The United States has long been defined by the various cultures and communities that have called the country home. From the Creole and Cajun communities in New Orleans, Asian American communities in major cities across the country, and many, many other communities of color, the culinary imprint left by the nation’s diverse populations shows up in our restaurants, our shops, and even our kitchens.
Finding food from all over the world has become increasingly less difficult in recent years, thanks to an emergence of formerly unknown history about indigenous and African American contributions to food, and an increase in immigrant populations. There are now at least , and the cultures they bring help shape cities and towns across the country. From religious institutions to more languages being spoken throughout the country, the United States, in many ways, has become reflective of many groups around the world.
This impact exists perhaps most visible in food. Global influences on American dining and eating have only increased in recent years. Ethiopian restaurants are now a mainstay in major cities; Korean barbecue is as common in American workplace hangout culture as the beloved Friday evening happy hour; and one only needs to walk to their local neighborhood restaurant to indulge in the joys of Italian food, a cuisine that’s become ubiquitous in American cities—big and small.
While many cities champion the impact of global history and communities on their culture, New York City showcases a particular appreciation and reverence for its diverse communities. Cultural enclaves from regions like the Caribbean, West Africa, and Asia have emerged across the city’s five boroughs. Some communities have history in the city that dates back centuries, while others are experiencing an influx of immigrants and culinary creativity.
To fully appreciate the global cultures that exist in New York, it’s helpful to start with food. Neighborhoods throughout the city offer numerous options—sometimes to the tune of two similar areas (check out Little Italy in Lower Manhattan and Little Italy in the Bronx)—and replicating traditions in and outside of American history.
While it could take a lifetime to see what New York City’s entire dining scene has to offer, a few areas can help kick off the journey. As international travel continues to be in flux, these restaurants allow global food enthusiasts to explore the genius of global dining, right in one of America’s most storied cities.
It’s important to recognize that New York City has two Little Italy locations. There’s Little Italy in the Bronx, where a large number of Italian immigrants in the 19th century created a community. There’s also the more tourist-heavy Little Italy in Lower Manhattan, where restaurants, cannoli stands, and gelato shops abound. Both locations are well worth a visit, and these restaurants will help introduce visitors to much of what New York’s Italian American community has to offer.
The charm of Little Italy is its seemingly effortless ability to merge the old with the new; to contrast the modern with the traditional; to appease both the fine dining enthusiast and the avid eater who just wants a really great bite of food. Di Palo’s Fine Foods, opened in the early 1900s, gets this desire, and provides cured meats, artisanal cheese, house made cheese and a vast selection of wine. Those yearning for the charming delis that line the streets of Italy can find the same sense of community and history in this family-owned deli.
This rustic, charming restaurant promotes its handmade pasta as the focal point of the restaurant. It’s a fair focus, as dishes like cacio e pepe, braised lamb campanelle, and fettuccine bolognese will most certainly have guests asking for seconds. But the endearing restaurant also boasts an impressive selection of pizzas, whites, and desserts. The giant strawberry shortcake cannoli is not to be missed.
Much of New York’s charm exists in the city’s ability to preserve much of its history through living institutions. Ferrara Bakery & Café is one such place. With origins dating back to 1892, the café has become recognized for its Italian confections, like the equally sweet and colorful rainbow cookies, vanilla cannoli cream cake, and of course, the lauded cannoli themselves.
New York City is known for its alleys of charming restaurants, brightly lit streets, and a nightlife that is arguably unrivaled. Koreatown manages to grasp these varying elements, while transporting ravenous eaters into the culinary wonders of East Asia.
Food should be fun. Turntable Chicken Jazz gets that. This Koreatown staple leans into its musical ambiance and doubles as a karaoke bar. While music plays a leading role at the restaurant, the food remains well within its focus. Kimchi fried rice and tender chicken wings make for hearty shareable plates, while the accordion-style potato twister and cheesy corn might be gone before your dinner guests get a chance to ask for a bite.
Kimchi cream pasta, chicken tenders, and herbal cocktails are just a snippet of the vast and impressive menu at Koreatown’s, The Maze. The colorful, flower-friendly restaurant dazzles in ambience, and also manages to do right by the food. Any dish is excellent here, so feel free to order a few and share with friends and loved ones.
Swanky yet down to earth, Barn Joo offers a pleasant dining experience with remarkable food. Bulgogi is an easy and smart decision for the dinner, while dishes like Galbi-Jjim, a dish or braised short ribs, carrots, dates, chestnuts, truffle essence with glass noodles, and Korean Army Stew, a hot pot dish of dashi broth, kimchi, ramen noodle, ham, baked beans, beef meatballs, pork sausage, egg, mixed vegetables, mixed mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese, challenge diners to think outside out the box—with unfathomably delicious results.
“These restaurants, spanning continents in East and West Africa, demonstrate the ingenuity and vitality in African cooking.”
“Le Petit Senegal,” or “Little Senegal” began as a cultural enclave within historic Harlem. In the 80s and 90s, West African immigration to the United States increased dramatically, with many Senegalese Americans arriving in Harlem. While many Senegalese residents have moved to other boroughs and neighborhoods in the city, their influence on Harlem dining is palpable. Alongside Senegalese restaurants that emerged, Ghanaian, Nigerian, and other African cuisines food a great home to share their food and traditions with others in the community.
While some of these restaurants don’t exactly fall within the ever-moving bounds of Little Senegal, they represent the far reach of the Senegalese community in Harlem. These restaurants, spanning continents in East and West Africa, demonstrate the ingenuity and vitality in African cooking.
