from that. My friends and I had chicken chicharrones to start then eased into our main dishes. The chicken was perfectly spiced reminding me of the mixture of the tangy salts in my grandmotherâ€™s fried chicken. None too greasy and high in temperature you couldnâ€™t help but dig in then remember that the little nugget would burn your finger tips. For dinner my husband had roasted pork with rice, another friend had chicharrones with rice and beans, while my other friend and I went for arroz con pollo even though we had to admit the mofongo sounded darn tempting.
The rice and chicken, with a few plantains decorating the plate, was amazing. The chicken tender, the adobo apparent, rice with beans being the perfect mixtureâ€“â€“an indulgence on my endâ€“â€“and the plantains being perfectly crispy with no grease made me stuffed once I cleaned off my plate. And believe me I made myself clean my plate. Leaning back in defeat at my overzealousness I did perk up when our waitress asked if we would like dessert. â€œSolamente flanâ€ she informed us was our sole choice. We declined, thanked her, then trudged outside with our newly rotund stomachs.
Across the street from the restaurant is the Ayala brotherâ€™s other locale FB Lounge Bar where they have live music, dancing, drinks, and food. With another location found on my map of restaurants to visit throughout New York City I took in the residential portion of the neighborhood, small apartment complexes and many small businesses and was glad to see La Fonda Boricua stood out amongst the home grown businesses.
WORDS BY: Jennifer Baker-Henry