By: Dan Gentile – Thrillist
It’s only natural for immigrants to the US to move into an area full of their countrymen in order to rally around native tongues, traditions, and a love of food that Americans haven’t yet figured out how to serve from a drive-thru window.
And while every city might have a Little China, you’d be in Big Trouble if you assert that they’re all created equal. Here are 16 of the very best international food hubs in the United States, ranging from sprawling Asian ethno burbs to pockets of Mexican paradise.
Long Island Koreatown — Queens, NY
In the year 2000, Long Island housed 16% of the US’s entire Korean population, and the community’s hub sits adjacent to the East River in Flushing, Queens. The very last stop on the 7 train in Queens is its epicurean epicenter, and the surrounding streets have been dubbed Meokja Golmok in reference to an area of Korea’s second largest city (Busan). It translates roughly to “Let’s Eat Alley” — fitting, as even the dumpsters are filled with food worth diving for.
Little Saigon — Garden Grove and Westminster, CA
Orange County is home to nearly 200,000 Vietnamese immigrants, and the officially designated Little Saigon area surrounding Bolsa Avenue boasts over 200 restaurants, so many coffee shops that the city had to limit licenses, and a 100,000sq-ft mega-grocer called Shun Fat Supermarket.
India Square — Jersey City, NJ
New Jersey’s an unlikely hotbed of Indian culture, historically drawing the more upwardly mobile Indian residents of New York City with promises of better jobs, home ownership, and small business opportunities. It’s a toss-up which city is the biggest hub of Indian culture, and, while the bustling streets of Edison are a serious taste of Delhi (with over 400 Indian businesses!), we tip our hats to India Square in Jersey City, which has the highest concentration of Indians in America with an estimated 13,000 residing in a two-block stretch of Newark Avenue.
Little Odessa — Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY
Thousands of Russians ended up in Brighton Beach when the Soviet Union let loose the emigration floodgates in the ’70s, followed by a second movement in the ’90s at the fall of the USSR. The result is a 10-block stretch dubbed Little Odessa in honor of the beachfront Ukrainian city. The smell of pirozhki wafts through the air, stoic elderly Russian women sit in front of ethnic grocery stores, and a nebulous history of the Russian mafia sleeps with the fishes under the boardwalk.
Persian Square — Westwood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
“Tehrangeles” boasts the largest number of Persians outside of Iran, with a staggering 20% of the houses in Beverly Hills owned by Persians. Westwood Boulevard is the culture’s main strip, with billboards advertising Persian jellies, streets packed with white BMWs (just kidding!), and a wealth of traditional Persian restaurants featuring flaming hot kabobs, seemingly random fusions, like Persian pizza, and sweets seldom seen outside of Iran, like saffron ice cream.
North End — Boston, MA
In the late 1800s, the Italians moved into Boston’s North End in droves, pushing out the Irish majority, and eventually saturating the area to the point where 99.9% of the population was Italian-speaking. Today, the numbers don’t compare to the area’s heyday, but you’ll still hear Italian spoken on Hanover and Salem Streets and see legions of people lined up for fresh pizza at Regina and Galleria Umberto, and cannoli from Mike’s or Modern.
Little Havana — Miami, FL
Castro’s rise in the 1960s sent legions of Cuban refugees to the shores of Miami, where they’ve developed a community so renowned that one million visitors come every year for the climax of Carnaval, the Calle Ocho festival. Those million visitors have got to eat, and there’s plenty to chew on, with everything from Cuban sandwiches to chuletas (pork chops).
Konstancowo — Jefferson Park, Chicago, IL
Chicago has an illustrious history of Little Polands, and with a population numbering over one million, it’s no surprise that school children previously got the day off in honor of Casimir Pulaski. The current contender for best Little Poland is Jefferson Park, which hosts the yearly Taste of Polonia and is also one of the best places to find yourself on Paczki Day, a holiday honoring jelly donuts (which fittingly falls on Fat Tuesday).
Little Taipei — Monterey Park, CA
In the late ’70s, land developers in the San Gabriel Valley East of LA pioneered the concept of an ethnoburb by marketing real estate towards emigrating East Asians. The result is a hotbed of Asian culture centered around Monterey Park, aka Little Taipei, where nearly half of the population is Chinese and the culture is so ubiquitous that there’s a 12-acre Chinese shopping center lovingly referred to as the “Great Mall of China”.
Little Ethiopia — Washington, DC
Our nation’s capital is also the capital of African finger food, with nearly 200,000 residents of Ethiopian origin. It’s the largest population outside of the homeland and has enough ethnic businesses to warrant their own Yellow Pages. The main hub along 9th and U Streets slings more injera than many small states, and record stores peddle the jazz sounds of Mulatu Astatke as well as newer E-pop artists.
Little Brazil — South Framingham, MA
Massachusetts has long had the largest number of Portuguese speakers in the country, which, combined with affordable housing and a downtown ripe for new businesses, has made it a hub for Brazilians despite having very few beaches or babes. The South American soda Guaraná Antarctica stocks the shelves of convenience stores, the smells of cheesy pão de queijo breads are everywhere, and tildes are used with reckless abandon.
Mexicantown — Detroit, MI
Located in a sprawling section of the D’s Southwest side with hotspots on Bagley and Vernor Streets, Mexicantown is the result of a giant influx of Mexican immigrants, one of the only populations that has actually increased as the city’s overall population deflates. That means a huge selection of taquerias, panaderias, and fusion foods that offer a great counterbalance to the Greek food, hot dogs, Italian sandwich shops, Middle Eastern fare, and pizza that typically hog the spotlight in this underrated Rust Belt oasis.
The Czech Republic
No drive down I-35 is complete without a quick detour to exit 353 for “the official kolache of the Texas Legislature”. Texas has more Czechs than any other state, resulting in a unique Texas dialect that linguists expect to disappear in the next decade — soon, the only Czech Mix you’ll be able to hear will involve crunching bagel crisps. The population is spread out over several towns, but West (home of that disastrous fertilizer explosion), serves as the capital thanks to the yearly Czech heritage celebration Westfest.
Greektown — Baltimore, MD
After the Immigration Act of 1965, Greeks surged into Southeast Baltimore by the thousands and established a lively network of restaurants slinging freshly sliced gyro and creamy hummus. Despite a recent influx of Spanish-language businesses, Greek flags still fly high over the neighborhood that spawned famous Greco-Americans like Frank Zappa and Spiro Agnew.
The small, 5,000-person Danish village of Solvang was founded over 100 years ago, and is filled with cultural signifiers like windmills and tributes to Hans Christian Anderson, who would’ve no doubt appreciated the fantastic nature of the village, as well as the Little Mermaid statue. Thanks to the film Sideways, the area is now known as much for its wine culture as its Great Danes.
After the logging industry left Leavenworth in the mid-20th century, the community’s population scattered. In order to breathe new life into the dusty ghost town, a few bright-minded Bavarians decided to convert the abandoned mountain village into a re-creation of the type of ski-town you might find in the German Alps, complete with foamy steins and smoked brats.
Check out their website here!
Japantown — San Francisco, CA
One of the biggest and oldest Japantowns in the country, the SF version was mainly built up in the Western Addition neighborhood after the 1906 earthquake, and features the Japan Center with three malls and the Kabuki movie theater, plus the Peace Pagoda, which is essentially a five-tiered Buddhist stupa presented as a sign of peace by Osaka, Japan following World War II. Those malls hold all sorts of tiny, incredible places to snack, like Benkyodo and Nippon-Ya, plus legit cult-favorite Ino Sushi.