Senegalese food is by far the most well-represented national cuisine of West Africa in New York, but Accra Restaurant in Harlem is a great place to try food from Ghana. You form a ball of fufu (mashed cassava) with your right hand and dip it in the stews. We were advised to get the palm nut and okra stews, which come in huge portions. They make an excellent ginger beer too.
Despite the increase in the city’s Ethiopian restaurants, their menus tend not to differ greatly, so the prospect of Eritrean as well as Ethiopian dishes seems cause for an extra glass of tej honey wine. Though the waitstaff plays down the contributions of Ethiopia’s former coastal province, Massawa features several Eritrean seafood dishes—notably salmon silsi (cubes of wine-glazed fish served with injera) and several spicy tomato-based shrimp dishes—not usually found on Ethiopian menus. Massawa’s injera tends to thin to crispness at the edges, yet the Ethiopian staples are consistently good, ensuring a following among local grad students.
Going to this small restaurant feels like being fed by your Moroccan grandmother. Rhita is extremely friendly and will make you feel at home. I felt bad because I visited this restaurant during Ramadan but Rhita sat me down and just kept bringing me food. I had cous cous with lamb, harira, mint tea, and harcha, a flatbread drizzled with honey, a specialty of Rhita’s hometown of Taza.
Cafe Mombar and Kabab Cafe are two great Egyptian places just down the street from each other on Steinway run by two brothers from Alexandria. Moustafa runs Cafe Mombar, the larger and more elegant of the two, which he has elaborately decorated inside and out with his artwork. Ali is more talkative and opinionated, and we spoke about politics and religion. Both specialize in organ meats and will let you know what they have on offer that day. I’ve had lamb brains at Kabab Cafe and rabbit moulekhia at Cafe Mombar, which was served with cous cous sculpted in the shape of the pyramids.
On Friday afternoons outside the Timbuktu Islamic Center you can find a few vendors selling food on the street outside the mosque serving observers of the jumu’ah. Although I was clearly just a curious onlooker the vendors were very friendly. I tried a large doughy ball with a dried fish filling which they called farinyo. A large plastic tub of thiakry was a nice dessert, a sweet mixture of yogurt and millet similar to a rice pudding. The homemade ginger beer was very good and the entire meal cost less than $5.
The best place in New York to try the distinctive food of Barbados. The highlight of this place for me was the puddin’ and souse. Souse is pickled pig trotters (but also available in cow or chicken varieties) while the “puddin’” is blood pudding. Flying fish is the national dish served with cou-cou, a polenta made from cornmeal and okra. Available to drink is homemade sorrel served in an enormous container or Bajan soda brand Frutee. Be sure to add some Aunt May’s Bajan Pepper Sauce.
Joy & Snook is a small storefront on Nostrand Ave without a menu. Guyanese food has an interesting mix of Caribbean, Indian and Chinese influences, hence the presence here of chow mein, dal and saltfish. If you’re willing to travel further out, Sybil’s in Richmond Hill might be considered the best Guyanese restaurant. If that place is too crowded, as it was when I visited, Brown Betty across the street is a pretty good place to try the chicken ‘n’ ruff, Guyana’s take on fried chicken and french fries.
Le Soleil is the last of what used to be a Haitian neighborhood in Hell’s Kitchen called Bois Verna after a neighborhood in Port-Au-Prince. Today it’s the only Haitian restaurant left in the area. Since I always have to order the strangest thing on the menu I tried to order the pizzle, which is bull’s penis, but perhaps luckily they didn’t have it that day. Instead I had the lambi, fricasseed conch, which is a delicacy in Haiti and not always available at Haitian restaurants. Also good was the tassot cabrit, marinaded fried goat.
Classic Peruvian cevicheria right on the Rockaway boardwalk. The ceviche mixto contains some Peruvian elements, like maiz chulpe (toasted Andean corn), choclo (boiled corn), and sweet yam. At the same concession stand you’ll also find Bolivian Llama Party serving up Bolivian salteñas. Other South American food nearby include Venezuelan arepas at Caracas and Brazilian food at Beach Bistro 96.
Ecuadorians are the largest immigrant group from South America in New York but for whatever reason Ecuadorian cuisine is usually overlooked. Sol de Quito is a solid place with great ceviche and batidos.
Yunnan Flavour Garden is run by a couple from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan in southwest China. The city’s specialty is guòqiáo mĭxiàn, crossing the bridge noodles. I’ve been going to this place since it’s previous, smaller incarnation Yunnan Flavour Taste when they specialized in mĭxiàn (rice noodle) dishes and spoke to the owners in my terrible Mandarin. I’m glad that with their move and expansion they’ve been able to add crossing the bridge noodles. The bowl of broth is brought out to you boiling hot and then the servers drop in raw quail eggs, black chicken, sliced meats which cook in the broth. It’s reminiscent of pho which makes sense considering Yunnan shares a border with Vietnam. The selection of authentic, regional Chinese food in New York has really expanded since when I was growing up in Manhattan Chinatown, especially in the outer borough Chinatowns. I’m pretty certain it’s now possible to find dishes from every Chinese province in New York City.
