The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Rich: Hola, Caity! Como estas?

Caity: Bone, Dankon! Mi mankis vin!

The best thing about having lunch at el Museo del Barrio was that I got started on my Christmas shopping early. The second best thing was the salsa.

Rich: I love that the gift shop at Museo del Barrio sells Christmas ornaments year round. Looking at the ornaments with you, I felt the yuletide spirit. (Maybe Christmas DOES come from a store.)

You know what else I felt? Nauseated.


The best restaurant in New York is

El Museo del Barrio in Harlem

Menu style

À la carte.

Cost before tip

$62.50


Rich: Here's a fact about me: those metal hooks the ornaments and sugar skull do-dads were hanging from really bother me. That's my phobia, metal hooks. I am having a hard time just thinking about them. I think I'm afraid of eyeball mutilation, ultimately? I feel woozy. I could throw up.

Caity: I'll put a picture of them here because I think the items you are describing are so commonplace and unremarkable that people will have trouble picturing them. CLICK HERE unless you are Rich.

Rich: Ugh, I know what you're clicking on! Please be careful.

Caity: While you will spend the rest of your life trying to forget the horrors you faced in the Saw-3D torture chamber that is the souvenir tienda del Museo del Barrio, I will return in just a few short months to scoop up more inexpensive Christmas presents for my loved ones. Many of the items in that gift shop were UNREASONABLY reasonably priced.

Rich: I think they're cursed.

Caity: I'd purchase a cursed item if it were a good deal, or on clearance. While we were there, I got a purple crèche Christmas tree ornament no bigger than the palm of my hand for $3. Where else in New York can you buy something for $3? Nowhere! One item in all of NYC priced at this dollar amount and I found it. A Christmas miracle.

Rich: They had CDs for $2.50! Everyone wants CDs, right?

Caity: I sure hope my cousins do. Unfortunately, Christmas has to end sometime so that it can occur again the next year. After my purchase was boxed up, we proceeded into El Café —Spanish for "the small restaurant selling light meals and drinks."

Rich: I thought the translation was "pull your own burrito out of the heater with tongs."

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Caity: We should note that the reason we were killing time in the gift shop in the first place is that the café was not yet fully operational at 11:30, although, according to the website, it opened at 11:00. (Also I wanted to buy one of those darling little mangers.)

Rich: "Soon," we were told. Felt like waiting for a Mariah Carey album.

Caity: And then, all of a sudden, it was open! Or was it? Hard to tell. A man greeted us and then cleaned a counter more deliberately than a wrinkly, twinkle-eyed toy maker restitching a teddy bear's arm at a stuffed animal hospital. Then he asked what you wanted and walked away. Overhead, two dollars and fifty cents' worth of bachata beats danced out of the speakers.

Rich: The atmosphere of this place was like a hospital waiting room without the shadow of death.

Caity: It reminded me of a rest stop café, I think because of the burrito warmer. Like we had stopped along the turnpike on our way to the barrio.

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

We did see one extremely cool thing, mounted outside the restrooms—not traditionally a place where that class of things is seen. It was a fake surveillance camera made out of a cardboard box and an empty plastic bottle mounted outside the restrooms. I'm pretty sure it was art. Either way, those restrooms would be very easy to burgle undetected.

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Rich: From the man behind the counter, I ordered "mariquitas" (fried plantain chips served with salsa de avocado and salsa mojo). (But I think they only gave us the salsa de avocado.) (and I think the avocado was actually just garlic.)

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Caity: Salsa de avocado was all we needed. I would drink a gallon. I hope I can buy some at Christmas for my Nana and aunts and uncles.

Rich: I also got the "avocado relleno con vegetales" (stuffed avocado with vegetables, rice and beans). It was...not the avocado equivalent of a chile relleno. It was more like a scooped out avocado with cooked shoestring carrots and squash draped over it.

Caity: The guy took a while to craft your food—a true sandwich artist working with the care of the old masters—so I decided to wait to grab my burrito from the hot dog warmer until we were ready to be rung up in the checkout line. That time came, and at first I went to pick the burrito up with my hand…

Rich: Noooo, Caity, wait! Don't do it!

Caity: ...until my thumb punctured the wrapper. It was like punching the inside of a volcano. Ten minutes later, by the time we were actually able to sit down (delayed, as we were, by a host of cash register issues), that burrito was still the temperature of the hottest thing I'd ever touched.

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Rich: And bad, too, right? Say Chipotle is a 7 in terms of burrito rankings, what number does this get?

Caity: 1.

Rich: Ouch. I didn't even realize.

