Topic: Places to Eat

Best Ethnic Food in New England

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Food is such a great entryway to any country or ethnic group that I sometimes joke about saving the airfare and simply strolling the streets of a local Guatemalan neighborhood for baked goods in the morning.

Or wandering through Asian markets for an afternoon vacation and lunch. Ethnic enclaves all over New England are teeming with great foods–from falafel and pad Thai to burritos and samosas.

Many are neighborhood hangouts created for residents longing for the foods of their homelands, and in general these delicious pockets of world culture are inexpensive and filling.

My hope is that the following listings will inspire you to explore New England in a different way–tracking down food and friendly people at festivals, neighborhood markets, hole-in-the-wall eateries, and farmers’ markets–and that your appreciation for the diverse ethnic stew that is our New England will only grow from there.

Boston's Toro restaurant is famous for its flavorful paella, a traditional Spanish dish made with rice, vegetables, seafood, and sometimes meat as well.

Boston’s Toro restaurant is famous for its flavorful paella, a traditional Spanish dish made with rice, vegetables, seafood, and sometimes meat as well.

Ekaterina Smirnova



Ekaterina Smirnova

Knishes and latkes

Knishes and latkes

Ekaterina Smirnova

There’s no definitive recipe for paella, the one-pan dish from Spain. Constants include rice, vegetables, saffron, chicken, and seafood, but some cooks believe it’s not paella without sausage; others say it has to have green peas. The two versions at Toro, “Valenciana” and “Vegetariana,” are “traditional” and vegetarian. 1704 Washington St., Boston, MA. 617-536-4300; toro-restaurant.com

PHO, Viet-Thai
Pho (pronounced fuh) is Vietnamese noodle soup, traditionally made from a long-simmered beef broth, thought to be influenced by the French pot-au-feu. Aromatic additions such as Thai basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime are considered an American adaptation. The chicken pho at Viet-Thai is a rich, tasty broth, with plenty of scallions, noodles, chicken, and cilantro but no add-ins. 368 Merrimack St., Lowell, MA; 978-446-0977

ATOLE, Mi Guatemala
The universally warming and comforting scents of hot chocolate and cinnamon beg for indulgence at Mi Guatemala. Atole, an ancient Mayan drink made with milk, sugar, and fine cornmeal, is served three ways here. 1049 Atwells Ave., Providence, RI; 401-621-9147

PAD THAI, Parima
There are as many variations of this iconic Thai noodle dish as there are cooks who make it. Generally it includes soaked rice noodles, stir-fried with eggs, a bit of chili, and a bit of sweetness via tamarind juice, plus shrimp, chicken, or tofu. At Parima the offering is lighter, less greasy than many we tried. 185 Pearl St., Burlington, VT. 802-864-7917; parimathai.com

BURRITOS, El Mexicano
In Mexico, burritos are smaller than on this side of the border. Perhaps that’s the reason the eight incarnations at El Mexicano are all called “burritos grandes.” Each is can’t-stop-eatin’-’em delicious. They’re so expertly rolled that the flour tortilla weaves between the filling ingredients, with far less spillage than other burritos. Your dry cleaner will thank you, too. 197 Wilson St., Manchester, NH; 603-665-9299

SAMOSAS, The Jewel of India
Shaped like pyramids, samosas are deep-fried Indian turnovers, filled with a mixture of diced potatoes, peas, onions, chickpeas, and spices that light up your tongue: ginger, cayenne, cumin, and coriander. These golden, crisp-fried treats fill all your senses with warmth and comfort; they’re the jewel in the crown at The Jewel of India. 26 Alfred St., Biddeford, ME. 207-283-0077; thejewelofindia.com

SUSHI, Oishii
A sushi dish may be a mound of rice with a slice of seafood draped over it or wrapped in a cone-shaped piece of nori (seaweed), or a “handroll,” or served lightly torched (“bana sushi”). All are in extraordinarily fine form at Oishii, owing to the super-fresh fish and the artisans who craft each piece. 612 Hammond St., Chestnut Hill, MA; 617-277-7888

DUMPLINGS + POTSTICKERS, Taiwan Café, King Fung Garden, China Pearl
Chinese dumplings are boiled, steamed, or pan-fried, with the latter called “potstickers.” Enormous, pan-fried, pork-filled ones can be had at Taiwan and the slightly smaller vegetable ones at King Fung Garden; both versions are delicious. Delicate steamed ones, in many shapes, stuffings, and adornments, are found on the dim sum menu at China Pearl. Dipping sauces range from thinned and gingery soy sauce to a fiery hot sauce.Taiwan Café, 34 Oxford St., Boston, MA; 617-426-8181. King Fung Garden, 74 Kneeland St., Boston, MA; 617-357-5262. China Pearl, 9 Tyler St., Boston, MA; 617-426-4338

