Little Dominican Republic – Washington Heights

Cultures Coming Together

Dome with cross that stands atop the United Palace, drawing attention to the theatre from far away 6
Beautiful architecture on the facade of the building matches the elaborately detailed inside

“UPCA recognizes the critical role the arts play in providing life-changing experiences and opening doors for both young and old. Washington Heights has traditionally been underserved in terms of access to art programs, in part due to a lack of dedicated space. UPCA creates new educational programs and hosts organizations that already have a track record of providing excellent arts instruction.” 7

This quotation embodies exactly what is needed in the community of Washington Heights and is fully met by all the United Palace works to do. Through all their activities, from uniting people through faith or through love of movies or music, peoples of various cultural backgrounds are brought together in a positive way. When asked who the typical attendees for these various events are, Mike Fitelson responded that, “we typically have between thirty and fifty percent of the house at least is local.” In this way, the United Palace successfully is able to mix local culture with cultures of other areas of New York City. They preserve the United Palace traditions of the past while working to bring helpful change to the community in the present. From various community programs for people of all ages to hosting performers such as Adele or Lin-Manuel Miranda, the United Palace brings people together in a fully positive, uplifting way.

The clip from Mike Fitelson’s interview below perfectly sums up how important the United Palace is for the community:

The full interview can be listened to by clicking below:


Inside view of the majestic United Palace theatre 8

Hungry For Success & Chicharron

Elsa La Reina De Chicharron

1249 St. Nicholas Avenue, New York, NY

Walking down St. Nicholas Avenue, I was immediately captivated by the energetic vibes of the neighborhood; the lights, the vendors, the people, the music were all so full of life and gave the impression of a unified community. As people constantly stopped and greeted one another on the sidewalks I realized that this part of Manhattan did not possess the same ‘head down, headphones in’ mentality that I had begun to associate with New York City. The overall connectivity of the members of the community emulated an environment that I could only associate with my life in the suburbs. Everyone knows everyone. With this in mind, I began to pay attention to the stores and restaurants that appeared to be family-owned, hoping to gain a more insightful perspective from individuals who grew up in and with the neighborhood.


On West 172nd Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, I was able to find the popular local restaurant, Elsa La Reina De Chicharron. I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the restaurant’s owners, Victor Rodriguez to learn more about the neighborhood and the restaurant itself. I was able to learn about a rather wholesome story of success that all stemmed from his older sister, Elsa Rodriguez’s initial desire to open up a grocery store thirteen years ago. Growing up, Elsa maintained a close tie to her roots by cooking traditional Dominican dishes such as chicharron, which is deep fried pork belly or pork rinds. To her delight and surprise, the days that she decided to cook chicharron in the grocery store were always the busiest; dozens of customers would be drawn in from the smell alone and taxi drivers would drive around the block waiting for the dish to be done. Elsa soon realized the great potential for success she could have in opening an actual restaurant and decided to teach her siblings, including Victor, the family recipe. Their family was fortunate enough to be able to open up a second location in Washington Heights and in the years to come, they would eventually be the proud owners of four very successful locations.           

Elsa La Reina De Chicharron: Washington Heights location; View from across the street
Small, quaint restaurant with stools against the wall to sit and enjoy the delicious chicharron and tostones.

Victor explained that they were drawn to open up their second location in this neighborhood because they knew that their dishes and food quality would receive great recognition and appreciation in a community that was primarily Dominican. Being that he had been the primary owner of the Washington Heights location for the past 13 years, I decided to ask him about the things he recognized about the neighborhood including the way it has changed. To my surprise, he stated that for the most part, the neighborhood has remained the same and the only noticeable change he mentioned was that the grocery store across the street was closed and replaced with a discount 99 cent store. He was also able to tell me that one of their busiest days was Sunday since many families stop by after church and of course chicharron was the most popular dish served (hence the restaurant’s name). Victor and some of the other employees joked that as the weather gets nicer you can see all the people with no jobs outside grocery stores talking, reading the news, and playing dominoes. Through this interview, I was able to learn that religion, community, and food are some of the most important aspects to this neighborhood. Speaking to Victor not only enlightened me to yet another brilliant immigrant success story but provided me with the proper insight to better understand the pass times of this community.

  1. Burns Francesca, “TeachNYPL: ‘New York, Then & Now’ Immigration to Washington Heights/Inwood (Gr. 6-8),” NYPL. Published November 1, 2013,
  2. Digital image, Social Explorer,
  3. Ibid.
  5.  Fitelson, Mike. “About.” United Palace Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2017. <>.
  6. By Beyond My Ken – Own work, GFDL,
  7.  Fitelson, Mike. “About.” United Palace Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2017. <>.
  8. By Professorcornbread – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,