Caity: It would feed me in an emergency, but it tasted like hot mush. It was allegedly steak, but all I can say for certain is that it had filling. I kept eating it though, duh. Love burritos.

Rich: It will sustain you when you get snowed in during your Christmas shopping. And you will be so thankful and oh Santa, you are real!

We also used the tongs to grab a trio of empanadas (two meat, one vegetable) from the warmer. They were shiny. I don't like shiny empanadas. I like matte empanadas. Did you like them?

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Caity: They tasted like something I ate to be polite.

Rich: We had an interesting conversation about soda, in which you refrained from choosing from their wide, exotic selection so as to "save calories." I didn't know you were the type who cared. You surprised me, Weaver. Guess you're a human, after all.

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Caity: I don't believe in drinking calories (unless I'm getting BOMBED.) But even more importantly, Diet Coke is simply my favorite drink. I enjoy the taste of Diet Coke. I like the way it burns your throat as you take a big sip. I like that it tastes like frozen metal.

Rich: Well, I got a Postobon. Apple flavored. Tasted like scratch and sniff apples smell. Went down like apple-flavored carbonated lip gloss. Wish I'd saved the 175 calories.

Caity: If they sold lipgloss in bottles, I would buy it, just for the value. I hope there is a scientist reading, who will make this dream a reality.

Rich: What if it was caloric?

Caity: I'm not buying it to eat.

One thing I did buy to eat was prepackaged rice pudding, for dessert.

Rich: You took a spoonful and then said to me, "I would like you to taste this and tell me…well, tell me what you think of it?" I thought maybe you were going to kill me? Would be the perfect crime. No one is going to suspect the young lady with the Christmas ornament.

Caity: I was trying to get a second opinion about whether or not it had turned, but I realized too late that I was influencing the study.

Rich: I tasted eggnog. It was the nutmeg.

Caity: I tasted something vaguely alcoholic, but because of accidental fermentation. And then you said "No, it's fine!" So I kept eating it.

Rich: For my dessert, I chose the chocolate/white chocolate pudding .

Caity: To me, your pudding tasted like I had had a bowl of chocolate ice cream several hours ago, left it sitting in the sink as I do (sorry!), and then put vanilla pudding on top of it without washing the bowl out first.

Rich: The ghost of chocolate past.

We ended our meals with Duvalín. Duvalín bills itself as "artificially flavored candy," but it's basically 90 percent frosting and 10 percent bubblegum. (You swallow 100 percent of it.)

The Best Restaurant in New York Is: El Museo del Barrio

Caity: It tasted like something I had eaten by accident. No, dear! Don't lick that gingerbread wainscoting! It's been sitting in our display window for weeks!

Rich: That seems like something you would do and LOVE and keep doing until you were sick.

Caity: Yep. I ate it all.

Rich: Same. God bless us everyone.


Is Everything Okay?

Questions about the Dining Experience

Would you go back?

Caity: I will absolutely get a double order of mariquitas, hold the mariquitas, and just give me some of that sweet sweet salsa when I go back to buy Christmas treats for my family.

Rich: No thank you. I felt like everybody tried really hard given the constraints of what was essentially a very small college cafeteria, and I would like to keep them all in my memory just like so.

Is it a good first date spot?

Caity: It's a good place to bring ME on a SECOND date because it shows that you were really listening on the first date when I mentioned how much I love Christmas, and that makes me feel valued! The food is pretty cheap, though, so I would think you were cheap.

Rich: No, because you will leave smelling like garlic and you won't even be able to use the excuse, "Oh, well, I work at Olive Garden, so..."

Is it a good place to have an affair?

Caity: No. It is directly across the street from Central Park. Have your affair in Central Park. Don't you know anything about romance? You're having an affair.

Rich: Nope. Garlic.

Is it a good place to bring a muñeca?

Caity: While a doll would surely appreciate the colorful sodas and the empanadas that taste identical to the plastic ones she serves at her tea parties, I would say that overall the restaurant was too clinical for a doll's fussy tastes.

Rich: It's a good place to bring a doll if you are a witch who wants to kill her slowly. Tell her to fetch you a burrito and then close the door behind her. You'll have doll soup in no time.

Caity: WHAT.

Rich: I watched your reaction as you read that. I don't know. Hansel & Gretel. I guess what I'm saying is: I just don't know this time if it's a good place to bring a doll, and I'm OK with myself.

I'm not a witch, btw.


There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York.

Previously: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Williamsburg Urban Outfitters ; The Central Park Boathouse; The Tommy Bahama Store; The Bronx Zoo; The Armani Store; The Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty; The Campbell Apartment inside Grand Central; The U.N. Delegates Dining Room; Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café

[Images by Rich Juzwiak]