Safari Harlem sits in the heart of Harlem’s Little Senegal community. The restaurant boasts a robust selection of Somali and East African fare, and the smell of spices and seasonings from the region draws diners in from blocks away. Entrees like Chicken Suqaar, a traditional southern Somalia dish of spicy chicken stew with aromatic spices, served with Bariis–a Somali rice dish or chapati bread and vegetables topped on bed of rice, and Mango Curry, a dish of grilled berbere chicken bathed in a slow-cooked mango curry sauce served with a side of vegan biryani. The beef or chicken sambusas make great appetizers, while the mango juice offers a sweet, fruity refreshment.
Pikine, named for a town in Senegal, offers Senegalese and West African meals fit for those from the region, and newcomers to the cuisine. Owned by three Senegalese women, the restaurant captures the heart of soul of the incredibly wide-ranging cuisine. Thieboudienne, a fish, cassava, veggies, and rice dish that is also Senegal’s national dish, is one of the most recognizable meals and the restaurant. Lamb and fish stews, red snapper, and peanut butter soup also round out the restaurant’s substantial menu, ensuring that visitors taste the best of West Africa.
This family owned restaurant is fairly new to Harlem, but the flavors seem as if they were always part of the neighborhood. Lalibela is a favorite of meat eaters and vegetarians alike, as an array of dishes like doro wat, a spicy, fragrant stew with chicken and an egg, and vegetable combo meals are served to diners of the famed injera bread that comes from Ethiopia. The restaurant remains true to its Ethiopian roots, offering side dishes like gomen, Ethiopian greens; kik alicha, a split pea stew; mesir wot, a red lentil dish; Atakilt, an Ethiopian vegetable mixture of cabbage, potatoes and carrots; and shiro, a flavorful chickpea stew.
Haiti has perhaps become more known for the country’s political unrest than for the incredible culture that exists among Haitian people. Little Haiti in Brooklyn challenges misconceptions and stereotypes about what it means to be Haitian, and many leaders, restaurateurs, and civilians have actively worked toward creating a community that represents the fullness of Haitian identity.
Little Haiti in Flatbush, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, was officially recognized by the NYC government in 2018. Noting the numerous contributions and incredible cultural impact of Haitian Americans on Brooklyn’s landscape, The Caribbean enclave is home to bars, restaurants, religious and spiritual institutions, and other cultural mainstays that exemplify the Haitian’s community’s important place in Brooklyn. It’s nearly impossible to not find great food in Little Haiti, but several restaurants are especially endearing to locals and visitors alike.
Few places do cool like the folks at Zanmi. This inventive restaurant immediately shows off the Haitian pride and heritage that serves as a foundation through flags and wall art. The food, however, is the true tribute to Haitian cuisine. Voodoo pasta, kafou wings, the plantain submarine—a sandwich-like dish of shredded cod tossed with remoulade sauce on a set of stacked plantains, all represent some of the most inspired flavors of the Caribbean nation.
Tradition takes center stage at Venus Restaurant. Staples like fried fish, rice and peas, and perfectly cooked plantains makes the restaurant a stalwart in the local community.
While Grandchamps Kitchen and Market is in Bedstuy, it carries the essence that Haitian Americans have brought to Brooklyn. Sandwiches like the cod fish sandwich and the signature griyo sandwich are local favorites. Diri Djon Djon, Haitian Black mushroom rice, is also an essential dish.
“Little Haiti in Brooklyn challenges misconceptions and stereotypes about what it means to be Haitian.”
LITTLE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
Washington Heights may be known as the setting of classic films like “In the Heights,” but it’s also long been home to a spirited, growing population of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. After the migration to the United States began to increase in the 1960s, Dominicans have introduced their culture, traditions, and food across the nation. With , New York city has been a primary hub of Dominican activism, civic activity, and political organization. Dominican supermarkets, businesses, and restaurants have become integral to the fabric of New York’s diverse landscape, and their presence in Washington Heights in dishes like sancocho, a stew of multiple meats and starchy vegetables, mangú, the national breakfast on the Dominican Republic, and mofongo, a Caribbean favorite that shares roots with Puerto Rican culinary history. Several restaurants in Washington Heights offer these delights, and others.
A no-nonsense eatery, La Barca ditches the thrills and gives the people what they want. That includes a range of meals, from pollo con arroz, camarofongo, and the beloved tostones.
This steakhouse gives meat the attention and care it deserves. While smaller dishes like tostones and pastelitos are available, chunks of pork, grilled chicken, and grilled skirt steak are what keep folks coming back.
Ok, so there’s technically not an official “Little Australia” just yet (although, Australians in Lower Manhattan may beg to differ). However, Australian immigrants, expats, and restaurateurs have brought Australian cuisine to New York City through slow and steady restaurant growth across the country. Edging beyond the stereotypical (albeit markedly lovely) meal of vegemite and toast, several restaurants are emphasizing the “health” and vibrancy of Australian cuisine, one dish at a time.
This modern, sleek restaurant boasts a brunch menu rooted in Australian cuisine. The poached egg, corn fritters, and smashed avocado are delightful early morning dishes. For the true Australian-enthused eater, thick multigrain toast spread with vegemite is available.
Another lively brunch spot, Banter offers fresh, veggie-forward dishes like a falafel bowl, golden folded eggs with veggies, and avocado toast. For a sweet start to the day, indulge in their nutella French toast.