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.

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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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.


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.

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.


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.

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 & 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.

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.

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.

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.

The heart of 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.'



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


Buenos Aires

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



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



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

The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.


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



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



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


San Diego

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



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