New Yorkers know full well to avoid East Midtown Manhattan around mid-September. During those few weeks, when the United Nations General Assembly opens its annual session, multiple street blocks go into a major security gridlock in this part of town.
Despite the increase in crowds and traffic, the world leaders, diplomats and international policy influencers who have arrived in the city still need to eat!
Inspired by a Washington Post article highlighting favorite dining spots among ambassadors who are posted in D.C., PassBlue asked a handful of their UN counterparts for tips on where to eat during the General Assembly’s big opener, from Sept. 17 to Sept. 30, this year.
The UN diplomats shared a surprising enthusiasm for American burgers and steaks, which when done right seem to unite almost all palates. They also offered helpful leads on where to find their favorite cuisine.
For the Pakistani ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi, her advice is simple for New Yorkers: you must eat Italian food at least twice a week.
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog, like most international diplomats, has had a career spanning the globe and has a robust palate to go with it. He satisfies his nostalgia for his country’s food with a daily breakfast of roe (called “caviar” back home) and rye crisp — he likes a popular brand called Wasa. For lunch, he often looks for sushi because it is light and healthy, but he doesn’t mind a good burger and beer at the end of the day.
He points international visitors — especially fans of jazz and blues music — to check out Red Rooster Harlem, which serves Southern American-inspired fare at a lively spot on Malcolm X Boulevard, between West 125th and 126th Streets. It’s owned by the famous Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson, who was born in Ethiopia and embraces fusion cuisine.
Samuelsson is the former executive chef at Aquavit, just east of Fifth Avenue on 55th Street, which was named by both Skoog and Norway’s ambassador, Mona Juul, as a great place for Scandinavian cuisine. Juul adds Smorgas, in Scandinavia House, on Park Avenue near 37th Street, to the list.
Peru’s ambassador to the UN (and president of the Security Council in July), Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, speaks with great pride about his country’s cuisine. Peru is home to some of the world’s top-ranked restaurants, which Meza-Cuadra credits to its diverse ethnicities and fused cultures. Sustainable agriculture has become a large focus for both new and well-established chefs in Peru, who pay strong attention to seasonal limits for consuming seafood and produce.
“Chefs are the vanguard of this wave of environmental and agricultural consciousness,” says Ambassador Meza-Cuadra.
If you are a fan of cocktails, look for the drink pisco sour, which Peru mission staff have nicknamed “peace-co sour.” For seafood dishes, the ambassador likes Mission Ceviche, inside Gansevoort Market downtown and at a new location on Second Avenue near 73rd Street. He recommends tiradito, a sashimi-inspired ceviche, which reflects the influence of Japanese immigrants in Peru. For those willing to cross the East River, there’s Llama Inn, in Brooklyn.
Brazil’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Frederico Meyer, is a serious New York City foodie. He frequents French, Italian, Georgian and Russian restaurants near his home in SoHo, including Le Coucou, Mercer Kitchen, Raoul’s and Gato, which blends Italian and other Mediterranean dishes.
Brazilian cuisine goes beyond beef, thanks to the availability of pork, seafood and wild game, including turtle and alligator; and African, Caribbean, Arabic, Lebanese, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese influences. As a result, it’s difficult to find one restaurant in the city that represents the full breadth.
Meat lovers find a lot to love in the country’s barbecue — Brazil has more cows (210 million) than people — and to get a taste, Meyer recommends Fogo de Chão, a fixed-priced all-you-can-eat restaurant west of Fifth Avenue on 53rd Street.
In any Brazilian restaurant, Meyer says you should look for a national dish like feijoada, a black bean and pork stew that dates to the era of slavery, and the ubiquitous ingredient manioc (aka cassava or yucca root), which shows up in a variety of dishes and desserts.
South Korea’s Deputy Ambassador Chull-Joo Park has worked as a diplomat in Finland, the Netherlands and China and is back in New York for the second time, just as his country’s K-pop music, beauty and skin care products, TV dramas and now Korean food reach new heights of popularity.
Witness the lively scene in K-town, mainly along 32nd Street just west of Fifth Avenue, where you can find great Korean barbecue, traditional restaurants or modernized Korean food. For vegetarian options, he recommends K-town’s Hangawi.
Closer to the UN, he likes Bap, on Third Avenue near 35th Street, which offers a traditional menu in a modern setting, enlivened by a K-pop playlist. When dining there with UN colleagues, Ambassador Park often goes for his favorite dish, dwaenjang jigae — tofu, meat or seafood with vegetables in a soybean broth stew.
