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Daddy-O’s garbage plate
Daddy-O’s garbage plate
Gary He

10 Affordable Places for Difficult-to-Find Cuisines in NYC

Where to get Uzbek-Korean, Chilean, and other foods less common in NYC, on the cheap

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Daddy-O’s garbage plate
| Gary He

If you want to eat lunch in a Vietnamese, Mexican, or Italian restaurant, you have your pick of places in many neighborhoods. But what about cuisines that are less ubiquitous? What if you want a Chilean chacarero (a sandwich of beef and green beans), food from the Korean minority in Uzbek, or a so-called garbage plate like they make them in Rochester, New York?

Here are 10 cuisines for which few restaurants exist in the five boroughs, all worth seeking out for their unique dishes.

Note: Restaurants on this list are arranged geographically, from north to south.

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With flagship restaurant Madiba closed, the city is nearly bereft in the South African restaurant department. So, where will we get our biltong (beef jerky) and bunny chow (loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with a curry) now? The answer is Kaia, a great wine bar and restaurant a stone’s throw from the 92nd Street Y. Amazingly, the expansive wine list is all South African vintages, and there are happy hour bargains before 7 p.m.

Kaia
Bunny Chow at Kaia
Robert Sietsema

Gazala’s Place

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The Druze are an ethnic group united by their religion who dwell in several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel and Lebanon. New York City is lucky enough to have a restaurant that represents the cuisine. At Gazala’s Place in Hell’s Kitchen, named for chef-owner Gazala Halabi, many of the dishes will sound familiar to anyone who’s been in a Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC, but what comes out is less ubiquitous. The boureka here are much bigger and look more like giant pretzels than the tiny triangle-shaped ones around town, though they’re still flaky and savory. Pita, too, aren’t fluffy pockets but rather thin, stretchy things made on-site over a dome. It’s chewier, and a fantastic accompaniment to the rest of the menu.

La Roja de Todos

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Ever since Astoria’s San Antonio Bakery closed, and the highfalutin fish restaurant in the Theater District called Pomaire flipped its last flounder, Chilean food has been at a premium in New York City. In fact, the only place I know of is La Roja de Todos, where seafood like abalone; baked goods like a beef, olive, and egg empanada; charcareros; and pastel de choclo (a corn pie stuffed with beef and baked in a skillet) are served in a familial atmosphere.

La Roja de Todos
Robert Sietsema

Taste of Cochin

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New York is becoming ever richer in the regional cuisines of India, and especially South India. We have a handful of places devoted to Chennai (the former Madras), Hyderabad, and Kerala, but only one that specializes in the cooking of Cochin, now known as Kochi, on Kerala’s southern coast. Taste of Cochin offers several surprising dishes, many of which are found only on the paper menu. Don’t miss molly, a mellow dish of fish chunks in coconut milk (shown), or the red-sauced and toasty-tasting Malabar fish curry. Several recipes also contain beef, which is unusual in an Indian restaurant. Duck and vegetarian dishes also abound, all best accompanied by Malabar paratha, a flaky flatbread.

Fish moilly from Taste of Cochin

Awang Kitchen

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Indonesian restaurants have always been rare, though in past eras (the ’90s, for example) we had more of them. One of the newest, and most highly recommended for cheap eats, is Awang Kitchen in Elmhurst. Start with gado gado, a vegetarian salad of tempeh and lontong (compressed rice cakes) in a delightfully thick peanut sauce. Beef rendang (chunks of meat cooked down in massive quantities of coconut milk) and young goat satays are further highlights of a menu that runs off the rails when it gets to sushi.

 
Gado Gado salad at Awang Kitchen
Indonesian, Awang Kitchen, cheap eats, NYC, Elmhurst

Daddy-O

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Rochester, New York has its own regional cuisine, overlapping with that of Buffalo. Daddy-O is a beatnik dive bar that offers several Western specialties. One is a version of the “garbage plate” made famous by Greek lunch counter Nick Tahou Hots, consisting of hamburger patties or hot dogs, along with fried potatoes, macaroni salad, and sometimes baked beans, squirted with mustard and chili sauce. The hot dogs here are Zweigle’s — red or white, made near Rochester since 1880.