Even though I grew up in Manhattan right near the Staten Island ferry terminal Staten Island is perhaps the borough I’ve explored the least. Lakruwana is definitely a place that will get you on that ferry. Lakruwana is beautifully decorated with carvings and buddhas from Sri Lanka shipped and arranged meticulously by the restaurant’s owner. Stepping into Lakruwana you really feel transported into another world. A great deal are the all you can eat buffets on the weekend, although on my last visit the price went up from $10 to $12. I particularly like the sour and spicy black curries.
There are plenty of places for Nepalese food, Tibetan food and even at least two places devoted to Bhutanese food. Woodside Cafe is perhaps the only place in New York where you can get Newari cuisine. They serve Korean makgeolli in a traditional teapot usually used for chyang, a traditional Himalayan rice wine.
I love restaurants that specialize in a single dish and do it well. At Eim Khao Mun Kai that dish is khao mun kai, Thai for Hainanese chicken, a dish spread throughout southeast Asia by Chinese migrants from Hainan. The chef here is from Bangkok and this version is excellent. $9 will get you a chicken broth soup and a plate with chicken meat, gizzards and liver over jasmine rice. Flavor the dish to taste with heaps of minced garlic and crushed chillies.
Muk eun ji is hardcore, extra-fermented kimchi which is aged over a year. Here it’s served in a large hot pot with a meat of your choice. Bring a friend, ideally at least two, because these hot pots are huge. I went here when I had a cold and wanted to eat some hot, spicy food. I believe in the medicinal effects ascribed to muk eun ji!
This is the heavyweight of Central Asian food in New York, a Bukharian restaurant which caters to Rego Park’s Uzbeki Jewish community. It’s a huge, often very busy, crowded restaurant. Like other Central Asian places they serve plov, samasa and laghman. You might want to try the namesake cheburekis, available with different stuffings. I think the kebabs are especially good, served on big metal pikes. If you’re adventurous you can even order lamb testicles or beef brains.
I had to be a bit creative about how to represent North Korea. I contemplated visiting some restaurants in Flushing which cater to ethnic Korean cuisine from China, just across the border from North Korea. In the end I decided to go with North Korea’s signature dish, Pyongyang noodles. There are also many Korean places where you can get Pyongyang noodles or Hamhung noodles, named after North Korea’s two largest cities. Pronounced raengmyŏn in North Korea and naengmyeon in South Korea, these are buckwheat noodles. In mul raengmyŏn, which originated in Pyongyang, the noodles are served in an icy cold beef broth with slices of beef, Korean pear, pickled radish, and wasabi. Even though for the time-being North Korea is officially off-limits to U.S. tourism you can still try noodles from the Hermit Kingdom.
This Indonesian food fair takes place roughly monthly behind Al-Hikmah mosque in Astoria. The food is very good and inexpensive. It’s one of the best places in New York to try a huge range of Indonesian food. Besides the satay with freshly made peanut sauce and the bakso (fish soup), the ikan bakar (fried fish) is really delicious. Also popular (albeit too sweet for me) are drink concoctions like the bright green es cendol.
Jamaica, Queens, used to be a Portuguese neighborhood and there are still a few older restaurants around. O Lavrador is a fancier restaurant which almost feels as though it’s from a bygone era but the waitstaff are very funny and welcoming. If you order at least one thing it must be the homemade sausage called chourico caseira, fried in aguardiente in front of you in a huge pyrotechnic display. The feijoada de mariscos, an enormous pork and seafood stew, is also amazing. For dessert, get the pêras bebadas, pears poached in port wine.
Boon by Moldova is a fairly large restaurant in Sunnyside. On the Sunday I visited at some point later in the evening there was live Moldovan singing on the dancefloor. The humble mămăligă might be the most representative dish of Moldova. They’re balls of polenta which sounds unexciting-- in fact, all of the food sounds quite simple but the presentation and execution of all of the food is very refined and sets Boon apart from typical Eastern European restaurants. Also excellent; beef meatballs called pârjoale “Moldova” and the sour soup called ciorbă.
Gurra Café is located on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Arthur Avenue is famous as the Bronx’s Little Italy but Albanian food is actually pretty well-represented. Most people know that many of the Italian places are run by Albanians and many of the pizzerias serve Albanian bureks. Gurra Café might take this a step further, as it describes itself as an Albanian restaurant although online research indicates that I could file this restaurant under “Kosovo”. Across the street you’ll find the Kosova Deli and another clue are the qebapa “Kosova style,” according to the menu. The gullash is excellent and the kobinim alla Gurra is the best way to sample the meat-heavy menu, including suxhuk (spicy sausage like the Turkish sujuk), qofte, qebapa and pleskavicë, the famous “Balkan burger.” As you satisfy your great hunger for meat you’ll find yourself entranced by the Albanian pop music videos playing on the television.
If the idea of dining in the tourist-laden South Street Seaport with a kid in tow makes you weak in the knees (and not in a good way), check out this gem of a restaurant. Just slightly off the beaten cobblestoned path, Nelson Blue serves fantastic New Zealand–style grub in a beautiful space: You'll feel like a Kiwi yourself, surrounded by all the native tribal decor. Kids gravitate toward the traditional lamb and pork skewers and finger-friendly sides like zucchini-and-corn fritters and french fries with herb salt.