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A group of Croatian watching a soccer game at a restaurant.
The game at Selo in Astoria.
Caroline Shin/Eater NY

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Astoria Restaurants Are the Epicenter of the World Cup in NYC

Eater heads to Dar Yemma and Selo to watch the games

Restaurants have always been beacons for immigrant communities, so every four years, the World Cup electrifies a new round of international enclaves in New York City. Last week, the tournament locked in the final four contenders: Morocco, Croatia, Argentina, and France. In Astoria, where 37 percent of its residents are immigrants, the Moroccan and Croatian communities found solace in the hopes and losses of their soccer teams this week.

It was a particularly loaded game for Morocco, with more than the World Cup riding on its shoulders. Morocco was the first African country — and the biggest underdog — to progress to the semi-finals. For followers of the tournament, the game also meant a reversal of colonial history, and solidarity for Africans, Arabs, and Muslims in the face of America’s own racism and intolerance.

Scroll ahead to see how the World Cup screening parties unfolded at two Astoria restaurants — Dar Yemma, an acclaimed Moroccan-Algerian restaurant, and Selo, a local favorite, Croatian Serbian spot — and celebrations spilled out onto Steinway Street afterward.

Dar Yemma: 25-21 Steinway Street, near 25th Avenue

A crowd outside Moroccan restaurant, Dar Yemma.
Dar Yemma co-owner Saber Bouteraa (in the cream jacket) was up until 6 a.m. on Wednesday, December 15, getting the space ready for the live broadcast. His crew arranged for security at the door, borrowed chairs from Little Morocco (where he used to eat as a kid), and brought in heaters, a canopy, and a TV in the back patio. They spent $10,000 in its renovation. “With the recession, it was not in our plan to do it now,” says Bouteraa, “but with the World Cup, we had to do it.” He had a packed house of 160 reservations with a few spectators flying in to watch the game. “Astoria has a lot of Moroccans, and the atmosphere is good,” says Hicham Azekri, who landed in NYC on a flight from Las Vegas in the morning. His friends flew from Chicago.
A lineup of the day’s food for watching Morocco in the World Cup.
Chef Touria Lamtahaf stepped away from the restaurant’s regular menu of traditional classics like tagine and couscous with a mixed grill lunch set of lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs with rice and salad and unlimited mint tea, soda, and water for $35.
Halal chicken on a grill.
Halal chicken is fired up on the grill.
People drove to Queens from out of town to watch the game.
Journalist, Noor Tagouri (right with the statement earring), drove a couple hours from upstate New York. “I think that the win has already happened,” she says. “The fact that the entire world is sharing the story and the images of Arab, African, and Muslim joy is so powerful. You never see this kind of representation.” Tagouri, who’s Libyan with a half-Moroccan husband, has never watched a soccer game before. “I’ve never been so invested; it’s what the story represents. Her whole team at the media company, At Your Service, came to watch the game.
People from around the Muslim world went to Dar Yemma to watch the game.
Tooba Wasi, who’s Pakistani; Salhah Elaneizi, who’s Libyan; Zeinab Bakillah and Lina Chaoui, both Moroccan (left to right in the second row) came from Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I love supporting Moroccan restaurants and small businesses in the community,” says Chaoui. She enjoyed the Moroccan breakfast at Dar Yemma’s last screening.
A crowd’s response post-game.
I feel like “It’s a tough loss for sure,” says Bakillah. “It’s just amazing that we made it this far. It brought us all together. And we’ll never forget that.”
Celebrants in the street in Queens.
Steinway Street was blocked off for celebrations. Morocco lost the World Cup, but they won the world. Here, a group of celebrants was waving their Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia flags until they stopped to pull up another fan.
More scenes from the street after the soccer game.
Flares went off. A young girl danced to a reveler’s drumming and the crowd cheered together.

Selo: 3305 Broadway, near 33rd Street

A server carrying plates of octopus.
Servers contorted around fans to bring dishes like this grilled octopus to the table.
Cevapi and pita bread with ajvar on a plate.
Multitudes ordered the cevapi, Balkan sausages with ajvar, onions, and pita bread.
A plate of schnitzel and cheese served with baked potato.
The karadjordjeva— a schnitzel roll stuffed with kaymak and served with baked potato and tartar sauce — was another hit.
Two tennis coaches took the day off to drive to Selo and watch the game.
Tennis coaches, Tea Jandric and Antonio Pejic, who are both Croatian, took the day off from work, and drove an hour from Bay Shore, Long Island, to watch the game at Selo. “It just feels more united, more exciting,” says Jandric.

Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.

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