You don’t need an around-the-world ticket to eat in a different country for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you’re in New York City. All you need is a subway pass and a fork — or maybe just your fingers.
The city’s immigrant-rich history has brought a lot to the proverbial table over the past hundred-plus years, including food. And with over three million of the city’s residents born outside of the United States, it’s no surprise that each of the five boroughs adopts a new flavor every day. Take your taste buds on the trip of a lifetime with these seven New Yorker-approved, international eats.
Our Pick: Dumpling Galaxy
Location: Flushing, Queens
Chinese takeout is the city’s food-of-choice for breakups, makeups, and kosher Christmas’ — and for a good reason. New York is home to the largest Chinese population in any city outside of Asia, according to NYC’s Department of City Planning. While you can find decent pan-fried noodles on almost any street corner, trek to Flushing, Queens for the real-deal-dumpling experience. Approximately 40 percent of the city’s Chinese population resides in Queens, including executive chef and Dumpling Galaxy owner, Helen You, who learned how to mix and fold from her mother and grandmother in Tianjin, China.
Cuisine: Sri Lankan
Our Pick: Sigiri
Location: East Village, Manhattan; Staten Island
This tiny Southeast Asian restaurant in the East Village is smaller than most people’s first apartment in New York. Once you’re able to snag a table, you’ll find yourself surrounded by Sri Lankan expats and a few well-researched tourists. BYOB, and expect unique combinations like crab curry and banana fritters. If you’re looking to get out of Manhattan, catch the ferry to Staten Island (a.k.a. Little Sri Lanka) to devour some koththu roti at their second location.
Our Pick: Balaboosta
Location: Nolita, Manhattan
This cozy Mediterranean trattoria gets its name from the Yiddish word meaning the perfect housewife, homemaker, wonderful mother, cook and gracious host, according to their site. The husband and wife duo who own and operate Balaboosta (and Taïm, a West Village falafel-favorite) have been serving up mom-cooked meals since 2010. The menu is reminiscent of head-chef Einat Admony’s childhood and includes crispy cauliflower, goat cheese-stuffed lamb burgers, and mash-it-yourself hummus.
Our Pick: Veselka
Location: East Village, Manhattan
Belly up to the bar/open kitchen at this neighborhood gem to watch grouchy, old men slop neon pink borscht into bowls and top it with sour cream. The soup is good, but the pierogis are better. Take a gamble on the seasonal, off-the-menu flavor — which can range from short rib to squash. These guys have been at it since 1954, so whether you go for boiled or fried, you won’t be disappointed. The best part? You can gorge yourself on goulash, stroganoff, and potato pancakes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our Pick: Le CouCou
Location: SoHo, Manhattan
Bon Appétit, Vogue, The New York Times — you name it, Le CouCou has been featured in it. You’ll have to plan ahead to get in…six months ahead, if you’re lucky. That might have something to do with the classic (but swanky) French restaurant taking home the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant award this year. While head chef Daniel Rose and partner, restauranteur Stephen Starr, are still waiting on their Michelin star, don’t be surprised if you see a few stars of a different kind (think: Brad Pitt and Kanye West) over a plate of ris de veau a l’estragon (sweetbreads in a tomato cream sauce) and a bold Bordeaux.
Our Pick: El Almacén
Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Argentina’s love affair with beef rivals Texas’, but you don’t have to hop on a plane to satisfy that hunkering for freshly grilled meat. El Almacén is a nearly-hidden neighborhood favorite that sits right by the Bedford L Train in Brooklyn. The kitchen offers four different cuts of beef, along with house-made blood sausage, organic chicken and short ribs. The entrana (skirt steak with a poblano puree) and avocado fries are customer favorites, but if you’re stopping in for lunch, Madonna recommends the fish tacos.
Our Pick: Awash
Location: Upper West Side, Manhattan; East Village, Manhattan; Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
Awash is home to some of the city’s best vegetarian grub, but it’s specialty dish is Kifto, Ethiopian style raw beef with clarified butter, herbs, and spices. The mini-chain now has three locations across the city, but the original location on the Upper West Side has been cranking out carefully spiced doro wat (stewed chicken with a hard-boiled egg) and azifa (a spicy lentil dish with jalapeños) since 1994. While the atmosphere isn’t anything special, the injera bread they serve in lieu of silverware will have you questioning why you ever used a fork in the first place.
Wherever your taste buds may take you, New York’s got you covered. But the next time you trade in your subway card for a middle seat, try some of these street food favorites from around the world when you touch down on the other side.