Many of us make pilgrimages to favorite destination restaurants in far-flung neighborhoods, maybe an Indian place in Jackson Heights, a pizzeria in Midwood, or a taqueria in Bushwick. But isn’t it better to visit destination neighborhoods instead, where your selection is often bewilderingly large, and you can wait until the last moment to decide what kind of food you want and at what price point? Here are five food neighborhoods that offer that kind of diversity, each with five solid restaurant choices, briefly described.
Though this sandy stretch of Coney Island is best known for its Russian and Ukrainian population, and for leisurely strolls along the boardwalk in the long summer evenings, it is also a dining mecca with a diverse collection of European and Asian informal cafes, piroshky stands, and sit-down restaurants.
Elza Fancy Food — This small, comfortable, and cheap cafe on a side street presents the food of Uzbekistan’s Korean minority, which results in an amazing mash-up of Central Asian and Korean fare. 3071 Brighton 4th St, Brooklyn, 718-942-4088
National — A sea of chandeliers, fake frosty foliage, and other forced glitz, National is one of the few remaining combination night clubs and banquet halls in Brighton Beach, and still your bet for enjoying this arcane form of entertainment, featuring pumping Casios, dancers in brief sequined costumes, and vodka frozen in blocks of ice. 273 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-646-1225
Beyti Kebab — Kebabs are the forte of this Turkish lunch counter, which is open late. Two doner (aka shawarma) cylinders twirl in the window, one chicken, one lamb, served either in a sandwich or on a platter with rice pilaf and salad. Bread dips and hot apps also available, and equally spectacular. 414 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-332-7900
Skovorodka — You’d be surprised to find out how rare it is to find a sit-down Russian restaurant that isn’t a night club on one hand, or a dumpling-driven teahouse on the other. Here it is, with meaty, full-course meals that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. 615 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-615-3096
Piroshky Stand — Right in front of Best Buy International Food, this small stand with a lit warming case purveys what are reputed to be the best piroshkies in Bright Beach, big flops of dough stuffed with potatoes, mushrooms, ground meat, cheese, or fruit. One’s a meal. 411 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-332-7900
Café Kashkar — Restaurants serving the Uyghur food of far, far western China are few and far between, and this is the most approachable one in town. Thrill to noodle soups, dumplings, and charcoal grilled kebabs in a small cafe setting. 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, 718-743-3832
Once the exclusive province of small Polish cafes and reception halls, the dining in this northernmost neighborhood of Brooklyn has grown eclectic over the last decade, and great dining choices are sprouting near its long and underutilized coastline, on major thoroughfares, and also on side streets.
Paulie Gee’s — This new-wave pizzeria is the work of New Jersey pizzaiolo Paul Giannone, and the Naples-style pies have punning names like the Brian DeParma and Feel Like Bacon Love. In the cobbled-together interior, the wood-burning oven is the center of attention. 60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, (347) 987-3747
Oasis — The larger, more-comfortable offshoot of a Williamsburg Palestinian favorite specializes in cut-rate-but-delicious kebabs, bread dips, and baklava-style desserts, just off McGuinness, the road that goes to Long Island City. 230 Calyer St, Brooklyn, (718) 389-4680
Frankel’s Delicatessen and Appetizing — It was a brilliant idea combining the output of an old-fashioned Jewish deli with that of an appetizing store, and where the two meet in the middle is pastrami-cured salmon. The pastrami itself is fabulous, and the location at the top of McCarren Park can’t be beat. 631 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 389-2302
Karczma — While most of the tiny Polish cafes in the neighborhood are gone, this larger and slightly more upscale version will do just fine, offering set meals in the $10 to $15 range that will fill you up with good, rib-sticking food. The decor and dress of the waiters, will definitely put you in the mood. 136 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, (718) 349-1744
Yes this Bronx neighborhood — also known as Arthur Avenue after its main street — is a bit of a slog from the subway, but well worth it! Famous for its ancient Italian restaurants, groceries, and meat markets, the area also boasts Albanian and Mexican eateries, and is an easy walk from such other attractions as Fordham University and the Bronx Botanical Garden.
