The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs: The Gastro Obscura Guide - Gastro Obscura

The Gastro Obscura Guide to
The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.

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On the left, mole blanco coats a chile relleno. Beth Dixson
Singular Sauce

1. Mole Blanco at La Morada

Located in the Bronx's Mott Haven neighborhood, this Oaxacan restaurant-meets-activist-hub specializes in two things: immigrant rights and moles. Through a door that proclaims "Refugees Welcome," beneath a giant flag that hangs from the purple wall declaring No Deportaciones, this restaurant boasts an impressive array of moles, ranging from green to black to a seven-pepper variety. But La Morada's crown jewel is the rarest, fairest form: the mild, rich mole blanco.

This luxurious sauce might appear bland, but the heat of serrano and habanero chiles lurks within. A blend of peanuts, pine nuts, and peeled almonds imparts its supreme creaminess, with some extra flavor from garlic. Its default presentation is atop dark-meat chicken with rice and beans, but for a few dollars extra, you can swap in pork, white-meat chicken breast, seasonal veggies, or chile relleno. Be sure to wash the hearty meal down with a refreshing horchata.

The restaurant is run by the Mendez-Saavedra family, originally from the Mixteca region of Oaxaca. The family doesn’t shy away from discussing their undocumented history and La Morada operates as a community-activism center, hosting regular events focused on immigrant rights. Don't forget to peruse the lending library—featuring titles on everything from social movements in Oaxaca to the rise of fascism in New York—after savoring as much mole as you can muster.

La Morada is closed on Sundays.

308 Willis Avenue, The Bronx, NY, 10454

A vendor's stand of food and crafts outside the center. Reina Gattuso/Atlas Obscura
Fleeting Friday Fare

2. Malian Snacks at the Timbuktu Islamic Center

Once a week, Malian Muslims in Harlem head to the Timbuktu Islamic Center for jumu'ah, the Friday afternoon communal prayer. Outside, vendors await with an array of snacks and drinks that hail from the West African nation.

You'll often find thiakry, a millet grain pudding with a milky, tangy base, along with bottles of zingy hibiscus flower juice that start sweet and end incredibly sour. There might be baggies of smoked and boiled peanuts, sweet balls of fried dough, or spicy, fish-filled dumplings. Once you've procured your snacks, find a bench at the nearby park on Malcolm X Boulevard between West 143rd and 145th Streets to sit and dig in.

The vendors typically appear on Fridays around 4:00 p.m. But these are informal food stands, so it's possible that a vendor might not show up, or might appear late or close early. Bring cash and, if taking photos, please just focus on the food, as the vendors do not wish to be photographed.

103 West 144th Street, New York, NY, 10029

A bartender adds the raspberry syrup. Beth Dixson
Sweet 'n' Sour Brew

3. Berliner Weisse With Raspberry Syrup at Heidelberg

In Manhattan's Yorkville neighborhood, Heidelberg survives as enduring evidence of what was once an enclave of German immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With its stucco exterior, rustic touches of wood, and historic art (all the paintings are more than a century old, and the framed needlepoints were done by the owner's grandmother, who bought the venue in the 1960s), this family-owned German restaurant and bar still proudly embraces the identity on which it was built in the 1930s.

An oddity among the menu's expected selection of crisp lagers is the Berliner weissea tart, fizzy wheat ale. The style, which originated around Berlin, hearkens back to a time when northern German brewers didn't follow the country's strict beer purity laws and made sour wheat ales that more closely resembled those of Belgium. In the 19th century, servers started countering the tangy flavors of the ale with sweet syrup. Though Berliner weisse's popularity has faded in its native home, some bartenders continue the tradition of mixing in green-tinged woodruff (waldmeister) syrup, based on the sweet-scented bedstraw plant, or pink raspberry syrup known as himbeersaft. Heidelberg uses the latter, leading to the perfect summer refresher: sour, sweet, crisp, and, most importantly in the heat, lower in alcohol than most lagers or ales.

If you want your beer to-go, head to Schaller and Weber, a few doors down. The store often stocks both syrups. Tell the staff you're looking to mix your own Berliner weisse with syrup and they'll point you toward the best beer.

