Jessica Matos. Photo: Al J Thompson
Every season is special in New York City. Fall kicks off great layered fashion, winter ushers in the holiday celebrations and spring blossoms with nature all around the city. But New York City summers are unmatched, and the Bronx in particular comes alive.
More than half of the Bronx’s population identifies as Latino, so it’s a huge part of the culture that shows up in many ways—including street food. Warmer weather and later sunsets mean the vendors are out in abundance. On any given corner in the Bronx, you’re bound to see the ice man scooping any blend of flavors (coco and cherry are a classic) or the pastelito lady selling savory half-moon pies filled with beef, chicken or cheese. Fresh fruit trucks set up shop by various train stations for morning or evening customers wanting mangoes, watermelon or rambutan. My absolute favorite is the frio frio or piragua cart. This shaved-ice delicacy goes by different names depending on which Spanish-speaking Caribbean island you’re from: frio frio (Dominican Republic) or piragua (Puerto Rico). Tamarindo is my go-to flavor, guaranteed to ease the summertime heat.
Jessica Matos. Photo: Al J Thompson
The Black community in the Bronx is just as prominent. As the birthplace of hip-hop and a long-standing home to genres like salsa, bachata and merengue, the Bronx and its streets are filled with melodic beats, rhymes and croons from artists spanning generations and styles. Like listening to a playlist on shuffle, you’re bound to hear Pop Smoke followed by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. This catalog of songs is one of the many elements that reflect the cultural makeup of the borough, from the block with 1520 Sedgwick Avenue (renamed Hip Hop Boulevard in 2016) to Rogers Place (home to a popular mural honoring Big Pun). You could say that I am a blend of these worlds as a Black Dominican, flowing in and out seamlessly, something that is pretty common for many Bronxites.
Summertime escapes to Long Island or Central Park can be quite the trek from the northernmost borough in the City. Thankfully, the Bronx is filled with gems that allow you to stay local while “getting away” from the bustling streets.
is New York City’s largest park, roughly three times the size of Central Park. It comes alive in the summer as a host to picnics, barbecues and sports leagues for baseball, tennis and soccer. Farther east, cars line up to get in and out of . This seafood oasis is home to Bronx eateries like , where the fried shrimp with fries and a Hennessy pina colada never disappoint.
, the Bronx’s only beach and once called “The Riviera of New York City,” is easily accessible via the Bx12 bus. Lie out to catch some sun or pack up your favorite pot of rice and spaghetti for the family to enjoy.
While the Bronx has a majority Black and Latino population, roots from Europe can also be found. , a main street in the Bronx’s Little Italy, usually transforms for the Ferragosto festival, with thousands of people indulging in pasta, wine, sausage and pepper heroes and an American festival staple: funnel cake. The festival will return in future years, but the avenue remains worth a visit for outdoor dining and amazing people-watching. This historic neighborhood also set the scene for Robert De Niro’s 1993 directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, the coming-of-age drama of a young man torn between two worlds.
Not too far from Little Italy, the and are perfect for day-trips. Pack light and grab food on the grounds or stop by a local bodega for a great chopped cheese sandwich, chips and a soda. To really make a day of it, you can take the 2 or 5 train to Simpson Street, where you’ll find many a frio frio and coquito cart while window-shopping along Third Avenue. If the fruit vendors have run out of mangoes or peaches, will make up for it. For over 200 years, the market has been one of the largest produce distributors in the world, made up of family-owned businesses throughout New York City. Hunts Point is also home to graffiti artists and community organizations like , which for over 25 years has been an institution transforming the area with art and education resources. On your way home, be sure to stop by , a local brand with one mission: celebrating the borough through apparel, art and media.
When I'm on a shopping mission, there are only two words that will do: Fordham Road. Home to Fordham University, this main street sits right in the middle of the North and South Bronx, making it a central hub. Weekend sights like the foster local entrepreneurship through food and music (one Saturday a month, April through November), but throughout the week up and down the hill, you’ll find an abundance of retailers, making Fordham Road the borough’s largest shopping district.
Food, music, art, shopping, nature—the Bronx really has it all. And as the borough continues to evolve, I hope the sounds of kids running in the park, open fire hydrants serving as watering holes, the ice-cream truck announcing its arrival from miles away, double Dutch rope hitting the sidewalk and dominoes being slammed after an epic capicu—the moment when the winning bone can play on either open end of the board—fill the air for generations.
To my favorite borough and season, you have my heart forever.