These five boundary-busting neighborhoods offer a world of flavors and delicacies to anyone looking for a taste of home or something new.
Location: Payne Avenue between East 30th and 40th streets What You'll Find: Start inside its two indoor shopping malls — Asia Plaza and Asian Town Center — where restaurants such as Superior Pho serve up the popular soup and the Asia Food Co., one of the city's largest Asian supermarkets, sells exotic ingredients such as pork blood, ice cream bars of taro (a starchy, nutty plant) and an entire room of noodle varieties. Try This: Head to Han Chinese Kabob and Grill for the spicy lamb kebab with rice ($12.95), a fall favorite, says owner Xiangyu Chen. "We use local lamb, and it is charcoal grilled, ... [and] seasoned with cumin and red pepper," he says. "This food is from the north part of China, where it's very cold — like Cleveland — and eating this spicy meat warms you up."
Location: Cedar and South Green roads What You'll Find: This University Heights area offers plenty of options for nearby Jewish residents to buy challah and other baked goods at spots such as Lax and Mandel Bakery and kosher pizzas from Issi's Place. It also boasts the Heinen's with the largest devoted kosher department, including canned goods, baked good and prepared foods. Try This: Don't miss the creamed herring ($10.99 per pound) at Jack's Deli and Restaurant, made with fresh wild-caught herring and real cream. "Nobody does creamed herring like this anymore," says delicatessen specialist Jim Fuote. "The thing that's special about ours is that it has a nice sweet taste to it versus the vinegary, mushy variety you'll find at other delis or in a jar."
Location: West 117th Street and Lorain Avenue What You'll Find: Speckled with a few hookah bars, such as Aloosh Hookah Center, this eclectic neighborhood caters to a variety of Middle Eastern cultures. Head to Tanoor for Iraqi-style kebabs or Assad's, where you'll find Arabic baked goods such as ma'amoul shortbread pastries filled with dates or walnuts. Try This: Holy Land Imported Goods has been offering halal meats and foods for 20 years, but don't overlook the thyme labneh balls ($5.99 for a 16-ounce jar) made of strained fresh yogurt seasoned with fresh thyme. "It's really traditional for breakfast in the morning with olive oil, zatah or thyme," says owner Mohammad Hasan. "We put it with sesame seeds or salt on pita or homemade bread."
Location: Mayfield Road between East 119th and 126th streets What You'll Find: Home to the city's popular Feast of the Assumption celebration, the neighborhood offers rows of Italian restaurants, shops and galleries tucked along Mayfield Road and beyond. While exploring, be sure to score sweet treats from Corbo's Bakery or kick back with a glass of Chianti at Guarino's, which was founded during Prohibition in 1918 as Little Italy's first speakeasy. Try This: Stop at Presti's Bakery for its sfogliatelle ($3.50), a flaky pastry with a ricotta cheese flavored with orange zest and vanilla. But the secret's in the dough. "You got to roll it out, and then you put butter in it and you keep rolling it," says baker Frank Sara. "That's where you get those layers from."
Location: Fleet Avenue between East 55th and 71st streets What You'll Find: Don't let the one-lane construction of Fleet Avenue scare you away from this concentration of Eastern European culture. Start with the Red Chimney Restaurant, where you can choose from Polish staples such as stuffed cabbage or pierogi. Then stop at Krusinski's Finest Meat Products to take home some house-made kielbasa or smoked bratwurst. Try This: Indulge in Seven Roses Deli and Restaurant's crispy potato pancakes ($5.99 per pound) made fresh every day by owner Sophia Tyl. "My recipe was given to me by my mother when we were in Europe," she says. "I started making them with her on our farm when I was 7 or 8 years old."