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Meet Margot

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By Alessandra Hickson

Finding authentic, delectable Dominican food is as simple as taking the 1 train. Sure, everyone boasts they’re the best. But only Margot Restaurant has been hailed time and time again — in magazines and on Yelp comment boards — as the best Dominican food in the greater New York area.

Margot Restaurant was featured as the place to get Dominican cuisine in a September 2007 Gourmet article [Special Collector's Issue, Latino Food: America's Fastest-Rising Cuisine] titled  “He’ll Take El Alto” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Díaz.

“Margot’s is so addictive that people from the Bronx and Brooklyn will pay for cab service just so they can get their sancocoho delivered to their door. That’s how slamming they cook at Margot,” said Diaz, adding, “Their rice, their beans, their gandules, their pollo guisado, their sancocho are all cooked to island perfection…”

When you hear high praise like that — from a Dominican-American no less — you need to investigate.

Travel to 159th Street and Broadway in Harlem’s Barrio, past fruit buses and cell phone shops. There it is with the bright yellow sign and picnic-checkered table cloths visible from the street; that’s Margot Restaurant.

The pages of Gourmet magazine were decorated with slick black and white photos, highlighting Margot’s smile as she held a platter out to you. These pictures might give you the impression that her restaurant is fancy; it’s not.

It feels like you’ve just walked into your family’s kitchen. The pollo is stewing, the frijoles are ready and there’s always good company.

Look beyond the tables of loyal customers slurping down their sancocho and you’ll find a darling older woman, a cute abuelita, sitting in the back by the kitchen door.

That’s Margot.

Her smile is warm and wide. Her hands are gentle, but firm and worn from years of cooking. She greets you with a hug and a friendly rasp of, “¡Hola! ¿Cómo está?”

Margot Santana embodies the quintessential immigrant success story. She’s been living in the United States for 49 years. Born and raised in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic’s capitol, Margot learned to cook at an early age in her mother’s kitchen.

No fui a ninguna escuela a cocinar. Soy cocinera de casa,” says Margot. Her father was a coachman, her mother sold goods to survive. It was a humble life; no money for fancy cooking classes. But then again, who needs them when your mother is the best teacher you could ask for.

Passing the technique down from generation to generation is typical and why Margot insists that “la mujer Dominicana de mi edad, todas saben cocinar.”

Her mother, Doña Altagracia de Leon de Correa, who died three years ago at 103 years old was “muy buena” in and out the kitchen. Margot speaks about her mother with great pride, mentioning that no one ever said a bad word about her. Doña Altagracia’s kindness and cooking made her beloved in the community, which may explain the immensity of people attending her funeral masses in Santo Domingo and in the United States.

Margot’s mother cooked for members of her community and now Margot’s food is a staple in her own neighborhood.

When she first immigrated to the U.S., Margot had very little. Unable to continue her nursing career in the United States and with two children to provide for, Margot took work at a factory. But it wasn’t enough, so she began cooking meals for locals in her basement apartment. Word of mouth about her delicious dishes meant more customers. So in 1989, Margot opened her restaurant.

Since then, success has brought in the who’s who of Dominican society: baseball players, a Dominican president and the greatest living Merenguero, Joseíto Mateo.

The locals keep pouring in for her mouth-watering dishes, which include pollo frito, pollo guisado, pescado, carne frita and her mother’s favorite dish, pollo al horno. The dishes are prepared by cooks who Margot has employed for decades (Her cooking staff has been here for an average for 20 years). They’re all friendly and happy to joke with you, just like their employer.

Margot is welcoming; her hospitality feeds the restaurant’s friendly vibe. She’ll seat you, greet you, feed and entertain you with stories in that raspy voice and hearty chuckles will pepper the conversation.

While you’re devouring her tostones cooked to perfection — not too crunchy, not too soft — and sipping down a soda, Margot’s sister Nurys stops by for a hello before launching into an anecdote about Margot’s sons (a psychologist and a law student). Margot briefly mentions how much she loves eating her eldest son’s cooking. And you can only imagine that if this woman, the cocinera with the golden spatula, praises his cooking, well it must be something special.

If you ask Margot why her sancocho del rabo is so flavorful, satisfying and hearty or why her tostones are so tasty that you find yourself picking crumbs off the platter long after they’re gone, she’ll simply say, “Es un secreto,” before giving a tiny laugh. (Though she may add that the secret is sazón Dominicano, which “consiste de ajo, el orégano, sal y agrio. Y el amor.”)

The truth is that Margot cooks for you like you’re family.

La comida es muy importante en la familia y fuera de la familia,” says Margot. According to her philosophy, “Hombres y mujeres deben de saber algo de la comida. Siempre. Porque es la cosa más importante de la vida.”

Not just important because food is essential to life; important because food brings people together. It’s tradition that binds generations. The food makes this restaurant more than a hole-in-the-wall in the Barrio, but a little slice of Santo Domingo.

Just like Margot, the food’s not fussy, but warm and homey; Not complicated, but comforting. It’s that sazón Dominicano.

Margot Restaurant is located at 3822 Broadway, New York, NY.

The exterior of Margot Restaurant

The front of Margot Restaurant

Margot Santana

Margot in her restaurant

Margot and her sister Nurys

Photos on the wall featuring past visitors

Margot’s legendary Sancocho del Rabo

Margot’s Tostones

Frijoles negros con arroz

The cooks at Margot Restaurant who’ve been serving up her savory dishes for a combined 60 plus years.

