Jesse Rodriguez is Vice President of Booking & Editorial for MSNBC and a familiar face around Hell’s Kitchen – he’s lived here for almost 17 years, after all! This is Jesse’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Miami (what some call the 6th Boro), moved to New York City in 2007, and have lived in Hell’s Kitchen the entire time, almost 17 years! I’ve been to almost every neighborhood in NYC and every time I come back to HK, it just feels like home.
What was your first job? What do you do now?
I started as an overnight writer for a TV station in Miami while going to school during the day. I would nap for a little in the afternoon before work and did that for a few years. I moved to NYC and have been working at NBC News & MSNBC since. Now I am the Vice President of Booking & Editorial for MSNBC. Working with the teams at Morning Joe, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Joy Reid’s show make things so interesting every day. Some of our anchors and reporters also call Hell’s Kitchen home, which makes it easy to compare notes about our favorite spots.
What’s your favorite New York minute (or moment) so far?
Celebrating World Pride in 2019 was so special, the energy in the city that week was just incredible. People from all over the world coming together to commemorate 50 years of Stonewall. Two dear friends got engaged that Sunday while the parade was rolling by. You could feel so much love in the air.
Share with us why you love Hell’s Kitchen
Having lived in the neighborhood for almost 17 years, I have become friends with so many residents and folks who frequent Hell’s Kitchen. If I grab a bite at Arriba Arriba and sit on the sidewalk, I’m guaranteed to spot a few friends walking down 9th Avenue. The community comes together when times are tough and it feels like a real community. The recent rock-throwing incident at Vers showed how the community supports businesses and helps crack down on those trying to do harm. The area’s councilmember is also so involved in making Hell’s Kitchen a better place to live. Fun fact: Erik Bottcher was my realtor, helping me get my first apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, all those years ago.
What’s your superpower or hidden talent?
I have an uncanny ability to remember people I’ve met by name and face. It has served me well in my career!
What else should we know about you?
Three new spots I am loving in Hell’s Kitchen right now are The Dickens, Flex and Frankie’s Pub. They are fun bars and all three have excellent, friendly bartenders!
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Jesse’s Favorite Hell’s Kitchen Places
Rise — 859 9th Avenue (bw W55/56th St)
Rise has become an old standby to meet friends for a drink or have a good time. I’ve known Teddy (the owner) dating back to his days as a bartender at The Ritz.
Arriba Arriba — 762 9th Avenue (bw W51/52nd St)
It’s my go-to for Mexican food and strong margaritas. Some of the staff members have been there as long as I have lived in NYC, almost 17 years. Amalia, the owner, is just so warm and sweet. Gives me a big hug every time I walk in, it makes you feel like you are part of the family. Many of the servers have been there for many years and have become friends.
Mee Noodle Shop — 795 9th Avenue (bw W52/53rd St)
Mee Noodle Shop is just so reliable and quick, if you are craving solid Chinese food. The food is excellent.
Sesamo — 764 10th Avenue (corner of W52nd St)
Sesamo is so great, it’s an Italian restaurant with an Asian influence. The owner is delightful and the food is great! The chef is not afraid to try new things and they switch up their menu enough to keep things interesting.
Guantanamera — 939 8th Avenue (bw W54/55th St)
As a Cuban-American, I’ve noticed it’s hard to find great Cuban food in NYC. Guantanamera is the very best. The Ropa Vieja and Mojitos are just excellent. The Cuban music at night make it a great spot to celebrate a birthday or just enjoy a tasty bite in a fun atmosphere.
44 & X — 622 10th Avenue (corner of W44th St)
It’s the first restaurant I went to when I first visited New York City so many years ago. I’ve been visiting regularly ever since. The owner Scott Hart has become a good friend. When my mom comes to visit for Mother’s Day, we are greeted for brunch that Sunday by Scott with a hug, as if we are family visiting his home. The food is always so consistent & tasty — and the staff, always cheerful. Can’t recommend this spot enough for a pre-theater meal or a fun weekend brunch.
You can follow Jesse on Instagram @JesseRodriguezTV. If you know someone who would make a great West Side Story (or you would like to nominate yourself), please fill in this form — w42st.info/WSSnominations
You can check out more West Side Stories and reader recommendations on W42ST’s Hell’s Kitchen Local App.