Tucked away on the second floor of a Midtown building, above a deli, is Nasrin’s Kitchen. Located at 35 W. 57th Street, near Sixth Avenue, an easy-to-miss, upstairs sign captured the attention of the handful of office workers who peeked inside on its first day, Tuesday, June 27.
The new Persian restaurant comes from humble beginnings. Owner-chef Nasrin Rejali is an Iranian refugee, by way of Istanbul, before relocating to Woodhaven, Queens, in 2016. In New York, she got connected with the catering company EatOffBeat, whose focus is on supporting refugees; and, it’s where she’s been working for the past couple of years and who she credits for helping her early success in the city. Previously, back in Tehran, Rejali had run a buffet at a sports bar but during the pandemic, pushed in part because of need and also an inability to sit still, she was encouraged by her community to start hosting pop-ups under the name Nasrin’s Kitchen.
In 2020, she began selling Persian jams, like a carrot or pistachio version. Then, Ridgewood pizzeria Pàn, allowed her to use their kitchen for a residency where she served an expanded takeout menu of homestyle Persian cooking — a taste of home she missed. “Part of my heart is in Iran,” she says. “Cooking makes me feel closer.” She later got connected with Talia’s, an uptown kosher steakhouse, where she for the first time experimented with kosher Persian cooking.
After years in catering mode, she found she “was getting lonely” and dreamed of hosting in a place of her own. The timing was right: An Iranian operator and fan of her pop-ups, who had his own restaurant that closed in the second-floor space during COVID, invited her to take over (he also owns the downstairs deli).
Though more modern Persian restaurants are opening in New York City like Sofreh, Eyval, and cocktail bar Masquerade, Rejali says that on the whole, she feels most New Yorkers still know very little of the traditional cuisine and the culture. “People only seem to think of kebabs,” she laments (each table is adorned with facts about specific cities in Iran).
The halal menu at Nasrin’s Kitchen starts with items like Persian noodle soup ash reshteh ($12), sauteed eggplant, kashk bademjon ($12), and the herbaceous dish with egg, kuku sabzi ($9). For entrees, find gheymeh, a yellow split pea and beef stew with saffron ($24), ghormeh sabzi, a beef stew with beans, and fesenjoon, a stew with walnuts, saffron, and pomegranate molasses. And yes, there are kebab platters ($27 to $30), as well as desserts such as the Persian baklava ($7) and a saffron-rose rice pudding ($10). Ingredients are sourced from Iran where possible, she says.
“She’s the most hard-working person I know and an exceptional chef,” said Anna Polonsky, who did branding for Nasrin’s Kitchen during COVID and designed the menu at the restaurant. Polonsky’s husband, Fernando “Fefo” Aciar, sells Rejali’s date cookies at his coffee shop, OCafe. “She has an incredible taste, eye, and generosity.” The bar at Nasrin’s Kitchen may eventually sell beer and wine; Polonsky set Rejali up with the natural wine distributor Zev Rovine, who supplies to top restaurants around the city.
“It makes me so happy to host people, it really fills my heart with how much people have supported us,” Rejali says. Her son, Arta Kasra, who had helped with her pop-up deliveries, runs the front-of-house in Midtown.
Currently, Nasrin’s Kitchen is open 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with the exception of Mondays, for dine-in service (takeout and delivery starts at 11:30 a.m.) Rejali is considering adding lunch — and, for now, at least, the jam business is on pause.