People tend to engage in reflection at the end of the year. They look back at what they have done, what they have accomplished, what they could have done better, and for foodies, what they ate and drank.
Dining out is always about the experience — the menu, the knowledge of the bartenders and servers, the décor, the theme and the nuances. If there is something I see that I have never tried or heard of, I order it. I have walked miles scouting neighborhoods for the next great spot. That is how I came upon octopus carpaccio for the first time and learned about Lambrusco wine, which is an excellent replacement for champagne given the holiday season, and what I will be drinking this New Year’s Eve. But no matter how much I try, it is impossible to dine at every location of the Bronx in just 365 days.
So, in no particular order, here is a list of the best bites I had in 2022, and I can’t wait to try more in 2023. Cheers!
424 E. 161st St.
Bronx, NY 10451
Porto Salvo is a gem of a restaurant, tucked away on 161st Street like buried treasure. This Italian restaurant has an impressive wine menu and a delightfully warm atmosphere. Translating to “safe port,” the interior has a tasteful marine theme that is reflected in its menu with a selection of oysters and seafood dishes. And the octopus carpaccio is a delicious surprise. Each ring of meat is uniformly tenderized and laid neatly in a circle on the plate. Dressed with a zig-zag of lemon aioli, listed as a lemon vinaigrette on the menu, the garnish of arugula in the center and sprinkling of pink peppercorns make this the perfect-looking appetizer for the holidays — or any day.
216 W. 238th St.
Bronx, NY 10463
A large variety of pub-grub items and 16 taps of craft beer are the draw at this local joint that has been in the neighborhood for 12 years. But the ultimate item is the Alehouse burger. A half-pound beef patty is layered with a generous helping of BBQ pulled pork, a dollop of coleslaw, and a large onion ring, which is sandwiched between a large brioche bun, and accompanied by a side of fries. This burger is unhinge-your-jaw big and messy to eat, but the grilled flavor of the meat coupled with the sweetness of the BBQ pork, the cool creaminess of the coleslaw and the crunch of the onion ring hit every taste bud and layer it with texture. No lettuce or tomato found on this burger, so be sure to eat this behemoth before any dieting resolutions.
2535 Third Ave.
Bronx, NY 10451
Right next door to a gas station on Third Avenue is a small, unassuming West African restaurant that focuses on takeout. Most of their clientele are cab drivers looking for a meal and while this restaurant used to be open 24-hours, COVID has hindered business and nowadays they are usually closed by midnight. But the owners hope to resume 24-hour business as soon as things improve.
The choices are few, but they do not lack in flavor. The whole fried tilapia is stunning. Garnished with onion, peppers and allspice berries and served with the most delicious mustard hot sauce, the inside is white, flaky and sumptuous. When attempting to find out the ingredients of the hot sauce, it was revealed to be a secret. Whatever is in there, it’s finger-licking good.
El Porton Mexican Restaurant
576 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10455
After finding great success in their Harlem location on Broadway, the owner of El Porton decided to open a second restaurant by the same name in the Bronx, putting a loyal worker — Jose De Marcos Garcia — at the helm as his general manager. That was 10 years ago.
Today, El Porton in the Bronx is seeing success similar to its predecessor. The atmosphere is fun with margaritas that come in three different sizes, with their largest at 32 ounces, and the food and cocktails are tasty and beautifully presented. But whether it’s a burrito, tacos or sopes, the way to go is with goat meat. It has a deep, rich flavor that is umami forward. Apparently, the secret is to marinate the goat in white wine overnight to rid it of its gaminess, De Marcos Garcia explained. It is then expertly cooked to render it of its fat, shredded and cooked again to give the meat a slight crispness. The goat at El Porton is truly the GOAT of the Bronx.
Xime Authentic Mexican Restaurant
448 E. 138th St.
Bronx, NY 10454
This one is cheating a bit as it’s not just one item like the others on the list, but the venue is too extraordinary to ignore. From the entrance to the cashier, Xime is bedazzled in Mexican décor. There are piñatas, banderas, a skeleton couple dressed to the nines in the corner, a mural with singing mariachis who are also skeletons, calaveras and so much more. The decorations are a sensory overload in the best way, and the food holds up.