 
The Garbage Plate at Daddy-O
Robert Sietsema

Laotian cuisine is almost nonexistent here. Khe-Yo is our sole exemplar as far as I can tell, a cozy restaurant in Tribeca. Much of the menu is on the pricier side, but you can dine exceedingly well at lunch for $15 or so. Your choices include a pair of Southeast Asian baguette sandwiches featuring either Berkshire pork or crisp hen of the woods mushrooms, a Laotian version of pho inspired by kinds from the Thai-Laotian border, and a series of satisfying bowls highlighting grilled tiger prawns, lemongrass chicken, or caramel salmon.

Pho at Khe-Yo
Robert Sietsema

Yes, there are a few bodegas in Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst that push aside their shelves, install a table, and sell soups. But one must go to Jamaica, Queens, to find a full-service Guatemalan restaurant. Xelaju, the ancient name of the country’s second largest city of Quetzaltenango, advertises itself as both an Italian pizzeria and a Guatemalan restaurant. It peddles breakfasts featuring blacks beans, thick small tortillas, and bouncy white cheese, as well as tamales incorporating the green leaf called in English “longbeak rattlebox.” Best of all is salpicon, a cold beef-and-radish salad.

 
Salpicon at Xelaju
Robert Sietsema

Bosna Express

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Sure, there’s a good Serbian restaurant in the East Village (Kafana), but it’s a little too expensive to be called cheap eats. Instead head out to Ridgewood in the shadow of the elevated M train at Forest Avenue, where a little village square awaits you. There find a small cafe — a shack, really — called Bosna Express. It dispenses two Balkan specialties: cevapi, the little skinless sausages which can be put on a sandwich or on a platter, and pljeskavica, a hubcap-sized burger that you should share with a friend. Smear on the kaymak (clabbered cream) and ajvar (red-pepper paste).

Pljeskavica at Bosna Express
Robert Sietsema

At Your Mother in Law

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Uzbekistan has boasted a Korean minority since the 1930s, and they have their own distinct cuisine (though a typical Uzbek restaurant serves a handful of Korean dishes, such as kimchi-and-carrot salad). Find this cuisine at At Your Mother in Law not far from the beach. Alternately known as “Eddie Fancy Food,” the tiny restaurant serves up kuksu, a Korean-leaning soup featuring noodles, pickled vegetables, and shredded omelet, like a liquid bibimbap, as well as hye, a cold salad of oiled tripe. Uzbek classics like manti, samsa, lagman, and plov are also available.

Kuksu at Elza’s Fancy Foods
Robert Sietsema

Kaia

With flagship restaurant Madiba closed, the city is nearly bereft in the South African restaurant department. So, where will we get our biltong (beef jerky) and bunny chow (loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with a curry) now? The answer is Kaia, a great wine bar and restaurant a stone’s throw from the 92nd Street Y. Amazingly, the expansive wine list is all South African vintages, and there are happy hour bargains before 7 p.m.

Kaia
Bunny Chow at Kaia
Robert Sietsema

Gazala’s Place

The Druze are an ethnic group united by their religion who dwell in several Middle Eastern countries, including Israel and Lebanon. New York City is lucky enough to have a restaurant that represents the cuisine. At Gazala’s Place in Hell’s Kitchen, named for chef-owner Gazala Halabi, many of the dishes will sound familiar to anyone who’s been in a Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC, but what comes out is less ubiquitous. The boureka here are much bigger and look more like giant pretzels than the tiny triangle-shaped ones around town, though they’re still flaky and savory. Pita, too, aren’t fluffy pockets but rather thin, stretchy things made on-site over a dome. It’s chewier, and a fantastic accompaniment to the rest of the menu.

La Roja de Todos

Ever since Astoria’s San Antonio Bakery closed, and the highfalutin fish restaurant in the Theater District called Pomaire flipped its last flounder, Chilean food has been at a premium in New York City. In fact, the only place I know of is La Roja de Todos, where seafood like abalone; baked goods like a beef, olive, and egg empanada; charcareros; and pastel de choclo (a corn pie stuffed with beef and baked in a skillet) are served in a familial atmosphere.

