New York is a playground for gourmands. From hole-in-the-wall eateries with cult-classic status to the most cutting edge of chef’s tables, if you love food then you will love New York. With personal ties to New York, Ethiopia, Sweden, and Japan, renowned chef and Harlem resident Marcus Samuelsson has a lifetime of experience of New York’s international flavours: he has restaurants all around the world—including Shorditch’s much-admired Red Rooster London. With guidance from Samuelsson, we’re revealing some of the best under-the-radar foodie neighborhoods in NYC away from the usual tourist hot spots:
Dig into jazzy soul food in Harlem
Harlem, Samuelsson’s home base, is known for its soul food and there’s no better spot to dig in than at Red Rooster Harlem. ‘Come in for the bird,’ insists Samuelsson, referring to the fried chicken ‘yardbird’, which is also served at the London location. ‘Have some cornbread and some collards [greens] and it’s a celebration.’
Beyond Red Rooster, Samuelsson suggests the iconic-but-casual Sylvia’s Restaurant. ‘It’s magical, just sitting at the counter,’ he says. ‘It’s just one of those things you can do all by yourself and think: “I’m in Harlem. I’m in New York.”‘ His favorite dish? ‘It depends on the day. They have chitlins [a.k.a. chitterlings; fried pig intestines], they have oxtail, they fried chicken, they have liver. It’s really blue-collar food that comes from the South and that speaks to the migration heritage. And it’s not just the food: it’s the music and the people that work at the counter; it’s all these little nuisances that you can’t copy and paste,’ says Samuelsson.
Jazz is another of Harlem’s classic signatures, and so for drinks, Samuelsson suggests Paris Blues to ‘have a real experience [with] an incredible blues band or jazz band.’ But Harlem is as much forward-facing as it is rooted in tradition, and you can see this at the creative, speakeasy-style cocktail den 67 Orange, another one of Samuelsson’s suggestions.
Sample Latin Food in El Barrio
New York isn’t afraid big flavors, and nowhere is that more apparent than in El Barrio, also known as East Harlem or Spanish Harlem. Samuelsson’s picks for Latin food include Cuchifritos: ‘It’s a Puerto Rican institution and it’s been there forever. They sell you chicken right out the window!’ He also recommends the Mexican street food served in the bodegas (little corner shops) between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. ‘It’s working food; it’s for the laborers. There could be tamales in the morning or there could be flash-cooked plancha chicken street tacos. Whatever they serve, it’s always good.’
For creative and cool cuisine hit Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the borough of the moment and Williamsburg in particular is on everyone’s radar. ‘Spend the day at Brooklyn Brewery,’ suggests Samuelsson, but he also advises going further out into Brooklyn and hitting Bushwick, which these days is even more on trend than Williamsburg.
‘Bush to me is even more interesting when it comes to food because in Bushwick you feel it: there’s street art, vintage shops, people biking. It tells the story of where creative New York really lives. It’s another beat.’ This creative, cool cuisine runs from simple to high end. To this point, he suggests pizza at Roberta’s, which first put Bushwick on the map with their expertly charred pizzas and indie spirit, and then, on the other side of spectrum, he suggests the singular tasting menu experience at the acclaimed Blanca, a high-end eatery with only 12 seats serving new American fine fare.
Chow down on Korean food in Fort Lee
Midtown has a good little pocket of Korea and Sichuan restaurants, and Flushing and Sunset Park have great Asian restaurants too, but Samuelsson has more suggestions: ‘Go to Cote [in Flatiron] for a modern Korean experience, but if you want something genuine, go to the Jersey side and hit Fort Lee—they have great Korean,’ he says. ‘There’s this strip of places…where they have the amazing scallion pancakes and soft tofu.’
Samuelsson also hits the Lower East Side for his favorite Chinese: ‘If you want something fun and funky, I love what Danny [Danny Bowien] is doing down at Mission Chinese. If you want to do a little Chinatown/Lower East Side strip, I would do drinks at Forgetmenot, which a beautiful little dive bar on Division Street, and then I would go over to Danny’s [Mission Chinese]. That’s a real New York moment to me.’
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For a taste of New York in London, try Marcus Samuelsson’s London Red Rooster outpost in Shoreditch. www.redroosterldn.com