Xime offers a choice of handmade tortillas for the tacos and no matter which you order, everything is good. From the al pastor to the steak to the charred chambray onions on the plate, to the fun micheladas served with gummy worms inside. They do have beer — they don’t have a liquor license so no margaritas here — but they also offer a variety of festive non-alcoholic drinks, like a piña colada served in a pineapple or the popular mangoneada swirled with chamoy and topped with Mexican candy. It is a great place for the family to enjoy.
Bailey Seafood Restaurant
146 W. 231st St.
Bronx, NY 10463
This small restaurant has a counter with a handful of seats and some outdoor seating, but mostly people order their food to go. They even accept order by fax!
Bailey Seafood Restaurant specializes in Dominican dishes and offers the traditional soups like sancocho and sopa de pollo, but the crowning jewel is the shrimp soup. The stock is rich with shrimpy flavor and at $25, the price may seem steep, but the order is so big that it is served in a quart container with an additional pint on the side — that’s 48 ounces of soup. And they don’t skimp on the shrimp. Go ahead, treat yourself or share with friends.
2 City Island Ave.
Bronx, NY 10464
City Island is an annexed piece of land with one road in and one road out. The short stretch of land is a quaint fisherman’s dream and feels like a New England escape, and at the very end of the avenue sits Johnny’s Reef.
The restaurant has been in operation for more than 60 years and the ordering is efficient, done cafeteria style. The food is listed on a border above the workers, which customers choose from while standing in line. There are several kiosks to order from and shortly thereafter, diners are handed a tray with their freshly prepared food. Then, it’s a free-for-all as customers take their tray to find either indoor or outdoor seating in the sprawling layout. (Pro tip: have someone find seating while you order.) Be mindful that there is a separate line for ordering drinks.
All the food has a fresh taste of the sea, but the frog legs are a must. Jonny’s Reef is one of the few, if not the only restaurant in the Bronx that sells frog legs, and they are wonderfully prepared with a light crunch on the outside and tender juiciness on the inside. For those who have never had frog, it tastes like a perfect marriage between fish and chicken.
Their piña coladas are the best in the Bronx as well. Keep in mind it’s cash only.
5788 Mosholu Ave.
The Barbecue Pit on Mosholu Avenue is the oldest kid on the block, according to owner Rani Vaswani. The small restaurant, which offers an expansive menu with homemade desserts, has been in the area for 23 years.
While the honey barbecue pork empanadas tend to sell out, the true star are the ribs. Whether ordering the spareribs or the baby back, these need to be eaten with a knife and fork because once you pick up the bone, the meat falls right off. Cooked with a nice char and free of sauce, one adds their own which is offered in a small squirt bottle alongside the meal. The ribs are good with or without sauce. Each order comes with two sides and a roll.
552 W. 235th St.
Bronx, NY 10463
Not all hot dogs are created equal and at Liebman’s Deli, it shows. This old-school, diner-style delicatessen has been serving the Riverdale neighborhood since 1953 and offers up Jewish staples like matzo ball soup, knishes, pastrami sandwiches, pickles and of course — the ubiquitous kosher hot dog. The all-beef dog is grilled to order and has a wonderful snap on the first bite. The flavor is clean and beefy and not muddled by the fillers one would find in other frankfurters. A little pricier than a New York City street cart, but definitely worth every penny.
Kingsbridge Social Club
3625 Kingsbridge Ave.
Bronx, NY 10463
Little Italy is going to be up in arms over this one.
The mini cannolis on the dessert menu at the Kingsbridge Social Club are adorable flavor bombs that come in three. The cream is made in-house and the cannolis are piped to order, but what makes them the best is the orange zest. Folded into the cream and freshly grated on top, the citrus wakes up the palate and makes this an outstanding treat. Kingsbridge Social Club is the only restaurant on the avenue and when they first opened some were skeptical of its success, but five years later, they are rocking and rolling and have become a regular spot among locals.
Reach ET Rodriguez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes