On any given Saturday, I sometimes find myself traveling from Greece through India to China and back. How? Well, by jumping on the subway. I don’t need a passport or a plane ticket; I just need a MetroCard, some money and my appetite. That’s New York City for you — the world in five boroughs.
As a longtime New York resident, I have often gone through my ups and downs with the city. It is perhaps a right of passage for a New Yorker to experience some variation of a love/hate relationship with the place. It’s hectic, stressful, crazy and exhausting. It’s also exhilarating, magnetic, charming in the most unexpected ways and diverse. I sometimes leave New York to travel the world but I also know that I can travel the world in New York. Different from London or Paris or any other cosmopolitan city, the immense diversity of New York is unlike anything you’ll see anywhere. And it’s truly what makes the city a global hub.
Take my borough, for example. Queens, New York has been called the most diverse county in the country, if not the world. You simply have to jump on the 7 train to Flushing to experience the China I referenced earlier, or stop in Jackson Heights, home to Little India. Then there’s the Guyanese area in Richmond Hill, the little section of Astoria dedicated to North Africa and the countless ethnicities spread out across the rest of Queens as well as the other four boroughs.
I believe one could spend their whole life wandering around New York, experiencing its many cultures and idiosyncrasies, and feel as though they may not have left the city but they’ve still traveled. So, for the aspiring NYC world traveler, where should one go to get a taste of another place? Below are a few of my favorite restaurants that have left me either yearning to return to the actual country or dreaming about the day I will go.
Taverna Kyclades (Greece)
A well-known staple amongst both Astoria residents and Greek food lovers, this restaurant has been a favorite for years. Its simple but deliciously fresh cuisine is complemented by its homey, no-frills atmosphere. From the superb Greek salad, to the spanakopita, to the crabmeat-stuffed shrimp — everything will make you feel as though you’ve been teleported to a restaurant on a Greek island for a few hours.
Xi’an Famous Foods (China)
Though it’s a growing chain in New York City, this Chinese hotspot is not like your neighborhood Applebee’s. Known for their cumin lamb noodles and lamb burger, this place brings northern Chinese cuisine to you without the 15+ hour flight it would take to get there. In particular, I love the location in Flushing. Tucked away in the basement of the Golden Shopping Mall, getting to this outpost feels like you’ve left New York and entered a new city, country and continent.
I first came across this restaurant after asking, or demanding rather, that my Thai friend take me to a place with great Thai food. Enter SriPraPhai. Another no-frills restaurant, this place is all about the food. You go in, order your food, eat and you’re out. But the experience keeps you coming back. My favorite dish is the khao soi noodles with coconut rice — flavorful, addictive and, truthfully, better than anything I ate in Thailand.
Blaue Gans (Austria)
As the only restaurant on my list with some “frills” to it, and the only one in Manhattan, Blaue Gans is one of those places that can work for many occasions. You can go here for a business lunch, date, dinner with friends or just throwing back some beers at the bar. Like the others, the food is the star of the show. Everything from the würste to the schnitzels with lingonberries will make you want to order more while simultaneously planning that trip to Austria.
Once you’ve been to the above, I urge you to continue exploring — and eating your way through — the many cultures and cuisines that make up New York. Try Ghanaian food in the Bronx and then go slurp down ramen in the East Village. You’ll feel as though you’ve traveled from one continent to the next, all within one city.