Harlem Contributor, Gabrielle Lopez!

Gabrielle will be our Harlem contributor and will write twice a month on the website. If you would have any special requests from her then feel free to contact me. Gabrielle Marie Lopez was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she learned to love food and cooking in her mother's and grandmother's Mexican kitchens. From this rich tradition, Gabriela began her blog, gabrielaskitchen.com, in 2009.  After attending college in Los Angeles, California, Gabrielle moved to Harlem, New York City, where she is the Special Projects Assistant at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Chef Samuelsson's kitchen flair embraces almost every food tradition of our immigrant nation. He says, "as cultures and food traditions from all corners of the globe converge in one country, America has been transformed from a land of meat and potatoes into a land of couscous and noodles, dolmas and tiraditos, tacos and sushi, dumplings and ceviches,"

New York City is certainly the best reflection of America's great diversity and Harlem is no exception. On 116th street alone, one can affordably eat their way from Senegal to Puerto Rico to Mexico to Italy.

In the July issue of New York Magazine Chef Samuelsson gave his top five cheap places to eat in Harlem.  About El Aguila, a taquera­a and panaderia located at 116th and Lexington, Marcus says, "this is a great taquera­a right by the 6 train. I love their pork tacos ($2.72), and they're open 24 hours."  I couldn't agree with him more.

My picks at the taquera­a are the tacos de chorizo (spicy Mexican pork sausage), tacos de carnitas (slow-cooked shredded pork), horchata (a sweet rice milk and cinnamon drink), pan dulces (sweet yeasty bread) and tamales (corn-based dough filled with cheese, vegetables or meat wrapped in corn husks and steamed) of all variety! The tacos come cradled in two soft corn tortillas, overflowing with meat and garnished with cilantro and raw onion.  I usually split the filling between the two tortillas and top the tacos with the creamy green salsa de aguacate (avocado salsa) or firey red salsa de chile arbol.

So when any West Coaster laments to me that, "there's no good Mexican food in New York," I tell them that it is simply not true. Aside from the niches of authentic Mexican food in Queens and Brooklyn, 116th Street between Lexington and 1st Avenue is home to several outstanding Mexican grocers, taquera­as, taco trucks and street vendors.

And while a single taquera­a like El Agulia does not do justice to the vast and complex tradition of the Mexican kitchen, it is a delicious introduction to Mexican street food and ingredients. Don't be intimidated if you don't know what something is, the menu at El Aguila has photos and short descriptions written in English. And if all else fails, order one of their giant burritos, which have been described as "California quality," and some agua de tamarindo (tamarind drink) and I'm sure you'll be satisfied!