Brunch, upper-Manhattan style:
There’s a great Dominican place in Inwood, La Casa Del Mofongo. They have a breakfast dish, mangu, which I eat every time I’m uptown. It’s like plantain paste, mashed plantain. You eat it and you feel like you don’t have to eat two meals afterward. That’s where my grandmother would order food from when she didn’t feel like cooking.
Best examples of the new Washington Heights:
One of the first really upscale places was Hispaniola, on 181st and Cabrini. It’s still wonderful. I think my favorite place, we went there for my cousin’s baptism, we sort of do a lot of special events there, is the New Leaf Café. It's literally in the middle of the woods, they have sort of a beautiful patio in the summer. And it’s a nonprofit as well. It’s shmancy food for a good cause. I remember when it was a greasy diner; we’d get hot dogs and fries and walk around the Cloisters.
For the folks:
I go with my parents to Mamajuana on Dyckman Street. There are a lot of really nice restaurants; one of my favorite places is the Garden Café, adjacent to the church I went to, Good Shepherd. The best part of going to [that] church [is when] we would get sugar doughnuts from the bakery and oatmeal in coffee cups.
For inspiration hunting:
My favorite record store in upper Manhattan is Quisqueya, on 207th Street. They have albums that are out of print. I don’t know how they get them, to be honest. Ruth Fernandez, Celia Cruz…they have an incredible collection up there, and they’re very knowledgeable. When I was writing the score, I’d walk in and say, "I need the best reggaeton albums of three years ago," and [the clerk] would put them on the counter. And he’d be right.
I don’t know where I live now. I’m surrounded by car dealerships. I’m sort of between Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen. I live in Upper West Hell. Occasionally we’ll go to Landmarc, up at the Time Warner Center. They have this thing called pain perdue that’s sort of this French toast on steroids. It doesn’t beat oatmeal in a coffee cup, though. —As told to Amos Barshad