1648 2nd Avenue, New York, NY, 10028

The rice makes a fine counterpoint to Weekender's fiery meals. Beth Dixson
Grains and Games

4. Bhutanese Red Rice at Weekender

With its drawn curtains and the quiet of surrounding Woodside homes, you might wonder if Weekender is even open. But one step inside will remove all doubt: Men chatter as they lean over snooker tables, billiard balls clack against each other, and customers huddle in the carpeted dining area, happily tucking into the fiery flavors of Bhutan.

While favorites such as the chili-and-cheese-packed ema datshi and the unctuous fatty pork and potato dish phagsha sikam pak get all the glory, it's worth celebrating the side that comes with every meal at Weekender: Bhutanese red rice. Don't be fooled by its humble appearance. This heirloom grain is incredibly unique, thriving only in the remote, high-altitude farmlands of Bhutan, where ancient glacial water infuses the crops with minerals. Its color ranges from white-pink to red, depending on the variety and how much of the husk remains after processing.

The rice's subtle nutty flavor aptly balances the heat of Bhutan's traditional dishes. At Weekender, be prepared for spice (seriously, you might eat the ema datshi and weep) with a chance of spontaneous festivity. Staff members have been known to break into impromptu karaoke sessions, including both American and Bhutanese hits.

Weekender is closed on Wednesdays. The rice isn't listed on the menu, but it's included with every meal.

41-46 54th Street, Queens, NY, 11377

Staff assembles yak momos. Beth Dixson
Dumplings and Dairy

5. Yak-Based Delights at Himalayan Yak

Jackson Heights pulses with the sounds, colors, and scents of Tibet, Thailand, Colombia, Mexico, and India. A dizzying stretch of culinary outposts line the sidewalk beneath the 7 train, churning out quick, authentic fare from countries as far from each other as they are from New York.

For a taste of the Himalayan highlands, venture to the aptly-named Himalayan Yak. Here, yak meat fills sausage, chili, and momos (dumplings). Its most delicate manifestation, however, is yak cheese. On the plains of Tibet and Nepal, yaks provide not only meat, but dairy used to make butter tea, a filling, energy-boosting beverage, and cheese. Himalayan Yak's cheese, from free-range Nepalese yaks, is nutty, slightly smoky, and firm. The pale yellow cubes require little fanfare: They're served simply with a side of either apples or oranges.

To double down on the yak, try the savory yak momos or yak gyuma, a wickedly rich, velvety-black blood sausage. Despite containing meat from a rugged plains animal, each pan-fried slice of sausage reveals no hint of gaminess.

72-20 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens, NY, 11372

Freshly baked non. Beth Dixson
Breaking Bread

6. Bukharan Baked Goods at Rokhat Kosher Bakery

Nestled beside a laundromat on a residential block in Rego Park, this shrine to dough is easily missed. But passing by would be more sinful than gorging on what leavened wonders await inside. At Rokhat Kosher Bakery, two brothers from Uzbekistan stretch, stamp, and stuff breads and pastries for Queens’ community of Bukharan Jews.

Fluffy, warm discs of non (braid-ringed, sesame-flecked flatbread stamped with patterns) and pouches of savory samsa (rich, flaky dough stuffed with lamb and onions) beckon from behind glass. A mound of dome-shaped, cracker-crisp toke tempts shoppers from a stack on the counter. Since items are unlabeled, you have two options: Ask for what you want (even if you don't see it in front, it could be freshly made, waiting in back) or go with your gut and let your senses guide you. Just don't leave without the samsa or without peeking in the back to see the bakery itself: It's filled with traditional Central Asian ovens called tanoors, including one that's large enough to walk inside.

Rokhat is closed on Saturdays and often sells out early on Fridays before the Sabbath. They don't have a website but are typically open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

65-43 Austin Street, Queens, NY, 11374

The fruit is often proudly displayed on takeout containers. Beth Dixson
The King of Kings

7. Durian at Durian NYC

Known as “the King of Fruits,” durians are adored, despised, and undeniably infamous. They smell like rotting flesh, look like sea creatures, feel like Medieval weapons, and take some fans to an unctuous, cream-based paradise. Though they're incredibly popular in Southeast Asia, there are only a few places to try them in the United States.

