The hub of Latino culture and life in Philadelphia, El Centro de Oro (“The Golden Block”) is home to international non-profit organizations, third- and fourth-generation family-owned businesses and residents descending from almost every Latino country. Visitors to this lively enclave—just a short cab ride from Center City Philadelphia—can feast on authentic Latin/Caribbean dishes at Isla Verde, find inspiration in the work of Puerto Rican artists at Taller Puertorriqueño or feel their way through a flamenco dance lesson at Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas.
Here are some ways to experience Latino culture and flavors in El Centro de Oro and beyond:
- Centro Musical – Owned by the Gonzalez family for three generations, this spot stocks the largest collection of Latino music CDs in all of Pennsylvania. It’s also a one-stop shop for musical instruments—and a good place to catch an impromptu musical performance by a neighborhood artist. 464 W. Lehigh Avenue, (215) 425-7050
- HACE Business & Visitor Center – At the geographical start of El Centro de Oro, HACE provides visitors with information about cultural activities, events and businesses in the vibrant neighborhood. The center also houses an art gallery featuring the work of local artists. 2708-10 N. 5th Street, (215) 426-4990, hacedc.org
- Norris Square Neighborhood Project – Six urban gardens comprise this Food and Landscape hub, encompassing more than 30 lots managed by the organization and supported by community groups and individuals who grow flowers, vegetables and herbs. People enjoy educational and cultural programs, cooking demonstrations in the outdoor kitchen and la casita, a tiny house that has been transformed into a mini-museum of life in rural Puerto Rico thanks to residents’ donations of musical instruments, cooking utensils and homemade crafts. Other gardens: El Batey, “a place of retreat;” Raíces, Spanish for “roots,” where high school youth are encouraged to learn and play in a safe place; Villa Africana Colobó, a space celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture; Butterfly Garden, a space for reflection; and Jardín de Paz, “garden of peace.” 2141 N. Howard Street, (215) 634-2227, myneighborhoodproject.org
- Mural Arts Philadelphia – This program beautifies neighborhoods all over the city with stunning and thought-provoking installations. A couple highlights in El Centro de Oro: Tropical Landscape with Waterfall (5th and Berks streets) by Ana Uribe looks over the area, and Wall of Neighborhood Heroes (2239 N. 2nd Street)—painted by Mural Arts’ founder and executive director Jane Golden—depicts the likenesses of residents Iris Brown and Tomasita Romero, among others. (215) 685-0750, muralarts.org
- Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas – Performing arts and education programs are the focuses of this organization, founded in 1991 by Mike Esposito, Yolanda Alcorta and a coalition of Latin American performing groups. The organization presents music and dance showcases at venues throughout the region. (267) 303-0642
- A Seed on Diamond Gallery – Opened in 2010 by Betsy Casanas, this space gives artists in music, spoken word, dance and the visual arts from various communities and cultural backgrounds a place to share their stories. 124 Diamond Street, (267) 982-3913, facebook.com/aseedondiamondgallery
- Taller Puertorriqueño – The first and only Latino organization in the state to receive the Governor’s Award for the Arts showcases the city’s most extensive collection of Puerto Rican and other Latin American paintings, sculptures and other visual arts. And the gift shop offers authentic and original works by local artists at affordable prices. No wonder it’s dubbed the “Cultural Heart of El Barrio.” The 2016 opening of Taller’s new El Corazón Cultural Center (5th Street and Huntingdon Avenue) made it the largest Puerto Rican/Latino-based arts and cultural facility in Pennsylvania and the region, including a multipurpose, 200-seat theater, exhibition and gallery spaces, education facilities, an enclosed playground, gift shop, café and event spaces. 2721 N. 5th Street, (215) 426-3311, tallerpr.org
- Feria del Barrio – Every September, several neighborhood organizations host one of the largest celebrations of Latino art and culture in the city. The free music, dance and arts extravaganza takes place on the lively streets and sidewalks of El Centro de Oro. 5th Street between Lehigh Avenue & Cambria Street, (215) 426-3311, feria.tallerpr.org
- El Bohio – For 20 years, this spot has served authentic tastes of Puerto Rico, dishing out salads, sandwiches and small plates, including fried plantain chips, fried cassava root, beer brined wings and croquetas. 2746 N. 5th Street, (215) 425-5991
- Isla Verde Café – Wednesday through Saturday, this heart of the Latino community serves traditional tapas. Patrons can dance to the hottest local DJs on Friday nights and groove to the house band on Saturday nights. 2725 N. American Street, (215) 291-9475
- Taco Riendo – People step off of 5th Street and into Mexico when they enter this place. Hungry patrons indulge in traditional Mexican favorites such as burritos, quesadillas and tacos and sip on whatever they want—it’s a bring-your-own-bottle spot, after all. 1301 N. 5th Street, (215) 235-2294
- Sazon – A husband and wife create the home-cooked Venezuelan food at this circa 2004 destination. Chef Judith Suzarra-Campbell, born in Venezuela, grinds her own corn flour for her arepas, which she fills with shredded beef, chicken, pulled pork and scrambled eggs. Her husband Robert Campbell, the chocolate alchemist, mixes up a selection of hot chocolates and truffles. The menu also features a number of vegetarian and gluten-free options. 941 Spring Garden Street, (215) 763-2500, sazonphilly.com
- Tierra Colombiana – Authentic international Latin and Caribbean cuisine draws patrons to this cozy, tropical space midday through late night. Upstairs at Tierra Nightclub, musical performances feature Latin sounds from Central, South and North America and the Caribbean. 4535 N. 5th Street, (215) 324-0303, tierracolombianarestaurant.com
- Las Cazuelas – From south of the border to North Philadelphia, this eatery satisfies patrons’ Mexican cravings. Philly native Alfredo Aquilar cooks up classic ceviche, popular mole poblano and much more. 426 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 351-9144, lascazuelas.net
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