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Best Ethnic Food in New England

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.
Photo/Art by Ekaterina Smirnova
Boston’s Toro restaurant is famous for its flavorful paella, a traditional Spanish dish made with rice, vegetables, seafood, and sometimes meat as well.
Photo/Art by Ekaterina Smirnova
Knishes and latkes
Photo/Art by Ekaterina Smirnova
Knishes and latkes

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;

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;

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;

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

Updated Monday, April 20th, 2009

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7 Responses to Best Ethnic Food in New England

  1. sid davidson May 14, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    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.

  2. Elizabeth A. Johnson May 14, 2009 at 6:52 pm #

    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.

  3. marianne caldwell May 15, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    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

  4. Ulysses Agpaoa June 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Great list. Thank you.

  5. Azar ATTURA March 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    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!

  6. Chris Heckman March 4, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    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.

  7. Deirdre Lee March 5, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Federal Hill…can’t beat it!!!

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