Thin slices of soft tofu, vegetables, and a raw egg broken into a simmering, chili-laced broth are the basics of sundubu (“pure tofu”), a Korean stew. Chef Sang Cho makes seven kinds at ChoCho’s, including one nod to New England: lobster sundubu. 1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA. 617-792-5499; chochoscambridge.com

Drawing on the Ocean State’s excellent and continuous source of fresh littlenecks and its strong Italian American heritage, linguine with clam sauce is a Rhode Island institution. White or red, the best recipes put chopped clams in a garlic-laden “gravy” and whole ‘necks along the edge of a plate of al dente noodles. Mike’s Kitchen does all that and more. 170 Randall St., Cranston, RI; 401-946-5320

BLINI, Vernissage
Closely related to blintzes and crêpes, true Russian blini are yeast-raised and melt-in-your-mouth light. The blinis at Vernissage are served as appetizers, alongside caviar or filled with chicken, wild mushrooms, or seafood. The dessert blintzes have sour-cherry fillings and are drizzled with chocolate sauce. 1627 Beacon St., Brookline, MA. 617-566-3340; vernissagerestaurant.com

MOMOS, Rangzen
Shaped like tiny coin purses, these dumplings, indigenous to Tibet and Nepal, release a wonderful fragrance of ginger, coriander, or cumin with each bite, enhancing the fillings of beef, chicken, veggies, tofu, or cheese. Momos may be steamed or fried; they come with various sauces or may be served with soup. 24 Pearl St., Cambridge, MA; 617-354-8881

KNISHES and LATKES, Barry’s Village Deli
Sephardic or Ashkenazic? Jewish food means different things to different people, but a plate that includes a knish (filled savory turnover) and a latka (potato pancake), plus lokshen kugel (noodle pudding) and chopped liver–a.k.a. the “Jewish Pupu Platter” at Barry’s Village Deli–is food everyone can agree on. 6 Windsor Road, Waban, MA. 617-527-8244; barrysvillagedeli.com

PUPUSAS, el salvador
These soft, thin, tortilla-like cornmeal pancakes, a national treat in El Salvador, are filled and quick-fried. The pupusas at El Salvador are a delightful combination of crispy exterior, moist cornmeal, and molten cheese on the inside. 514 Burnside Ave., East Hartford, CT; 860-528-2442

CUBANO, Soul de Cuba
The Cuban sandwich (layers of ham, roast pork, cheese, and pickles) has made its way to the menus of many an all-American pub, but Cuban-born brothers Jesus and Robert Puerto and cofounder Yoon Kim offer the definitive version at Soul de Cuba. It’s the best we’ve ever eaten. Que rico indeed. 283 Crown St., New Haven, CT. 203-498-2822; souldecuba.com

Originally from Vienna (Wien), flattened veal cutlets get a breadcrumb dip, then a quick pan-fry. A good Wiener schnitzel is crispy yet fork-tender and buttery. The Green Barn’s traditional preparation and its chicken variation are served with a jäeger sauce. 5 Hampstead Rd., Salem, NH. 603-893-3780; greenbarnrestaurant.com

LAHMEJUNE, Massis Bakery
Featuring a round sheet of paper-thin dough layered with Mediterranean ingredients, lahmejune is sometimes called Armenian pizza. Granted, the spreadlike topping does contain ground-up tomatoes, green peppers, and onions, along with beef, chicken, lamb, or just vegetables. Massis Bakery has been making its lahmejune since 1938, and all four varieties are utterly addictive. 569 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, MA. 617-924-0537; massisbakery.com

CROISSANTS, Rosemont Market
Oh-so-light and airy on the inside, flaky on the outside, croissants may have won more people over to the infinite subtleties of French cuisine than bouillabaisse, cassoulet, or coq au vin combined. The house-made ones at Rosemont Market are full of flavor, with intriguing layers of texture. C’est magnifique. 559 Brighton Ave., Portland, ME; 207-774-8129

JAMAICAN PATTIES, Scotts’ Jamaican Bakery
These treats are akin to Cornish pasties, those turnover-like meat pies that fit so snugly in your hand. Hartford’s Albany Avenue is strewn with bakeries and small eateries offering a variety of patties. One constant is turmeric in the yellowy dough. Scotts’ patties are nongreasy pockets of shredded chicken with just a hint of a pepper kick. 1344 Albany Ave., Hartford, CT. 860-247-3855; scottsjamaicanbakery.com