The 1 train subway stop near Margot Restaurant

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42 Comments Post a comment
  1. OK…now I’m WAY hungry — yet sadly, nowhere near New York! ;)

    April 17, 2012
  2. When I visit NYC, I will check out Margot. Those tostones look muy delicioso! It’ll give me a taste of the Dominican Republic. I’m always looking for restaurants that serve home style cooking. Gracias!

    April 17, 2012
  3. I think what I love most is the resiliency with which immigrants regroup and begin new lives and careers to make life here work for them. Putting some of the hard parts of immigration behind and moving forward. Her restaurant is living testimony to this. Thank you! My daughter is in NYC – this looks like a great place next time we visit.

    April 17, 2012
  4. Tostones. INCREDIBLE :)

    April 17, 2012
  5. I’ve been there! Eek! Great article. The rice and beans are really to die for, trust me I’ve eaten a lot of them in my time and Margot’s are kick ass.

    April 17, 2012
  6. Wow, a great story! Truly inspiring.

    April 17, 2012
  7. Great Post – Congrats on being FP!

    April 17, 2012
  8. Kai #

    Great story. Glad to see that the restaurant has lasted through the years and through the terrible economy. It says alot about the quality and Margot. I will have to visit the next time I am in NY.

    April 17, 2012
  9. Laura #

    Que bello! Great article. Will need to visit next time Im in NY.
    As a puertorican Im thrilled to see this blog. Cant imagine anything I’ve experienced in Puerto Rico without its amazing African infuence.

    April 17, 2012
  10. Qué rico! Buen comida es lo mas importante porque tu puedes comer el amor como comida.

    April 17, 2012
  11. no matter how much i travel and taste all kinds of food, Dominican food will always be my favorite! i grew up on arroz, habichuelas and platanos! very happy this is FP, congrats!

    April 17, 2012
  12. What a cool way to honor someone! I love this post and just wished I lived in NYC to enjoy some of Margot’s food! I hope you showed this to Margot so she can she all the blog love!

    April 17, 2012
  13. Ayyy que rico se ve todo, rice and beans and tostones, yum!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed and much success with Los Afro-Latinos blog, a welcome voice in the quest to tell our stories! I am now a follower, gracias.

    April 17, 2012
  14. Hmmm…look really tasty! Thanks for sharing! :)

    April 17, 2012
  15. Yum! Sancocho del rabo!

    April 17, 2012
  16. Nice! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    April 17, 2012
  17. I love Dominican food, tostones, etc…Saludos!!!

    April 17, 2012
  18. Kai #

    Dominicans can throw down, but then again it’s expected of any caribbean ppl

    April 17, 2012
  19. next trip to NYC, t’m there. Nice read!

    April 18, 2012
  20. Now I know where I’m going to eat the next time I come to New York, thank you! :)

    April 18, 2012
  21. Wow, a great story! inspiring.

    April 18, 2012
  22. nice pics and also nice foods.
    ship management

    April 18, 2012
  23. Glad to have come across you via ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    April 18, 2012
  24. I love that your photos include the kitchen staff — not just Margot. Great post. I live in NY so might make the pilgrimage…

    April 18, 2012
  25. Sancocho!! I love it. I had it for the first time a few years ago (the Colombian version). Would love to dip my spoon and fork in your pics! Thanks for sharing.

    April 18, 2012
  26. ashleytypes #

    Looks like a place my boyfriend and I would enjoy! So far from here though.. spectacular post!

    April 18, 2012
  27. Currently living in NY, I definitely have to make sure I give this restaurant a look! Thank you so much the beautifully written story and for capturing, not only Margot’s amazing life and cooking philosophy. It’s not just enough to be able to find every kind of cooking in NY, but places like Margot’s where you can step into a restaurant and feel like you’re stepping into your own family’s kitchen.

    Cheers to great food, great cooking, and great stories!

    cc:Keith

    April 18, 2012
  28. ashleytypes #

    Looks like a place my boyfriend and I would enjoy! So far away though.. spectacular post!

    April 18, 2012
  29. Reblogged this on vividlyfoxxy and commented:
    : )

    April 18, 2012
  30. Val #

    What a wonderful success story. Thank you for sharing. From all the way in Arizona, I AM HUNGRY NOW!!!!

    April 18, 2012
  31. Great post, and congratulations on your “fresh-pressed” accomplishment! That isn’t likely to happen for me, as I post video guitar licks/solos and songs with tablature. Once again, congrats!

    April 18, 2012
  32. Next time I’m in NYC i will definitely go see Margot. Damn you and your good looking food around lunch time, I’m so hungry now! :-)

    April 18, 2012
  33. Congrats on having such a popular restaurant. The food looks delicious. Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere close to N.Y. so I won’t have the pleasure of visiting your place of business.

    April 18, 2012
  34. lijiujiu #

    Excellent post. Glad to have come across you via ‘Freshly Pressed’!

    April 18, 2012
  35. Margot looks like a lovely person.

    April 23, 2012
  36. Nice post.thanx for sharing your experience

    April 26, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Immigrants and the Meaning of Resilience – Reblog of “Meet Margot” « communicating.across.boundaries

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