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$20 Dinner

El Sazon Brings Superb Dominican Smashburgers and Perfect Pernil to Chinatown 

Come for the classics, but stay for the burger (definitely add the slab of fried queso blanco).

Pernil with rice and beans, $11.95 for this “all day special” size. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Baxter Street below Canal is pretty much a disaster of a construction zone these days, and will remain so for god knows how many more years, thanks to the building of the world's tallest jail that is engulfing this part of Chinatown. But for now at least, a few signs of neighborhood life remain on the west side of the street, where phở shops and counter-service spots have long served up decent cheap eats amid the nail spas and bail bond storefronts.     

A couple of months ago, a newcomer joined the fray—El Sazon, a classic Dominican steam-table joint with a somewhat unexpected twist. It took over the space from Breakroom (once semi-famous for the innumerable bottles of hot sauce that lined its walls), and, in addition to piling platters high with the likes of chicharrones de pollo and carne guisada, it sells a superb smashburger, done up with Dominican flair.  

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The El Sazon burger is actually "smashed" less than its many, many contemporaries—it vibes more diner-style than, say, what George Motz is doing over in Soho—but the beef, via Pat LaFrieda, has a good, juicy funk to it, so that's a bonus in my book. I got a double, which makes for a beast of a sandwich, and it comes topped with melted American cheese; thick pickle slices; lots of punchy chimichurri, or chimi, sauce; and, for two bucks more, an impressive slab of fried queso blanco. 

Double Dominican smashburger, $10, with optional (but highly recommended) fried cheese, $2. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The burger seems destined to become the fan favorite at El Sazon, but the more traditional Dominican dishes will make you happy (and very full) as well. The pernil, for example, was delicious, a pile of hacked-up roasted pork shoulder featuring plenty of crackling skin, chewy fat, and juicy chunks of meat. The beans and rice are great too. I had the $11.95 "all day special" size, and it was plenty of food for any meal. 

You can also get your pernil in a hero sandwich, paired with fried salami, sweet plantains, fried cheese, and some of that chimi sauce, which sounds like grounds for a serious nap. Other options in this category include a cheesesteak with mojo de ajo, and the meaty, messy riki taki with ground beef, two halves of a hardboiled egg, and lots of mayo and ketchup.   

Or wolf a big ball of mofongo, the mashed, fried green plantains studded with the meat of your choice (the chicken was good) and paired with a generous container of tomato shrimp sauce to dump all over everything. There are also ribs, and garlic shrimp platters, and loaded fries, and a full Dominican breakfast, aka "tres golpes," with eggs, creamy mangú, and fried cheese and salami. 

Mofongo with chicken, $14. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

El Sazon is family-owned and operated. Bijo and Edwin Collado, a father-and-son team, are no strangers to Chinatown, having run the short-lived but well-regarded El Sitio over on Mulberry Street. For their new place, they've brought on their nephew/cousin, Ari Valerio. Most customers here get takeout, Valerio told me (it's a lot of courthouse and construction workers), though there are a few stools available in the utilitarian space. If it's nice out, the picnic tables at Columbus Park are less than a block away. 

El Sazon is located at 83 Baxter Street, between Bayard and Walker Streets, and is currently open on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
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