Enter Durian NYC, the preeminent cart for both whole and presliced fruit, painstakingly inspected for freshness prior to sale. This unassuming stall in Chinatown, situated on the corner of Grand Street and Bowery, has enlightened New Yorkers' eyes, noses, and mouths to the magic of durian for nearly 20 years. Its long-standing acclaim results from its first owner, who established a reputation for quality assessment and warning customers about local, inferior distributors.

If the fruit isn't fresh enough, the vendor might not set up the stand that day. Call 917-662-2288 to check, especially if you're coming from far away.

230 Grand Street New York, NY, 10013

Some of the restaurant's featured grandmothers. Courtesy of Enoteca Maria
Dinner With Grandma

8. Nonnas of the World at Enoteca Maria

Once you hop off the Staten Island Ferry and head past Borough Hall, you might start to smell grandma's cooking. That’s because, from Thursday through Sunday, a nonna (Italian for "grandmother") from a different part of the world heads the kitchen at Enoteca Maria.

The project came about after owner Joe Scaravella lost his mother in the early 2000s. To create a feeling of homey comfort in the restaurant he opened after her death, he staffed the kitchen with Italian grandmothers. In July of 2015, Scaravella invited a Pakistani grandmother to guest star for the night, and "Nonnas of the World" was born. Now, a consistently-rotating menu, ranging from Trinidadian to Sri Lankan to Argentinian cuisine, is served for dinner. Lunch, however, will always be prepared by an Italian nonna.

Check the restaurant's website for the lineup of that week's nonnas. Bring cash and, if you want to ensure a seat, make a reservation.

27 Hyatt Street, Staten Island, NY, 10301

Follow the teapot to Tula's trademark cookies. Sam O'Brien/Atlas Obscura
Soviet Picnic

9. Tula Pryanik at the Brighton Bazaar

In Brighton Beach, Brooklyn's seaside Eastern European community, an unassuming grocery store offers its fair share of regional delights. Among these are legendary spice cookies from Tula, Russia. Ever since the 17th century, the city has been known for intricately designed cookies known as Tula pryanik. Their patterns originally came from the city's gunsmiths, who used their free time to carve increasingly-elaborate wooden presses for cookies. They're often stamped with the city’s coat of arms and either "Tula" or “a gift from Tula.”

In the store, simply look for the packaged baked goods aisle or a standing display with a cardboard teapot on top. If you're not feeling like a cookie, options abound to satisfy cravings for the sour, savory, or sweet. Bottles of bubbly, fermented kvass line the shelves. Logs of chocolate-y, rum-and-cognac-inflected kartoshka call out from the bakery, and a cold bar boasts specialties such as "herring under a fur coat" and Soviet-Korean carrot salad. And since you’re here, why not pick up some pine cone preserves, a Georgian and Siberian specialty?

Take your provisions to the park across the street for a picnic, or jaunt over to the boardwalk to sit and watch the waves.

In the unlikely event the bazaar is out of Tula pryanik, try Gourmanoff, another Eastern European grocer, a block away.

1007 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11235

A bowl of pepián is enhanced with a drizzle of the inky hot sauce. Beth Dixson
Maya Heat

10. Chile Cobanero Hot Sauce at Ix

A giant, painted jaguar watches over the scene that unfurls daily at Ix, a colorful Guatemalan restaurant on the eastern edge of Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Customers waiting for a table will notice a a stack of small jars beside the register. Each houses Ix's signature B'alam Q'tün hot sauce. Smoky-hot and nebulously dark, the sauce gets its distinct flavor from a blend of roasted garlic, olive oil, black salt, and chile Cobanero. Native to the highlands of central Guatemala, this fiery, inch-long pepper has enhanced indigenous cuisine for thousands of years. Locals around the modern-day city of Cobán started cultivating the plant during the Maya era, as far as back as 250 A.D.

