East Harlem, Sunset Park, and Nolita offer a delicious slice of the Big Apple.
Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Sweeping views and panfried dumplings
Exploring all the intriguing corners of Brooklyn's Sunset Park could easily eat up a week. But a day's ramble can supply a satisfying taste of the area's charms. Start a few blocks beyond its northern edge—on Fifth Avenue, the main drag—with lunch at Korzo. At the brick-walled Eastern European restaurant, the burgers are spectacular: plump beef patties grilled, swathed in Emmentaler cheese, wrapped in wheat dough, and deep-fried.
Don’t worry, you’ll walk off the meal.
A postprandial stroll southward leads to the serene and stunning 1838 Green-Wood Cemetery, 478 rolling acres of sassafras trees, memorial sculptures, woodchucks, ponds, wild parakeets, Battle Hill (the highest natural point in Brooklyn), and the resting places of prominent New Yorkers. Famous occupants include designer Louis Comfort Tiffany and composer Leonard Bernstein. A bit west of Fifth Avenue on 40th Street, a series of handsome brick tenements reveals why the area is famous for its historic residential architecture. The styles change from block to block.
The neighborhood’s namesake 24-acre green space, Sunset Park, presents the finest views in Brooklyn. Atop a grassy hill you’ll enjoy a sweeping vista of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island—and, in the foreground, the distinctive egg-shaped dome of St. Michael’s Church. Be sure to check out the art deco–neoclassical Sunset Park Pool and Play Center, with its free, immense swimming pool (open June to September) and diamond-motif brickwork, a magnificent 1936 project of the Works Progress Administration.
Then follow 44th Street, lined with curvy Renaissance revival row houses, to Eighth Avenue, where you can dive into a rollicking, 26-block-long Chinatown. The panfried dumplings and crunchy sesame pancakes at Kai Feng Fu make the perfect snack to fortify you for further exploration.
Nolita: New York City
Stylish boutiques and soft-serve ice cream
Nolita (short for North of Little Italy) is an enclave of elegance and art in downtown Manhattan. At the intersection of Prince and Mulberry Streets rises Old St. Patrick’s, the city’s first cathedral, which opened in 1815. The basilica looks relatively modest from the street, but step inside and you’ll feel the grandeur and history in its travertine floors and vaulted ceilings.
Saunter east to Mott Street for a stop at Warm, a sunny boutique that may yield an eyelet dress, a stylish bracelet, or a book of Garry Winogrand pictures. For dessert, order the cereal-milk soft-serve ice cream topped with caramelized cornflakes at Milk Bar Nolita down the block. Savor it at nearby Elizabeth Street Garden, a restful haven of hydrangeas, fig trees, and decorative ironwork.
Final stop: Bowery Street, the birthplace of the punk scene in the 1970s, now a hub of high culture. The New Museum here is no longer new—it opened in 1977—but its art is always contemporary. Current exhibits include works by German-born Conceptual artist Hans Haacke.
East Harlem: New York City
Urban history and freshly made flatbread
No New York tour—particularly one of East Harlem, the largely Latino district north of 96th Street on Manhattan's East Side—would be complete without a visit to the Museum of the City of New York. Housed in an imposing brick-and-marble structure facing Central Park, the museum captures the city’s spirit with its ongoing exhibit, New York at Its Core. Within the marvelously eclectic collection of artifacts and video installations are a Studio 54 guest list (including Ringo Starr), the first New York subway ticket ever sold, and the original draft of Emma Lazarus’s oft-cited poem (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”) on a plaque near the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Starting in the early 20th century, Puerto Ricans began settling in the neighborhood, leading some to call the area Spanish Harlem or El Barrio. Fittingly, El Museo del Barrio, a block from the Museum of the City of New York, gives a sense of that history and flavor through works by Latino artists. Feeling peckish? It also houses El Café, where the empanadas are popular.
As you amble northeast along Central Park, pay homage to the statue of Duke Ellington and his piano at 110th Street (aka Tito Puente Way). A couple of blocks east, below elevated railway tracks, sits La Marqueta, an 80-year-old marketplace that was once a gathering spot for pushcart vendors. Today, its sellers include Hot Bread Kitchen, where immigrant bakers re-create the delicacies of their homelands, such as toothsome Moroccan m’smen, a thin flatbread spread with honey.
Don’t overeat. You’ll want to be hungry for the bonanza of restaurants on 116th Street. A surefire hit: Cuchifritos, a Puerto Rican old-timer with succulent meats and golden fritters arrayed in the window. Try the alcapurria, a crispy, fried pocket of yucca filled with spicy ground beef. It’s as delicious as the city.
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This article was first published in Summer 2017 and last updated in December 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.