One of the best things about living in New York City is the sheer number of ethnic groups that are represented across the 5 boroughs. More prevalent groups include Chinese, Filipino, Italian, and Russian, but New York is also home to large populations of immigrants from just about every nation around the world. These immigrant groups bring a lot of great things to our boroughs, but my favorite part is their unique cultural influences that form the small ethnic neighborhoods. From Chinatown in Flushing, Queens, to the large Russian community in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, every culture has a centralized "mini country" where they can access groceries and other comforts of home. With small ethnic communities comes amazing food, and that is my favorite part of the melting pot that is New York.
On more than one occasion, my friend Peter and have gone on what we've deemed a "Food Forage." Basically, we pick an area and search out the most authentic of these foods, eat a bunch of unfamiliar things, and spend a lot of time walking in between them. In the past, we've walked from Flushing, Queens, to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and had Dim Sum, Tibetan, and Easter European cured meats in between. We've also done a tour de Russia in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. We've now foraged a few times and have developed a few hard-and-fast rules:
- Go for maximum authentic-ness. Ideally we're in the minority in the restaurant. We feel that we're less likely to get an "Americanized" experience if it's filled with people who really know the best food from their culture. I want to taste the food in the most authentic way possible.
- Head out of Manhattan, or at least off the beaten path. Manhattan has a lot of great restaurants, and a lot of great ethnic spots, but when you're deep in the heart of Queens in a restaurant that doubles as a store-front for Tibetan-style breads, for example, it's much more likely to be authentic.
- Pick places that are spread out. We end up eating a serious amount of food, so it's best to have some walking in between to burn some cals. And let your food baby shrink.
- Don't have a plan. This is a new rule based on recent experiences. Sometimes it's great to hit up famous spots, but it's even better to wander around and look for places with the longest lines of locals.
The most recent forage was to the Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst neighborhoods in Queens. Known for large populations of Mexican, Colombian, Dominican populations, this area also has pockets of Peruvian, Ecuadorian, and Argentinian neighborhoods. I'd heard great things about the area and gotten some recommendations to hit up a few spots, so this is what we decided on:
The Arepa Lady: Famous for her cart under the Roosevelt subway tracks, she opened up a tiny brick-and-mortar stop along the same street. We got the classic stuffed with mozzarella cheese, and one topped with chorizo. They gave us a selection of sauces: green (garlic, parsley, mayo), hot, pink (ketchup & mayo), and condensed milk (!!). When asked about the condensed milk, the guy told us that it's traditional in Medellín and no where else in Colombia. Both were super tasty and pretty cheap.
- La Casa de Pollo Peruano: Peter has been to Peru with my brother, so I thought this would be a fun stop to relive their trip. Peruvian Roasted Chicken (Pollo a la Brasa) is a classic dish in Peru. Not much different than rotisserie chicken that we've all had before, but Peruvians serve theirs with french fries and a green sauce. In the words of Peter, "You could walk down a street with 15 restaurants and 10 them will serve Pollo a la Brasa." We got a half chicken with salad and fries. Everything was great and the staff was very friendly. And we had to communicate in Spanish. Bonus.
- Potacon Pisao: We trekked a while to stop at this Venezuelan spot, famous for their plantain-based sandwiches. We opted to skip their famous sandwich for something else, which was a slightly "meh" burrito-like sandwich. We were both underwhelmed. If I ever feel compelled to try their famous sandwich, I can head to their new Lower East Side location.
- Boca Junior Restaurant: This was an unplanned stop, but we passed it walking to Potacón Pisao. We decided to stop in here for a beer and let our legs and stomachs rest. To say this place is dedicated to soccer is an understatement: nearly every inch of wall and ceiling space is dedicated to Argentine-focused soccer paraphernalia. It's gloriously cheesy and it was awesome. It also may be worth a trip back to try the delicious smelling steak.
- The Lemon Ice King of Corona: Ok, so this isn't Latin American, but who can pass up Italian ices on an 80-degree fall day? Famous for selling lemon Italian ices since the 60s, this spot is a counter you walk up to and order from. I got peach and raspberry and Peter got lemon. Stick with the classic because they're amazing.
- Tortilleria Nixtamal: This place came highly recommended to me from a variety of places, so it had a lot to live up to considering two Tucsonans with a selective palate for Mexican food were going to try the tacos. Known for their special Nixtamalization way of processing corn, I will say that the tortillas were far better than any corn tortilla I'd had. Nixtamal was great, and everything was pretty cheap, but it's no Tucson.
Overall, the places were pretty delicious, but we collectively decided that none were worth a repeat trip, which is what led us to making a new rule of not having a plan. Next time, we'll eat the tacos being made by a man in the back of a bodega instead of settling on places that have 5-star yelp reviews.
More pictures of our adventure:
Until next time, Queens.
Brianna is the Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Hook & Blade Mag. She is based out of New York City where she enjoys exploring the city, trying new foods, and people watching. She works as an Email Marketing Manager at General Assembly, and tries to travel as much as she can.