Balanced, full-bodied pepián offers a less tongue-searing way to enjoy chile Cobanero, stewing spices with tender chicken, potatoes, and corn into a ruby-red delight. But you can’t go wrong with any of the restaurant’s rich, flavorful stews that celebrate the delicate combination of flavors that define Guatemalan cuisine.

43 Lincoln Road, Brooklyn, NY, 11225

Senegalese coffee and spring rolls. Beth Dixson
Coffee With a Kick

11. Café Touba at Cafe Rue Dix

Almost everything about Cafe Rue Dix is a celebration of warmth. On summer days, the French-Senegalese restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows are slid fully open to let the sunshine and breeze filter across the tables. The inviting smell of burning incense wafts through the air. There's even a mural on the wall of a sun-dappled street. Then, there's the coffee. 

The cafe makes a beloved brew from Touba, Senegal, that's rumored to have been created for fueling late-night Sufi chanting sessions. Café Touba gets its distinct flavor from cloves and an African spice known as djar, which adds spicy, bitter flavors and a nutmeg aftertaste. Spiritual leader Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba—who founded the city of Touba in 1887—is said to have created the heady concoction to clear chanters' throats, settle their stomachs, and keep them awake.

Cafe Rue Dix serves their house blend with milk (dairy or nondairy options are available). You can pull up a seat at the bar, grab a table, or simply order your uniquely Senegalese pick-me-up at the to-go coffee counter in the back. Hungry? Order some Senegalese nems, spring rolls brought to Dakar by Vietnamese women who met and married West African soldiers during the French-Indochina War and accompanied them home.

1451 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11216

Behold, frozen dessert heaven: the sandwich, with faloodeh in the background. Beth Dixson
Stop and Eat the Roses

12. Persian Ice Cream Sandwich at Sofreh

Prospect Heights a cluster of urban attractions, from the gargantuan Barclays Center to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But last year, just a couple blocks away from the crowds, an elegant Persian eatery appeared, and it's been racking up acclaim ever since.

Dining at Sofreh does lean upscale, but the food is sublime and well worth the prices. Plus, the phenomenal desserts run for only $7 each. The sweet-and-savory, fragrant Persian ice cream sandwich tucks saffron ice cream between two crisp wafers, accented by rose water and pistachios. For a lighter option, try the faloodeh, which features rose water sorbet atop frozen vermicelli noodles bathing in sweet, zesty lime. For an optimized experience, order both.

Reservations are recommended for dinner, though there is a bar that's first-come, first-served. It's easiest to simply come for a treat or nightcap later in the evening.

75 St. Mark's Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

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There are lots of big creatures at the Porter Sculpture Park.

7 Inexplicably Huge Animals in South Dakota

One of the great resources of the Mount Rushmore State is millions and millions of years old: fossils. The state has long had pride of place in the paleontology world for the dinosaurs and mammoths that have been excavated there. And that history seems to have provided inspiration for the state's menagerie of massive megafauna. Here are some of our favorite places that celebrate dinosaurs, huge animal art installations, mammoths, and ... a prairie dog? As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Displays at the Weaver Dental Museum include a jumble of dentures.

6 Fascinating Medical Marvels in Pennsylvania

In the 1700s and 1800s, Philadelphia was the center of medical scholarship in the United States. The city not only attracted the brightest minds, but also the most curious cases and characters. From the oldest quarantine facility in the country to a museum that memorializes a traveling dental circus, here are six places to marvel at the trials, errors, and triumphs of medical history in Pennsylvania. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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The <em>Cementiscope</em> is a jumble of color and light—inside a cement mixer.

8 Places in Virginia That Aren’t What They Seem

They say that Virginia is for lovers. If you love a little mystery, then they’re definitely right. With its mountain ranges, deep forests, and proximity to the nation’s capital, the state is filled with unusual corners and overlapping histories. From a Cold War bunker turned recording archive to a Styrofoam Stonehenge, these places in Virginia are more than meets the eye. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Some of the many historic stones on Graveyard Island.

