10 Fun Ethnic Food Experiences for NYC Kids
One of the most wonderful things about NYC is our incredible ethnic diversity. Exploring different neighborhoods and sampling their delicious ethnic foods is a must, whether you live in NYC or are just visiting. Eating in an ethnic restaurant is about more than just the food, it’s a cultural experience that gives your kids a (literal) taste of life in another land.
Coming up with a comprehensive list of every cuisine available in NYC would be overwhelming—where would you even start? Instead, I've compiled a list of my top ten ethnic food experiences for NYC kids to try before they grow up. Put these kid-friendly restaurants on your must-do bucket list, and share your own favorites in the comments.
1. Korean BBQ My all-time favorite ethnic food experience for families has to be Korean BBQ. In addition to being absolutely delicious, you get to cook your food right at the table, something your kids will remember and cherish. In our post about Korean BBQ in NYC, a reader recommended Woo Chon, but I've found it's hard to go wrong at any of the restaurants in Manhattan’s Koreatown on 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Recently, I visited Queens’ Korean district Murray Hill, which has so many BBQ spots that the whole neighborhood smells like bulgogi. Yum.
To try: Order the bulgogi or galbi (kalbi), which comes with meat to cook at the table, plus lots of little dishes with Korean pickles and other interesting nibbles.
2. Chinese Dim Sum It’s hard to beat cooking at your own table, but if anything comes close it's dim sum. Getting to pick little plates of tasty dumplings and other delicacies right from overladen carts makes it easy to sample foods you might never order off a menu. For sheer experience, try one of the big dim sum halls like Golden Unicorn or Jing Fong in Manhattan’s Chinatown. However, Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn have their own excellent Chinatowns to explore, too.
To try: Everything! Dumplings and sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves are kid favorites. If you’re adventurous, try the chicken feet, and save room for egg custards and other exotic desserts.
3. A Real Jewish Deli Nothing screams old New York like an old-fashioned Jewish deli, once the mainstay of the Lower East Side. Pickles on the table, brusque waitstaff and giant heaps of smoked meats are all part of the experience. Midtown's Carnegie Deli may be the most famous albeit touristy option, since the 2nd Avenue Deli lost some of its old-world charm when it moved. However, I think Katz’s is the best spot to get your fill of kasha varnishkes, pastrami and the sensory overload of an authentic Jewish Deli.
To try: Pastrami or corned beef sandwiches are well known dishes, but matzo ball or chicken noodle soup always please kids. For nostalgia's sake, get a Dr. Brown’s soda or an old-fashioned egg cream.
4. Middle Eastern All NYC kids should know their tahini from their tabbouleh, and NYC has plenty of great Lebanese, Turkish and other Middle Eastern eateries where you can school them, especially in Midtown West. But one of the most fun ways to fill up on falafel is to head to great Middle Eastern markets like Kalustyan's in Murray Hill or Sahadi’s in Brooklyn Heights and buy prepared foods.
To try: Start with the meze plate: lots of traditional appetizers including olives, hummus and yummy pita bread to scoop up a variety of dips. Kids may also like falafel, kebabs and lahmacun.
5. Japanese Sushi If your kids thinks sushi comes from the grocery store or looks like a tuna roll, it’s your duty to make sure they get the full-on traditional experience. Sitting at the counter with a real sushi chef is true dinner theater. This meal can be expensive and also requires a level of adventure not all youngsters are ready for, so you may want to wait until your little foodies are old enough to appreciate it. Two of the best bargains for an authentic sushi meal are Kanoyama in the East Village and Sushi Yasu in Forest Hills, Queens. You'll also find lots of Japanese eateries in Little Tokyo.
To try: Omakase translates to “in your hands,” which means the sushi chef picks what to serve. It’s pricey, but it’s the best and most adventurous way to enjoy your experience.
6. Ethiopian Food you are supposed to eat with your hands—what’s not to love? Although I don’t know of any Ethiopian restaurants in NYC that still have traditional seating on short stools at round tables, kids will never forget the trademark way the dishes are eaten. Instead of utensils, you use injera, a large piece of flat bread, which you rip into tiny pieces to scoop up bites of delicious stews. My family's favorite Ethiopian restaurants in NYC are Meske in Midtown West and Ghenet Brooklyn in Park Slope.
To try: Many of the dishes are very spicy so ask your server to recommend milder dishes if desired, like lab (cheese). Other favorites include the doro wat (a spicy chicken stew), misr wat (lentil stew) and fasolia (green beans).
7. Latin Comfort Food When I was a kid, I ate at La Caridad so often that when I walked in they would shout, “Yellow rice, black beans!” Nowadays, there is such a rich variety of Hispanic eateries—Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, Colombian, to name just a handful—that I could write an entire series of posts about them. Some of my personal faves are Malecon in Washington Heights, local chain Sophie’s Cuban and La Taza De Oro in Chelsea. Of course, I’ll pretty much hit any homey looking spot for a plate piled with rice, beans and plantains.
To try: Beans and rice with a stew-like carne guisada or whatever they are scooping out. Other best bets: fried plantains and yucca, fried or rotisserie chicken, and kids always love empanadas.
8. Indian By far my kids’ favorite ethnic cuisine. We love the spices and kid-friendly dishes like samosas, naan and mango lassi. Little India, 6th Street between First and Second Avenues in the East Village, is a definite must-do for the kitschy experience of over-the-top hole-in-the-wall joints like Panna II with its ceilings covered in Christmas lights. For a more authentic meal, head to the Curry Hill section of Manhattan where restaurants like Saravanaa Bhavan serve delicious dosas and vegetarian fare. Of course, many argue that for the best Indian food in NYC you have to go to Jackson Heights, Queens, where you'll find the famous Jackson Diner and other top-rated Indian eateries.
To try: Chicken tikka masala is a sweet kid-pleasing alternative to curry. Korma is a tasty, creamy dish. Kids also love all the breads, fritters and samosas. If you feel adventurous, see if you can handle a spicy lamb vindaloo, and then wash it down with a cooling mango lassi.
9. Russian Next time you visit Coney Island, make sure to take a detour down the boardwalk to Brighton Beach, NYC's largest Russian neighborhood. Tatiana serves pan-Slavic fare right off the boardwalk. For more old-world charm in high style, try the Russian Tea Room, which serves a fancy, kid-friendly afternoon tea. Samovar is another midtown Manhattan spot conjuring the grandeur of old Russia.
To try: Blini are Russian pancakes, like crepes. Or be adventurous and try borscht, the famous beet soup, and filling meat dishes like beef stroganoff or Chicken Kiev, a rich fried chicken cutlet.
10. Italian Delicacies All city kids have tried the classic pizza slice, our favorite Italian import, but when I travel to Italy, what I love are the salami sandwiches, cheeses and light bites you can pick up at the local market. You can enjoy the same experience right here in NYC at old-school Italian delis in Manhattan’s Little Italy or Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, or the newer, upscale Eataly. All of them offer a virtual trip to Italy, just a subway ride away. Favorite Italian delis include Di Palo Selects in Little Italy, G. Esposito & Sons in Carroll Gardens and Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue.
To try: Salamis, cheeses, rice or mozzarella balls, sausages and so much more.
After you’ve sampled some delicious ethnic eats on the go, maybe you'll want to try them at home, too. Hit some of the best ethnic food markets with your kids for more fun culinary adventures.