La Roja de Todos
Robert Sietsema

Taste of Cochin

New York is becoming ever richer in the regional cuisines of India, and especially South India. We have a handful of places devoted to Chennai (the former Madras), Hyderabad, and Kerala, but only one that specializes in the cooking of Cochin, now known as Kochi, on Kerala’s southern coast. Taste of Cochin offers several surprising dishes, many of which are found only on the paper menu. Don’t miss molly, a mellow dish of fish chunks in coconut milk (shown), or the red-sauced and toasty-tasting Malabar fish curry. Several recipes also contain beef, which is unusual in an Indian restaurant. Duck and vegetarian dishes also abound, all best accompanied by Malabar paratha, a flaky flatbread.

Fish moilly from Taste of Cochin

Awang Kitchen

Indonesian restaurants have always been rare, though in past eras (the ’90s, for example) we had more of them. One of the newest, and most highly recommended for cheap eats, is Awang Kitchen in Elmhurst. Start with gado gado, a vegetarian salad of tempeh and lontong (compressed rice cakes) in a delightfully thick peanut sauce. Beef rendang (chunks of meat cooked down in massive quantities of coconut milk) and young goat satays are further highlights of a menu that runs off the rails when it gets to sushi.

 
Gado Gado salad at Awang Kitchen
Indonesian, Awang Kitchen, cheap eats, NYC, Elmhurst

Daddy-O

Rochester, New York has its own regional cuisine, overlapping with that of Buffalo. Daddy-O is a beatnik dive bar that offers several Western specialties. One is a version of the “garbage plate” made famous by Greek lunch counter Nick Tahou Hots, consisting of hamburger patties or hot dogs, along with fried potatoes, macaroni salad, and sometimes baked beans, squirted with mustard and chili sauce. The hot dogs here are Zweigle’s — red or white, made near Rochester since 1880.

 
The Garbage Plate at Daddy-O
Robert Sietsema

Khe-Yo

Laotian cuisine is almost nonexistent here. Khe-Yo is our sole exemplar as far as I can tell, a cozy restaurant in Tribeca. Much of the menu is on the pricier side, but you can dine exceedingly well at lunch for $15 or so. Your choices include a pair of Southeast Asian baguette sandwiches featuring either Berkshire pork or crisp hen of the woods mushrooms, a Laotian version of pho inspired by kinds from the Thai-Laotian border, and a series of satisfying bowls highlighting grilled tiger prawns, lemongrass chicken, or caramel salmon.

Pho at Khe-Yo
Robert Sietsema

Xelaju

Yes, there are a few bodegas in Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst that push aside their shelves, install a table, and sell soups. But one must go to Jamaica, Queens, to find a full-service Guatemalan restaurant. Xelaju, the ancient name of the country’s second largest city of Quetzaltenango, advertises itself as both an Italian pizzeria and a Guatemalan restaurant. It peddles breakfasts featuring blacks beans, thick small tortillas, and bouncy white cheese, as well as tamales incorporating the green leaf called in English “longbeak rattlebox.” Best of all is salpicon, a cold beef-and-radish salad.

 
Salpicon at Xelaju
Robert Sietsema

Bosna Express

Sure, there’s a good Serbian restaurant in the East Village (Kafana), but it’s a little too expensive to be called cheap eats. Instead head out to Ridgewood in the shadow of the elevated M train at Forest Avenue, where a little village square awaits you. There find a small cafe — a shack, really — called Bosna Express. It dispenses two Balkan specialties: cevapi, the little skinless sausages which can be put on a sandwich or on a platter, and pljeskavica, a hubcap-sized burger that you should share with a friend. Smear on the kaymak (clabbered cream) and ajvar (red-pepper paste).

Pljeskavica at Bosna Express
Robert Sietsema

At Your Mother in Law

Uzbekistan has boasted a Korean minority since the 1930s, and they have their own distinct cuisine (though a typical Uzbek restaurant serves a handful of Korean dishes, such as kimchi-and-carrot salad). Find this cuisine at At Your Mother in Law not far from the beach. Alternately known as “Eddie Fancy Food,” the tiny restaurant serves up kuksu, a Korean-leaning soup featuring noodles, pickled vegetables, and shredded omelet, like a liquid bibimbap, as well as hye, a cold salad of oiled tripe. Uzbek classics like manti, samsa, lagman, and plov are also available.

Kuksu at Elza’s Fancy Foods
Robert Sietsema

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