7 Cool, Creepy, and Unusual Graves Found in North Carolina

Every state in the union has graves, and their share of unusual burials or cemeteries, but there's something about the Tarheel State's final resting places that carry a sense of history and mystery, from long-forgotten graveyards, to eternal resting places for conjoined twins, to a politician that had himself buried inside a giant boulder. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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7 of Montana's Spellbinding Stone Structures

The Continental Divide runs through Montana, separating the mountains and glaciers on the west from rolling plains to the east. Much of the state is built on a bed of rock that dates back more than a billion years, to the Precambrian, or the earliest era in Earth’s history. The geology of Montana has shaped the state, from the mountain ranges to that draw hikers to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to mineral deposits that drew prospectors during the Gold Rush to the vast plains that have long supported hunting and agriculture. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Waves crash against the rocks near Thor's Well in Oregon.

9 of Oregon’s Most Fascinating Holes and Hollows

Along with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has been shaped by volcanic activity. Active volcanoes, Mount Hood among them, dominate the skyline, and the city of Portland was built atop an extinct volcano. Over tens of thousands of years, these geological hotspots have left many holes in their wakes, including deep craters, narrow canyons, and subterranean lava tubes. Here are a few of the most intriguing voids that Oregon has to offer. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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The Avrocar hovered, but never really lifted off in a big way.

Take to the Skies With These 9 Gravity-Defying Sites in Ohio

Sure, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, got headlines, but the Wright Brothers were Ohioans through and through. That's where they had their print and cycle shop, and established the world's first airplane factory. From Dayton's Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, to NASA's Glenn Research Center, to Congress officially declaring Ohio the “birthplace of aviation,” and much more, no other state takes to the skies and beyond like the home of the Buckeyes. Here are some of our favorite places to feel the wind beneath your wings. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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A foggy view from Washington's Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.

9 Strange and Surreal Spots in Washington State

The deep, moody forests of Washington state are filled with secrets and stories. From springy mosses to towering Douglas firs, rocky outcrops, and glacial deposits, it’s easy to see how the landscape helped set the tone for stories like David Lynch’s trippy TV series Twin Peaks and the teen vampire romance that is Twilight. Across the Evergreen State, human- and nature-made oddities are rarely far from reach. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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8 Watery Wonders in Hawaiʻi, Without Setting Foot in the Ocean

Yes, we know, Hawaiʻi is surrounded by water—the state is a watery wonder in and of itself. But the ocean is only the beginning. The volcanic islands' dramatic topography, unpredictable coastlines, and high rainfall mean that water in and around the Paradise of the Pacific cavorts in all sorts of stunning ways: waterfalls, blowholes, pools, and more. (Plus rainbows. Lots and lots of rainbows.) And you can enjoy all of these natural showstoppers without having to get your feet wet. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Pizza, burgers, and a feminist restaurant: Connecticut has it all.

6 Unusual Eats Curiously Cooked Up in Connecticut

For superb pizza, most people look to New York. Excellent burgers are available in every one of the 50 states. But where can you find hamburger recipes caught in the early 20th-century, cooked in steamers or served on toast with absolutely no ketchup allowed? Or, for that matter, fancy cheese made by trailblazing nuns who launched their dairying business at a time when Velveeta was still the norm? Connecticut may be an odd place to designate as a culinary cradle, but the state contains everything from the last of a generation of feminist vegetarian restaurants to what the Library of Congress dubs the very first place to have served up a hamburger. Unique culinary institutions cropped up in every corner of the state. Some have survived, while others have fallen by the wayside (R.I.P. to the Frisbie Pie Company). Here are six remarkable gastronomic institutions in a place that has proved to be fertile ground for unusual eats. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Telescopes open up a window to the stars.

11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico

In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Jim Dickerman's sculptures are magical and a little brain-scrambling.

10 Places to Trip Way Out in Kansas

The Sunflower State has a reputation for being flat—in fact, scientists have shown that it is objectively way flatter than a pancake. Far from being featureless, though, Kansas can be mind-bending in its own weird way. Maybe it all started with The Wizard of Oz. From a missile silo that once dominated the world's LSD supply to rock formations shaped like mushrooms, roadside art that will make you think you've been whisked away by a tornado, and a giant pile of sock monkeys, Kansas is full of treasures that are sure to make you do a double take. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue has a past full of stories and struggles.