PIEROGI, Staropolska
These boiled Polish dumplings are made in savory versions, filled with mushrooms, sauerkraut, cheese, or meat, and in sweet versions, with dried fruit or fruit jams. Traditionally made at home for festive occasions, especially Christmas Eve (Wigilia), pierogi may be enjoyed all year long at Staropolska. The pierogi here are large and plump, pan-fried in butter. The surprise treat is the dessert pierogi–filled with a summery burst of raspberry. 252 Broad St., New Britain, CT. 860-612-1711; staropolska.net

Churrasco is the Brazilian method of slow-roasting meats on a spit; a churrascarria is a Brazilian-style steakhouse. Gauchos is one of the best, owing to quality cuts of meat, skillful preparation, and a number of choices: beef fillet wrapped in bacon, prime rib, flank steak, short ribs, sirloin, lamb, chicken, and spare ribs. 62 Lowell St., Manchester, NH. 603-669-9460; gauchosbraziliansteakhouse.com

SPANAKOPITA, Parthenon Diner
Although spanakopita is usually a multilayered pie of phyllo dough, spinach, and feta cheese, the Parthenon Diner’s delightful variation has just one crispy layer between custard-like spinach, offering just the right amount of texture contrast and buttery dough. 809 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook, CT. 860-395-5111; parthenondiner.com

“Green soup” originated in northern Portugal but is now considered a culinary ambassador for the whole nation. Served in formal restaurants as well as blue-collar pubs, its flavors are simple but comforting: Thin strands of kale are simmered in potato broth, redolent of olive oil and onions. Slices of chourico are often added at the end. 1577 Pleasant St., Fall River, MA. 508-677-1200; estorilrestaurant.com

NIME CHOW, Tepthida Khmer
It’s the Cambodian American name for a nonfried “summer roll.” The soft rice-paper shell is filled with rice vermicelli, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, and fresh mint or Thai basil. Tepthida Khmer’s rolls are so fat they can barely contain their stuffing. 115 Chelmsford St., Lowell, MA. 978-453-1694; tepthida.com

POUTINE, Chez Vachon
Crispy French fries sprinkled with cheese curds and smothered in gravy: Sounds odd, but this carb-and-protein stoker was designed to sustain the Canadian lumberjacks who brought it (and other great Quebecoise cuisine) over the border. Chez Vachon gets it right: The fries are crispy, and the mild cheddar curds are just beginning to melt under the chicken gravy, which is black-pepper spicy. 136 Kelley St., Manchester, NH; 603-625-9660

FALAFEL, Markos Kabob and More
These fried vegetarian balls, found throughout the Middle East as street food, are usually served wrapped in pita bread, with pickled vegetables and a sauce of sesame or yogurt. Sometimes the main ingredient is fava beans, sometimes chickpeas, sometimes both. The skill is in the spicing and the deep-frying: no blandness, no greasiness, please. Syrian American Mark Awad gets it just right. 126 Boon St., Narragansett, RI. 401-783-9083; narragansettri.com/chamber/min/markos.htm

INJERA, Asmara
This large, spongy, slightly sour, crêpe-like bread is made from teff flour and serves as both plate and utensil for Eritrean and Ethiopian cooking. Curry-esque sauces of chicken marinated in garlic, or split peas simmered in red pepper sauce, get ladled on top. It’s an exotic and alluring experience. 739 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA. 617-864-7447; asmararestaurantboston.com

  • I wish you had gotten out of Massachusetts more. Only two out of twenty-seven in Maine! Portland has some great restaurants, I’m sure you could have found more than one.

  • There’s a restaurant (whoe name escapes me) in Worcester Mass that serves THE BEST Indian food I have ever eaten– plus Apricot Almond Naan — feathery soft and hot from the oven. YUM!

  • marianne

    The addition of lime, bean sprouts, Asian basil or mint, and cilantro to the pho soup is not an American addition. It is part of the original Vietnamese recipe. It is served that way in Southeast Asia, as well as in Western countries which have a large Vietnamese population: like France. The only American adaptation I know of is substituting the original tripe or grizzle/chewy meat with more tender slices of beef. There are different sorts of pho; with tripe and beef, just beef, meatballs, or a spicy sat

  • Elizabeth

    All I can say after reading this list as I am salivating! is YUMMY! I shall print out this list and keep it with my travel information . If I am ever in the area I will check them out! Love you magazine! Have been reading it since I was 16 yrs old.Longer than I care to admit!
    God Bless!
    Elizabeth Johnson, Hunterdon County, N.J.

  • That is a great list. I’m going to try some of them.
    Waltham, Mass. has some great ethnic restaurants up and down Moody ST.


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