by Pennywatcher Jamie Conniff
I live in Washington Heights. The rent is cheap, the trees are plentiful, and the food — Dominican, mostly — is cheap and tasty. As long as you can dodge the dog crap on the sidewalk, life is good. But try to convince a friend to come all the way up from Brooklyn for dinner and all you get is complaints. But I’ve found a trick to make sure visitors quit whining and keep coming back, and it’s called El Malecon (4141 Broadway, Manhattan–map).
The legendary Dominican restaurant, on the corner of 175th and Broadway (and now with satellites on the UWS and in the Bronx and Yonkers), serves up a mean rotisserie chicken — big enough to feed a small family, or two hungry guys — for $12, and half a chicken for $8. The rotisserie spits are lined up vertically in the front window, so you can watch the birds drip their lovely juices all over each other while you wait for your table. After you sit down but before the chicken arrives the waitresses — friendly, though prone to errors in translation — serve up warm, buttery tostadas: soft, pan-fried slices of baguette. With the chicken comes your choice of rice (white or yellow) and beans (black or red), or plantains fried dry and crispy (tostones) or sticky and sweet (maduros). But the chicken itself is the best part. A magical rub makes the crispy outside good and salty, while the meat is moist and plentiful. Once upon a time these birds were fat.
If you’re not in the mood for chicken — or, God forbid, you’re a vegetarian — you can always order any of the many other options on the menu. The rice dishes are tasty, and huge. The mofongo — mashed plantains sculpted into a squat cylinder, with cheese or fried bits of meat interspersed — is a personal favorite of mine. But the first time you go, stick with the chicken. It’s legendary for a reason.