If your palate is ready for the flavors of America's melting pot, you're in the right city. Name a cuisine, and you'll find an outpost here. From Malaysian street food to Icelandic cod, NYC has it all. For a small, around-the-world sampling, here are eight restaurants that you won't soon forget.
Union Square's Laut—Malay for "sea"—is a cheerfully decorated go-to place for a taste of Southeast Asia. A mural painted over an exposed brick wall depicts a brightly colored sea serpent, birds and flowers. Street-food signs hang from the ceiling, giving the ample space a fun atmosphere. Street food here, though, includes such delicacies as a rice crepe with shrimp, crunchy onion, chopped peanuts, plum and soy sauce. Long green beans can arrive in a miniature wheelbarrow. Singaporean and Thai-inspired dishes make for a packed menu that incorporates seasonal ingredients. Chicken satay is tender and spicy. Nasi lemak, the national Malaysian dish, combines coconut and chicken in a kicky, chillies-based sambal sauce. Coconut rice is sweetly addictive, and the coconut pudding is served in a coconut.
Hakubai, an elegant Japanese restaurant in the Kitano Hotel, offers kaiseki, a seven-course feast for the senses selected by Chef Yukihoro Sato (though you can also order from the menu). Marinated tilefish, kelp with herring roe, and grilled—in front of you—wagyu steak are sensational. Only the freshest ingredients are used, with fish flown in from Japan. The Zen-inspired decor includes Asian artwork complemented by artfully arranged flowers. Traditional rice screens separate dining areas, and servers, who wear kimonos, explain each course. Chef Sato mines magic.
Gato, Spanish for cat, is named after the ginger feline who befriended owner/chef Bobby Flay as he was waiting to see this massive space for the first time. The genial tabby weaved through his legs and into foodie history. The signature paella, grilled octopus and seafood are all notable. Spanish dishes rely heavily on garlic, cumin, red pepper and chili powder. Try the spicy chickpea and avocado dip for a starter, or the scrambled eggs with almond romesco. Formage blanc cheesecake with apricot pine crust and crostata with vanilla black pepper gelato soothe with a peppery twist. The lively bar is worth a visit as well, usually filled with a mixed-age crowd.
Lupulo, a nautically-themed casual Portuegese restaurant offers all manner of goodness from the sea. Solid wood chairs are more comfortable than they look. Portuegese olive oil, used to flavor many dishes, has a sweet nuttiness. Try Portuegese zimbro soft cheese, smoky country ham, carrots and cauliflower. Bread is from Balthazar Bakery, favored by New Yorkers. Savory cod croquettes are moist and delicate. For a cocktail, opt for the piri piri margarita, tangy and thirst-quenching, or a craft beer from Brooklyn Brewery's Cuvée No. 4 pale ale. For dessert, taste the national pastry, pastéis de nata—yummy, flaky custard tarts. A glass of port completes the voyage nicely.
If your party likes the idea of eating without forks, and you're curious about Ethiopian cuisine, then head to Awash, a modestly decorated, two-decade-old institution near Columbia University named for the Ethiopian tributary of the Blue Nile. The kitchen is awash in African spices that season the lamb, beef, chicken and vegetables in your desired heat intensity. Azifa is a mixture of fresh lentils, red onions, hot African mustard, cardamom and lime. Doro wat is the tasty signature stewed chicken. Scoop it up with spongy injera bread with its tangy, sourdough lift.
Mr. Chow is not your typical Beijing noodle joint. It's a swanky place with good manners on display from water servers to waiters. Wear your fancy clothes, and enjoy the immense room adorned with seasonal flowers in elegant vases and rotating modern artwork. Champagne will be offered more than once by waiters in formal wear, who treat you like royalty. Forks, not chopsticks are used. Chicken satay derives from an original family recipe and crispy duck lives up to the name.
Yesfi Estiatorio is a family-friendly restaurant that serves sea-based recipes from chef/owner Christos Christou's childhood on Cyprus, with a twist. The grilled octopus is tender with a smoky char. Zucchini and eggplant chips have a satisfying salty crunch. Baked feta is swoon-worthy, and a jumbo crab cake is loaded with crab chunks. Many of the dishes are cooked with Greek cabernet, offering hints of spices, cherries and apricots. Baklava, walnut cake and full-bodied Greek yogurt with walnuts and a honey drizzle is flavor-rich. Meanwhile, the ample interior includes a covered patio that resembles a greenhouse.
Icelandic Fish & Chips
A relative newcomer to the foodie scene, Icelandic Fish & Chips is a bright, spacious organic restaurant that dishes up spelt-fried—no white flour here—seasonal fish from Iceland. If you need more salt, the Icelandic unrefined salt on each table will do the trick. A blackboard indicates what seasonal fish is available that day. If they have wolffish, try it; the cod is tender with a light crispy coating. Chips are wedge-cut, salted and roasted potatoes. Finish with the skyr yogurt with blueberries and cream.