New York City has been known as the “Great Melting Pot” since the early 1900s, and all those years of cultural diversity have had quite a positive impact on its food. Wandering from borough to borough and neighborhood to neighborhood, nomadic visitors can take a virtual trip around the world, sampling the flavors of China, India, Russia and beyond—without ever leaving the city. Here’s where to shop for culinary souvenirs and snack your way through eight of New York’s most enticing culinary enclaves. Passport not necessary, though a Metrocard will come in handy.
China: Chinatown, Manhattan
Take the N, R, Q; J, Z; 6 to Canal St; B, D to Grand St.; F to East Broadway
Manhattan’s ever-expanding Chinatown has the largest concentration of Chinese in the western hemisphere. This bustling pocket of downtown is bounded by Broadway on the west and East Broadway on the east, and its main drags are Canal Street, Division Street, Mott Street and the Bowery. The Chinese population started to settle in around the mid-nineteenth century has been a thriving New York neighborhood ever since. Hit Hong Kong Supermarket (157 Hester St., 212-966-4943) for its great selection of fresh greens and hard-to-find ingredients like bamboo shoots and bitter melon. With its tubs of live frogs, turtles, exotic fish and vast selection of Asian packaged goods, New York Mart (128 Mott St., 212-680-0178) is as much fun to browse as it is to shop. To binge on buns in the neighborhood, look no further than Mei Li Wah (64 Bayard St., 212-966-7866, meiliwah.com), known for its barbecued pork variety, or make a pit stop for noodles at Lam Zhou (144 E. Broadway, 212-566-6933). Refresh with a bubble tea at Ten Ren’s Tea Time (79 Mott St., 212-732-7178).
Dominican Republic: Washington Heights, Manhattan
Take the A to 181st St.
The hub for Dominican immigration since the mid-1960s, Washington Heights occupies the northern stretches of Manhattan and is famously celebrated in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical In the Heights. The stretch between 175th and 185th on St. Nicolas Avenue hosts a concentration of Latin groceries and butchers. Tu Pais Supermarket (1460 St. Nicholas Ave.) is a good stop for plantains, tropical root vegetables, cassava crackers and Dominican coffee by the can. For coffee by the cup, Bakery El Panadero (138 St. Nicholas Ave., 212-923-6610) makes a respectable café con leche as well as guava and cheese pastries. More hearty, yet quick, fare can be found at El Malecon (4141 Broadway, 212-927-3812), which is celebrated for its legendary rotisserie chicken and island home cooking.
India: Jackson Heights, Queens
Take the E; F; M, R to Jackson Heights/ Roosevelt Ave.; 7 to 74th St./Broadway
New York City has the largest Indian population in the U.S., and 74th Street between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue is the heart of Queens’ Little India. Patel Brothers (32-27 74th St., 718-898-3445, patelbros.com) brims with fresh produce, spices and herbs, while Apna Bazaar (72-20 37th Ave.) carries curry pastes, dried fruits, basmati rice, yogurt and other staples 24 hours a day. Jackson Diner (37-47 74th St., 718-672-1232, jacksondiner.com) is a famous destination for its Northern Indian fare, such as tandoori. Take in the rainbow of candies in the display Maharaja Sweets and Snacks (73-10 37th Ave., 718-505-2680), where you can buy sweets to go, or to stay and sit in the back and relish treats like jamun, a syrupy South Asian donut.
In Manhattan, take the 6 to 28th Street and try Curry Hill, the blocks of Lexington Avenue between 26th and 29th Street, also a microcosm of Indian culture. Its draws include several Indian restaurants, the world-famous Kalustyan’s (123 Lexington Ave., 212-685-3451, kalustyans.com) with its thousands of spices and Foods of India (121 Lexington Ave., 212-683-4419), a favorite grocery of the city’s chefs.
Italy: Arthur Avenue, the Bronx
Take the B, D to Fordham Rd.
