As soon as you get off the subway at Jackson Heights, it feels like you’re in a different city.
It’s just 20 minutes from Midtown yet you’re not in New York City anymore. Manhattan has Curry Hill, but Jackson Heights is the real Little India, and you feel like you just stepped off the plane somewhere in South Asia. The scents are spicy, the clothes colorful and English is the second language. Come hungry, there’s a lot of good eating here.
There’s at least half a dozen Himalayan restaurants or cafes hiding in the back of mobile phone accessories stores just outside the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave station. Our instinct, which has always served our appetites well, takes us to Laliguras, a simple corner spot specializing in Tibetan, Nepalese and Bhutanese food opposite a packed McDonald’s. For the price of a burger meal, you could order a thali, a best-of platter that includes a protein, rice, daal, curry, greens – in this case, delicately steamed mustard greens – achar (pickle) and a piece of papadum.
For all the talk that New York chefs make about nose-to-tail eating, you’re sadly hard pressed to find offal or off-cuts on most menus, save for a hipster bar snack of fried pig ears, here or there. Ethnic food is where it’s at: we chose the Bhutan goat head thali which came with crispy goat and its offal, and another thali with mutton, which fell off the bone. This is the meat we want to eat.
At under a tenner each, it’s incredible value. And that’s before the lovely staff offer to top up your thali with more daal, greens, rice. Manhattan and its prices feel a long way away. The next table of locals laughingly challenge us to finish all our food. Who are they kidding? This food – and a second helping of it – is too good to leave.
Momos – Himalayan dumplings – are everywhere in Jackson Heights, from street carts to the fantastically-named Momo Dumpling Palace that greets you when you come out of the subway. Lilaguras’ beef momos are fat, juicy and encased in homemade dough, served with a fiery chilli sauce and a mustardy sesame sauce. Wash it all down with a cooling mango lassi.
Afterwards, stop by Patel Brothers with the rest of Jackson Heights for its beautiful selection of South Asian produce, like white turmeric, banana leaves and karela (bitter gourd). The freezers are filled with an endless selection of roti, parathas and kulfis, while the shelves are stocked with every spice, rice and flour you could ever need.
Laliguras Restaurant, 3763 76th St, Jackson Heights, Queens.