The Resilience of New York in 10 Remarkable Sites

New York has been described as a playground for the rich and powerful, but the state's history is full of ordinary people who have overcome extraordinary struggles. What if Seneca Falls, the village that launched the fight for women's suffrage, were as famous as Niagara Falls? What if Weeksville, the historic free Black community in Brooklyn, were as well-known as Williamsburg? From immigrant sanctuaries to the Survivor Tree, here are sites where New York has shown its resilience. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Flat ground, big skies, huge cows.

7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota

North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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An architectural pilgrimage.

8 Blissfully Shady Spots to Escape the Arizona Sun

For about half of any given year, much of Arizona is too hot to handle. But even in peak summer, the state is home to a stunning spread of geographic diversity and a mysterious magic that emanates from the landscape—and we don’t just mean the mirages. Locals and visitors alike flock to higher altitudes, recreation-friendly bodies of water, and indoor spaces that are so heavily air-conditioned they practically require a jacket. Here are eight sheltered spots to retreat from the heat, from natural formations to an immersive art exhibit that invites lingering. We've even added a couple cool places (220 feet underground or a mile above sea level) to dream about spending the night. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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On the Run: Los Angeles

Originally named “Venice of America,” Venice, California, owes its existence to a wealthy developer’s dream of a canal-laden resort town west of Los Angeles. The dream didn’t last long: After opening in 1905, the city went broke before joining Los Angeles in 1926. The decades of neglect that followed earned Venice the nickname “the slum by the sea,” but its affordability also attracted artists, beginning with the Beats in the late ’50s. Venice’s identity as a rough-around-the-edges artist haven endures more than 60 years later, though its affordability less so. If you’re looking to plot a trek across Los Angeles pavement and beaches, zero in on Venice with a run that oscillates between fast-and-furious and slow-and-curious. Take on this 5.2-mile run in one go, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’ll be ready to navigate Venice’s storied past and its eternally eccentric personality.

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On the Run: NYC

A run through New York City demands a delicate balance: Zoning out versus keeping your eyes peeled. On the one hand, there’s the clear-headed, in-the-zone mental state that any good sneaker-to-pavement exercise requires. At the same time, well, it is New York City. You can hardly walk two blocks without uncovering a hidden gem or noticing some new detail that’s actually been lurking in plain sight for decades. This 5.3-mile run takes you along a scenic route to discover some of these hidden gems. You can run the entire route, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’re bound to pick up on one of the million tiny, fascinating details along the way.

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The Blythe Intaglios are as mysterious as they are massive.

9 Surprisingly Ancient Marvels in Modern California

Long before California was home to tech campuses, freeways, and palm trees, Native inhabitants etched huge designs into the landscape. Even before that, at roughly the same time that the Pyramids of Giza were under construction, a tree that still survives today began taking root. And even farther into the past, glaciers and mammoths created enduring monuments to antiquity. Across the state, the distant past is still within easy reach. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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One of Houston's four giant concrete Beatles.

10 Art Installations That Prove Everything's Bigger in Texas

There’s a time-tested saying about things being large in Texas—and it certainly holds true for the state’s artworks, many of which are so huge or sprawling they could only reasonably live outdoors. Across the vast expanse of the Lone Star State are artistic testaments to some of the area’s oddest characters and stories. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Honestly, the tallest building in the state is still a little dinky, compared to skyscrapers elsewhere.

6 Huge Things in Tiny Rhode Island

The smallest state in America is often the butt of jokes. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, and it was once famously parodied in the now-defunct website “How Many Rhode Islands”—a simple tool that allowed you to see just how many Rhode Islands could squeeze inside a given country. The United States could contain 3,066 Rhode Islands, and Russia could hold 5,445. But the tiny state has a rather grand history. Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, and was one of only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Many of the state’s attractions still loom large, including a 58-foot-long blue fiberglass termite and an improbably large blue bear slumped under a lampshade. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Forbidden Caverns, ready for its closeup.