Madonia Brothers Bakery — Founded 1918, this bakery excels in Italian-style loaves, but is also famous for its pastries, and a visit is a step back in time. The cannoli are legendary: Available in large and small sizes, they are filled to order with sweetened ricotta, and thus the shell retains its miraculous crunch. 2348 Arthur Ave, Bronx, (718) 295-5573
Mario’s — This grand, red-sauced Italian is only one year younger than Madonia Brothers, and it’s the place to go if you want a leisurely, sit-down meal surrounded by a kitschy art collection intended to evoke the Roman Empire. Go for the octopus salad, massive veal chop, stuffed clams, and baked pastas and you’ll leave feeling very happy. 2342 Arthur Ave, Bronx, (718) 584-1188
Roberto’s — Helmed by chef Roberto Paciullo, who was born in Salerno, this 13-year-old place casually evokes the kind of real trattoria you yearn for after your Italian vacation ends. Consult the chalkboard menu for seasonal specials, which may include fricasseed rabbit, eggplant casserole, and well-sauced homemade pastas. 603 Crescent Ave, Bronx, (718) 733-9503
Gurra Café — While Balkan bar food is not uncommon in the New York area, this Albanian place does it generously, cheaply, and well. In an intimate cafe setting, where the cook occasionally looks up from his work to see how you’re liking your food, find a simple menu of bean stews and simply grilled sausages, along with hearty salads laced with crumbled feta. 2325 Arthur Ave, Bronx, (718) 220-4254
Arthur Avenue Retail Market — This colorful European-style market dates from the days when Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor. It offers stalls selling produce, meat, pastas, houseplants, and cigars, but also has several small cafes and sandwich shops, including Café al Mercato, a wonderful Sicilian lunch counter, and a salumeria and sandwich shop called Mike’s Deli. 2321 Hughes Ave, Bronx, (347) 590-6711
Once a hardscrabble neighborhood dominated by Irish gangs, the fortunes of this region sandwiched between Chelsea and Upper West Side have been improving over the last three decades. It’s now a vast smorgasbord of ethnic eating at prices that — while not the cheapest — remain reasonable.
Larb Ubol — Of the amazing stock of 30 Thai restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen — most of them located along 9th Avenue — this is the best. Chef Ratchanee Sumpatboon concentrates on the cooking of northeast Thailand’s Esan region, which means fiery green-papaya salads, sour sausages served with toasted peanuts and fresh ginger, Chinese-leaning noodles, and spicy, meal-size soups. 480 9th Ave, (212) 564-1822
Azuri Café — This ancient Israeli spot is intimate to say the least and the proprietor is sometimes a bit grumpy, but the food (we might term it "kosher hippie") is freshly prepared and spectacular. Sit at one of the small tables and enjoy falafels right out of the fat, meaty kebabs, and some of the city’s best baba and hummus. 465 W 51st St, (212) 262-2920
Tulcingo Del Valle — Named after a municipality in the arid southern reaches of Puebla, Tulcingo Del Valle was one of Manhattan’s first bodega-taquerias. The whole range of Mexican and Mexican-American cooking is on display; consult the chalkboard for such specialties as home-style Mexican mole and pork ribs with purslane. 665 10th Ave, (212) 262-5510
Ariana Afghan Kebab — A hearty welcome awaits you inside this homey, well-decorated enclave, featuring stampeding horsemen wielding swords and colorful fringed textiles. Feast on charcoal-grilled kebabs, pumpkin-stuffed turnovers called bolanee, charred flatbreads, yogurt-laced soups, and savory stewed vegetables. 787 9th Ave, (212) 262-2323
Gazala Place — Chef Gazala Halabi uses a domed griddle to produce the gossamer pitas that are the signature of the Middle Eastern cooking of the Druze tribe. Other viands are more recognizable, include ground-beef kutfa, stewed fava beans, and various permutations of creamy hummus. This is one of the city’s best BYOB places. 709 9th Ave, (212) 245-0709
Jackson Heights is a middle class enclave of handsome multifamily dwellings in the Tudor and French Chateau styles along tree-lined streets. But its many shopping thoroughfares are hopping with inexpensive restaurants catering to the working classes of many ethnicities.
Phayul — Climb the narrow twisting stairway past a beauty parlor to get to this second-floor aerie of Tibetan food. No yak, but plenty of mung bean jelly salads, blood sausage, momos, and other dishes, some dotted with Sichuan peppercorns. 37-65 74th Street, Queens, (718) 424-1869
Taqueria Coatzingo — This expansive place has morphed into something far more than a taqueria; in fact, the double storefront now lays claim to being the city’s most ambitious (though not expensive) Pueblan restaurant, with a multipage menu covering all the culinary bases, from grilled steak served with cactus to tongue tacos to Mexican eggs done a dozen ways. 76-05 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 424-1977
La Casa Del Pollo — Cheap, succulent, spice-rubbed chicken is the specialty of this Peruvian rotisserie —one of several on Roosevelt Avenue. But don’t stop your ordering there, the menu also offers meaty pork ribs, fried yuca, soups, and Peruvian-Chinese fare at this cafe with a pleasant dining room filled with families. 87-07 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 424-7312
Aroma Brazil — This rare Brazilian restaurant offers a pay-as-you-go buffet with the usual salads, steamed tubers, and black beans, but go directly instead to the window at the rear, where the barbecued meat selections are prepared. Pick your meats, then go to the buffet to fill in the empty spaces on the plate. 75-13 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, (718) 672-7662
Samudra — The vegetarian cuisine of South India, which includes dosa, idlis, and other dishes made from fermented batters of lentils and rice, is ably represented at this pleasant, informal spot, which is somewhat off the beaten track. The chutneys are especially good, too, and the prices cheap for the genre. 75-18 37th Ave, Queens, (718) 255-1757