At a Haitian restaurant, the food is fusion food and a gastronomical guide to the country’s history—as is the case with many other kinds of West Indian food. It shares ingredients and cooking traditions with Cuban, Trinidadian, Dominican and Jamaican restaurants, all originating in places the indigenous Taíno people once inhabited. On top of that, you find influence from Spanish, French and African restaurants, all reflective of Haiti’s colonial past. Today, these NYC cafes and bakeries serve up authentic flavors, so venture out for griot, patties and some good old grilled meat. After all, it was from the Taíno word barbicu that the Spanish coined barbacoa, aka BBQ!
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Best Haitian restaurants
Fort Greene’s La Caye is a gem. This is your destination when you’re ready to explore Haitian food beyond the basics, with its comparatively large array of menu options. Start with the Fritay Platter for appetizers, and be sure to order at least one thing with Creole sauce. Wash everything down with Prestige, Haiti’s national beer, or choose from the selection of unusually creative cocktails. The Goodnight Kiss, for example, includes jalapeño, tomatillo, thyme and champagne(!). Live Caribbean and African music gives the warm and cozy ambiance that extra-special buzz.
Grandchamps provides a spacious dining room, warmed up by yellow ceramic tiles that line the walls. It’s a hybrid of a restaurant and street fairs and sells some of the ingredients found in its dishes. Chef Shawn Brockman channels his mother-in-law’s homestyle cooking, serving some of the tastiest, crispy-on-the-outside, miraculously juicy griot (fried cubes of pork), as well as a number of Haitian classics converted into sandwich form. Just promise us you won’t leave until you try the pain potate, which is a coconut-y sweet potato bread pudding. So good.
Grab one of the few seats at this adorable little brick-walled bake shop in the heart of Bed-Stuy. It used to be just a breakfast spot where locals got their fix of Haitian drip coffee and patties with buttery, fluffy pastry dough that melts in your mouth, giving way to perfectly spiced meat or vegetable filling. Luckily, however, it’s recently expanded its menu to include dishes like jerk chicken, Diri Djon Djon (black mushroom rice) and coconut curry shrimp, along with lunch and dinner options. By the way, the decorations are all hand-made, totally purchasable artwork.
White tablecloths, a long wood-top bar and mood lighting set this Flatbush establishment aside from the typical no-frills, laminate table tops of many Caribbean restaurants. More important than the decor, this is one of your best bets for lambi, the national dish of Haiti. Lambi is a stew made from conch, the creature that lives in those big seashells found on the beach, pounded down for chewability and simmered in a spicy tomato broth. If that’s not quite your thing, its chayote squash and vegetable stew, legume, can either come meatless or with the tenderest of beef.
This is the only non-Brooklyn spot on our list, but that’s because it’s the only restaurant left over from what used to be Manhattan’s Haitian neighborhood in the 1960s. Today its menu is split into two parts: The first covers the classic Haitian staples, griot (fried chunks of fatty pork) tassot (fried lamb) and lambi (spicy stewed conch). The second part is the daily specials, so check before you go to see which days are serving up rich and savory oxtails or the cabrit en sauce, goat meat cooked in a Creole sauce.
Patties with a perfectly flaky crust—and the heavenly smell that goes with them—fill this little bakery and Haitian grocery store. Each patty, or pate (pronounced pah-tay), only cost about $1, so when in Flatbush, do as the locals do and stock up on as many as your stomach will allow. You can also grab ingredients for your own Caribbean cooking adventures, and don’t miss out on trying some of the uniquely Haitian homemade bottled drinks, such as AK-100 (a corn-flour drink) and Phoscao (a chocolate syrup drink).
Though it falls under the category of hole-in-the-wall, you can recognize Venus Restaurant by the mural painted on its white brick exterior—and by the crowds it attracts on weekends. You can count on every dish arriving with rice, beans and the unbelievable macaroni gratin, Haitian-style baked macaroni and cheese. The menu varies day by day, so be sure you keep an eye out for the boulettes, slightly spicy Haitian meatballs, as well as the hearty turkey stew and the fried fish. This last one is only for those who can really handle their spice, thanks to the addition of scotch bonnet chili peppers.
This cheerful little Canarsie spot is best for diners who are hungry yet (somehow) also patient. Plates come loaded up with rice, and though they take their time exiting the kitchen, they are well worth the wait. The specialties include fritaille, which refers to a variety of fried foods such as accra, fritters made from a taro-like tuber called malanga, in addition to the classic griot (pork).
Tucked in amongst the other West Indian eateries on Church Avenue, hit this stop for its massive portions of uniquely Haitian fare. Find your staples: rice, beans, fried plantains and fried pork or goat. Then top it all off with some cold beet and corn salad and Pikliz, spicy pickled vegetable relish. Busy hours are definitely busy and service is notoriously slow, so it’s best to order your food to-go. Plus, the takeout servings are magically even larger than what you’re served in-shop.