7 Underground Thrills Only Found in Tennessee

Famous for country music and hot chicken, Tennessee is also filled with natural wonders. Across the state, caverns beckon. Venturing into some of Tennessee's strangest subterranean haunts is a great way to experience the depths of the state's spell-binding charm. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Watch out for any chimp-gator hybrids lurking in the tea-colored water of Honey Island Swamp.

Sink Into 7 of Louisiana's Swampiest Secrets

Louisiana has long had a complex relationship with the wet world. Chitimacha, Choctaw, and Atakapa peoples built communities among the knobby knees of bald cypress trees; French fur traders and pirates eventually made their own marks. Later still, modern engineers attempted to corral waters with levees and dams, or to reclaim land where there had been none. Across the 50,000-odd square miles that make up the state, troves of special places are becoming concealed by rising water. Here are seven places water has revealed or covered up. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Diego Rivera's mural sprawls across a light-flooded room in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan

Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Who doesn't love an old tree?

11 Wholesome Spots in Nevada

Here at Atlas Obscura, we have a fondness for the forbidden, a hunger for the hidden, a gusto for the grim. (You get the point.) But it wouldn’t be so intrepid to simply highlight Nevada’s underbelly, would it? There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada—home to Sin City—has a family-friendly side. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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All aboard for a plate of pancakes.

7 Places to Glimpse Maine's Rich Railroad History

Maine is widely known for its mottled red crustaceans and stony-faced lighthouses, as well as bucolic towns and the top-notch hiking outside of them. But before all that, Maine was all about one thing: trains. As America industrialized in the 19th century, there was an insatiable demand to build and a hunger for lumber. Maine had plenty of it, and the state’s rivers became swollen with the fallen bodies of pine and spruce, much of which was hauled by rail. Trains did the heavy lifting to coastal hubs including Bangor and Ellsworth, and by 1924, there was enough railroad mileage in Maine to get from London’s King's Cross station to Mosul, Iraq. Over the years, some of the old cars were fashioned into eateries, but many were simply abandoned in the woods. Now, relics of Maine’s railroad history are scattered in museums, restaurants, and more. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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At Glacier Gardens, the tree canopies are flowers in bloom.

11 Places Where Alaska Bursts Into Color

Picture Alaska. You might see in your mind's eye the granite and stark white snowcaps of Denali National Park, or the dark seas that surround 6,000-plus miles of coastline, or the muted olive of its tundra in the summer. But as anyone who's been there knows, the country's largest, most sparsely populated state can absolutely burst with color, from the luminous green of the Northern Lights, to the deep aqua of its glaciers, to the flourish of wildflowers fed by its long summer days. Here are some places to see the full spectrum of The Last Frontier. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

9 Places in D.C. That You're Probably Never Allowed to Go

The District of Columbia is home to a number of places that you need to flash the right ID to access. From restricted rooftops to government storage facilities and underground tunnels, the city is filled with places that are off-limits to the average visitor. What’s more, many of them are hidden within popular tourist destinations and densely populated neighborhoods—so you might catch a glimpse of them, but never get any closer. These are a few of our favorite restricted spots in D.C., and the stories behind them. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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2 Perfect Days in Pensacola

If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.

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Taste of Tucson

The people of Tucson have been eating off the land for 4,100 years. From grains to livestock to produce introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is home to some of the oldest farmland in North America. What once was old is new again in The Old Pueblo where ancient flavors are found in nearly every dish — trendy to traditional.

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North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.

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Look closely and wander widely: Parliament Square is full of charm.

Hidden Edinburgh

Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.

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Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.

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Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

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The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross &amp; the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

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The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

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Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

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A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

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The heart of Venice.

Venice

Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

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Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

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The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

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An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

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Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

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View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

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A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

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Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'

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Amsterdam

Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.

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Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.

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Chicago

Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.

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Detroit

Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

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The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.

Lisbon

In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.

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Miami

Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.

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Queens

New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.

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San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.

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Savannah

Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.

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