Eataly may be drawing all the tourists, and Manhattan’s Little Italy may have a more familiar history, but the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue is a destination for any Italian cook worth his or her weight in proscioutto. New York City’s Italian population reaches back to the nineteenth century and enclaves of Italian-American communities grew in all five boroughs. Dubbing itself “The Real Little Italy of New York,” Arthur Avenue is home to the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2344 Arthur Ave., 718-295-5033, arthuravenue.com), established by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1940. More than a dozen merchants within the covered market purvey pasta, sausage, olive oils, imported cheese, antipasti and the like. Inside, Mike’s Deli is known for its fatty meat sandwiches such as the Raging Bull, with hot soppressata and sharp provolone. Further along the Avenue, visit family-run S. Calandra Cheese Shop (2314 Arthur Ave., 718-365-7572) for housemade mozzarella and ricotta, and then grab some fresh made foccaccia bread from Terranova Bakery (535 E 187th St., 718-367-6985, terranovabakery.com) to go with it. Some homemade Milano cookies or a lemon Italian ice at De Lillo Pasticceria (610 E 187th St., 718-367-8198, delillopastryshop.com) adds a sugary finish.
In Manhattan, take the N, Q; J; 6 to Spring St, to more familiar terrain. Though not as bustling as in its heyday, Mulberry Street’s Little Italy still exists, especially via its food. Di Paolo’s Fine Food (200 Grand St., 212-226-1033, dipaloselects.com) sells everything an Italophile needs, while visitors can taste tradition at Lombardi’s, (32 Spring St., 212-941-7994, firstpizza.com), America’s first pizzeria.
Korea: Koreatown, Manhattan
Take the B, D, F, M; N, R, Q to 34th St./Herald Sq.
Koreatown, a stretch in Midtown Manhattan centered on 32nd Street, sits in the shadow of the Empire State Building and amid the bustle of businesses off Herald Square. Barbecue restaurants are aplenty, but for a quick snack the dumpling-centric Mandoo Bar (2 W. 32nd St., 212-279-3075, mandoobarnyc.com) or Woorijip (12 W. 32nd St., 212-244-1115 woorijipnyc.com) grab-and-go buffet, with its noodles and Korean sushi (kimbap), do the trick. The fried chicken chain that’s a sensation back in the homeland, Kyochon (319 Fifth Ave., 212-725-9292), draws equally fervent fans in NYC. For a take-home souvenir, there’s jarred kimchee at Han Ah Reum (25 W. 32nd St., 212-695-3283), the go-to Korean supermarket.
Mexico: East Harlem, Manhattan
Take the 6 to 116th St.
The fastest growing ethnic group in New York City makes its home in Spanish Harlem, aka El Barrio, between East 110th and East 116th Street. El Tepeyac Grocery (1621 Lexington Ave., 212-987-8364) is the place to purchase everything from packaged tortillas to mole in a jar, while Taco Mix (234 E. 116th St., 212-831-8147) where locals head for a quick, authentic taco al pastor. For cheap, authentic sweet breads and pastries, try Mi Mexico Lindo Bakery (2267 Second Ave., 212-996-5223); just grab some tongs and a tray and pick whatever looks good.
Russia: Brighton Beach/Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Take the B, Q to Brighton Beach
Eastern Europeans started to populate this seaside community post WW II, during the 1940s and 1950s, but “Refusenik” Russians came en masse in the 1970s when the Soviet Union allowed emigration. You’ll hear plenty of the mother tongue while strolling Brighton Beach Avenue. Be on the lookout for street vendors selling pirozhki, a meat or potato dumpling, and get one, or two, before a stop at Ocean Wine and Liquor (514 Brighton Beach Ave., 718-743-3084) for a bottle of vodka at a refreshingly low price. Head over to Cherry Hill Gourmet Market (1901 Emmons Ave., 718-616-1900), home of 19,000-square-feet of Russo delicacies; it’s the best place to stock up on caviar, sardines and frozen borscht.
Take the G to Greenpoint Ave.
Somewhat sheltered by its lack of quality public transportation, Greenpoint has harbored a Polish community since it the turn of the century. For a taste of traditional sweets such as babka and piernik (gingerbread), make a pit stop at Cafe Riviera (830 Manhattan Ave., 718-383-8450), which is a serious neighborhood hub. Whether it’s pints of bigos and borscht or butcher counter items such as smoked kielbasa and black pepper sausage you’re after, Polski Meat Market (726 Manhattan Ave., 718-349-2884) is your place. It’s mainly for takeout, but there’s one table inside if you can’t wait to chow down. Cap your Slavic immersion at Slodycze Wedel (772 Manhattan Ave., 718-349-3933), a rare U.S. outlet for Poland’s 1851-founded Wedel chocolate company. Stock up on fancy candy boxes and liqueur-filled chocolates as well as big sellers like the hazelnut bars and chocolate-coated cake bars by Wawel (one of the other brands it carries), plus other colorfully wrapped sweets.