About 20 percent of New Jersey’s 9 million residents identify as Latinx. In Hudson County, it’s even higher, reflecting cultures from South America to Mexico. You can experience this panoply up and down Bergenline Avenue, a bustling strip that runs roughly 90 blocks through Union City, West New York, Guttenberg and North Bergen.
Cubans began settling here in the 1950s, earning it the nickname Havana on the Hudson. Later, they were joined by arrivals from Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico and Colombia.
“When people move to a new place, they build community around food,” says Jennifer Ayala, a professor at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City researching Bergenline’s pan-Latinx culture. “When we walk around, the smells trigger a sense of belonging through food.”
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At 3300 Bergenline, Union City, one block north of Celia Cruz Plaza, named for the Queen of Salsa, cafeteria-style La Churreria (201-866-1501) has been open 45 years. People come from near and far for the pan con bistec beef sandwich and the cruller-like hot churros. According to owner Gloria Moreiro, generations of local families eat here and even return after moving elsewhere. “They come when they are babies to when they are adults,” she says through a translator, gesturing to the filled tables. La Churreria also features ropa vieja (shredded beef), churrasco (skirt steak with onions) and mofongo, a savory Puerto Rican plantain dish. Don’t skip a side of yuca con mojo (cassava with garlic), and be sure to finish with maduro (fried sweet plantains).
At 4501 Park Avenue, Union City, Cortaditos specializes in that Cuban drink, a sweetened espresso with steamed milk. Large windows brighten the interior. Try a pastry or empanada with your cortadito.
Open since 2021 at Bergenline and 55th in West New York, Parriyas (201-430-3828) features Colombian staples like arepas (ground maize with a filling) and tostones (fried savory plantains). Also burgers and bowls. Burgers? The paisa is a traditional Colombian grilled-meat plate reimagined in burger form, with chorizo, avocado, plantains and more. The salchicha bowl combines french fries, hot dogs and quail eggs under an artfully drizzled, tangy pink sauce of mayo and ketchup. It’s an ode to salchipapas, a street food popular all over Colombia.
“I wanted to create something for the young people,” says co-owner Juan Lopez through a translator. “Fast food, but done well, with a Colombian taste.”
Traditional Colombian restaurants and bakeries can be found up and down Bergenline. Indeed, Noches de Colombia has six locations on the avenue, and more beyond it. Also notable, Rancho Mateo has one location on Bergenline in West New York, another, larger spot in North Bergen, and one in Elizabeth. Don’t miss the cazuela de frijoles, a plato tipico bean stew with sweet plantains, meats and chicharron (fried pork crackling) with rice, fried egg and avocado. The portion is big enough to constitute lunch the next day.
At La Pupusa Loca, 5910 Bergenline at 59th Street, West New York, an alluring neon sign poses the rhetorical question, “Got pupusas?” This is one of the best places to sample the beloved and versatile Salvadoran dish made with cornmeal, masa, or sometimes rice flour. Each pupusa is made to order, filled with beans, cheese, chicharron (crispy pork) or loroco (a vegetable found all over Central America) and griddled. Classic accompaniments? Curtido (pickled red cabbage) and mild hot sauce. Also on the menu: rich fish stews and roasted meats. Don’t deny yourself a tropical smoothie, juice or mix, such as the light, refreshing fresco de cebada (malted barley with cinnamon and strawberry).
Other popular Salvadoran spots include Dona Antonia at 3212 Bergenline at 33rd Street in Union City, and El Farolito at 5515 Bergenline in West New York (201-223-4440).
Argentina is often associated with steak, but in Hudson County, bakeries are the must. Argentina Bakery at Bergenline and 16th Street, Union City, is tiny but humming as customers order empanadas, custom cakes, sweet breads, pastries and the sandwich de miga—dainty bites, six to an order, on crustless soft white. The fillings can be simple (ham and cheese) or distinctive. Try the jamon, morron y huevo (ham, pepper and egg) or jamon, queso y choclo (ham, cheese and corn).
At Dulce de Leche at 65th and Bergenline, the menu also features sandwiches like the chori-pan, grilled Argentine sausage with chimichurri.
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Translation provided by Dr. Jennifer Ayala, Valeria Calle and Michelle Perez.
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