But he also says nothing beats a New York steak, cooked medium or medium-rare, with grilled corn on the cob. He also loves sharing roasted marshmallows with his kids and pairing them with coffee.
“It’s a really enjoyable part of a diplomat’s life, to get a taste of other countries’ cuisine,” says Ambassador Park.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambassador to the UN, Sven Alkalaj, loves steakhouses, French and Italian restaurants, like Felidia on East 58th Street near Second Avenue. After mere months of being new to New York, he has also found restaurants that know how to replicate his beloved home cuisine.
Among them: Burek King, 16 miles away, in Clifton, N.J., offers popular regional dishes like cevapi (minced-meat sausage links), a dessert called tufahije (stewed whole apple with a walnut filling) and its namesake burek (phyllo dough and meat pie). Bureks, which can also be filled with cheese, spinach, potatoes, cabbage or apple, are also featured at Djerdan, with locations in Brooklyn and Astoria.
Ambassador Alkalaj highly recommends Cevabdzinica Sarajevo, a popular Bosnian restaurant at 34th Avenue and 38th Street in Long Island City, where you can find all the traditional dishes.
The history of Bosnia, like many of its neighboring nations, carries the legacies of multiple empires: Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and others. The resulting cuisine reflects a blend of those influences, with some similarities to dishes served at Croatian and Serbian (sometimes labeled Yugoslavian or Balkan) restaurants: Bosnian cuisine tends to have more Turkish influence, Serbian shows a bit of Greek style, and Croatian features more seafood.
The ambassador, whose mother is Croatian, says he’d like to try Villa Berulia, a Croatian-Italian restaurant located on 34th Street near Park Avenue, and Kafana, a Serbian-Croatian restaurant on Avenue C in the East Village. Be sure to check out wines from the southern part of Bosnia, like blatina and zilavka, he says, and plum or apple brandy called rakijaor sljivovica.
Another important drink is coffee, and there’s a custom to go with it.
“Have you heard of how Bosnian coffee is served?” Alkalaj asks.
“The first coffee you’re offered is ‘welcoming coffee,’ the second is for talking, and when you get the third cup it’s ‘goodbye’ coffee. And then you know it’s time to go.”
Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, Samson Itegboje, doesn’t have to go far for a good Nigerian lunch because a food cart is parked right in front of the Nigerian mission on Second Avenue near 44th Street.
For sit-down meals, the ambassador’s favorite spot is Africana Restaurant, in Jamaica, Queens.
There, you can find the “world famous” pepper soup (a hot and spicy meat or fish stew), jollof rice or benachin, which is a rice dish that is typically red in color because it includes tomatoes, chili peppers, onion, cumin, nutmeg and an array of other spices, and suya — meat skewers.
Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi of Pakistan loves authentic Chinese food as well as Pakistani-style Chinese food — she never declines a dinner invitation from a Chinese delegate — but she also likes Italian food, declaring that “if New Yorkers aren’t enjoying Italian food at least twice a week, they should move!”
While also a fan of a good American burger, she recommends one with a spicy Pakistani twist, which you can find at BK Jani, in Brooklyn.
Her favorite dish is kebab, in all varieties: Pakistani, Turkish, Iranian. . . . You can find kebab at BJ Jani and at Haandi, on Lexington Avenue near East 28th Street, aka Curry Hill.
Still looking for a quick place to eat? Try one of these lunch spots near the UN.
- Cafe Olympia, a Korean-owned “global eats” food hall with a deli, juice bar, hot and cold buffets and Korean and Japanese food stalls, is a block west from the Secretariat building, on Second Avenue between East 44th and 45th Streets.
- Soba Totto, a Japanese “Kyoto-style” handmade soba and yakitori restaurant with great lunch specials, is a block and a half from the Secretariat, on East 43rd Street between Second and Third Avenues.
- Naya, a Lebanese counter-service restaurant where you can order ahead with an app (recommended during the lunch rush), is on Third Avenue between East 43rd and 44th Streets.
But come off-peak (outside of 12:30 to 2:00 pm) or be prepared for a wait!
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Sonah Lee-Lassiter is a Korean-American freelance writer based in Brooklyn, who grew up across many US states. In her contributions to PassBlue, she has covered a wide range of topics, including Afghanistan’s migrant crisis, digital harassment at the UN and how the airline industry affects climate change. She has a degree in international management fromt the University of Vermont and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and works in the civil service as well.