With summer on the horizon, it’s time to look forward to longer days, a return to dining out, and, of course, going back to the movies. Fans of Crazy Rich Asians and Hamilton in particular will have something to anticipate: the June 11 premier of In the Heights in theaters and on HBO Max*. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by John M. Chu, the film tells the story of a tightly knit Dominican community in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood.
If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t have a conversation about any community without talking about its restaurants and the ways they reflect and preserve the culture of a place. Restaurants tell us a story about a neighborhood’s past and present, giving some residents a taste of home while allowing others to connect with cultures around the world.
This summer, celebrate the diversity and resilience of the restaurants in your city and treat yourself to dinner and a showing of In the Heights by grabbing a meal at one of these community-run restaurants around the country.
La Brasa (Somerville)
Born in Hermosillo, Mexico, chef Daniel Bojoroquez worked in Boston kitchens for more than a decade before opening his Somerville ode to wood-fired cooking, La Brasa. While the menu once skewed experimental, recently Bojorquez has been going back to his roots, creating a more Mexican-leaning menu. Dishes such as grilled steak smothered in a red chile-based mole coloradito are meant to pair with the restaurant’s fresh tortillas, made from corn that’s nixtamalized and ground in-house and perfect for soaking up Bojorquez’s flavorful sauces.
Suya Joint (Roxbury)
If you’re looking for West African food in the Boston area, Suya Joint should be your first stop. Here, chef and owner Cecelia Lizotte cooks the food of her native Nigeria such as beef suya, the spicy, grilled skewers the restaurant is named after, and bowls of egusi, a nutty, spicy stew packed with greens and a protein of your choice, and thickened with melon seeds.
Las Tablas Colombian Steakhouse (Lakeview)
The Suárez family has been championing Colombian food in Chicago for more than 20 years, winning over the meat-loving city through dishes such as bandeja paisa. Be sure to come hungry when you order it: The national dish of Colombia includes a rib-eye steak served with fried pork belly, chorizo, rice, beans, a fried egg, sweet plantains, and avocado.
Oda Mediterranean Cuisine (Andersonville)
This cozy Andersonville spot focuses on Turkish cuisine and its unique fusion of flavors from Europe, West Asia, and Northern Africa. Owner Marina Cardak also sources wines from her native Georgia — the birthplace of wine — to pair with dishes such as charcoal-kissed lamb and beef kebabs topped with garlic, grilled red peppers, barberries, and smoked paprika butter.
The Island Spot (Dallas)
At The Island Spot, owner Richard Thomas and his family bring the flavors of their native Jamaica to Texas, quite literally: The restaurant imports spices directly from the island, resulting in one of the city’s best jerk seasonings. Thomas cites his mom, Mama Joyce, as his inspiration, serving up the dishes she cooked for his family such as braised oxtails, curried goat, and, of course, jerk chicken.
La Fisheria (Houston)
Aquiles Chávez is well-known in his native Mexico City and across Latin America for his appearances on reality cooking shows and his signature handlebar mustache. At his first U.S. restaurant, Chávez shows off the bounty of Mexico’s coastline through dishes such as an array of fresh ceviches or grilled yellowfin tuna served with refried black beans and potatoes in a green chile sauce.
Ombu Grill (Koreatown)
When owner John Kim met his wife, a Korean woman who grew up in Argentina, the two quickly realized the overlap between the two countries’ cuisines: a shared love of the grill. That discovery resulted in Ombu, the couple’s Argentinian/Korean hybrid of a restaurant where diners can start their meal with a mix of empanadas and kimchi pancakes before moving on to grill chorizo alongside beef bulgogi.
Quiadaiyn Restaurant (Mar Vista)
Tucked into an unassuming strip mall, popular caterer Melissa Martinez and her family serve homestyle Oaxacan classics at their first brick-and-mortar restaurant. Inspired by the recipes her parents grew up eating, Quiadaiyn quickly caught the attention of Los Angeles Times critics for the restaurant’s melt-in-your-mouth barbacoa de chivo (goat barbacoa) and crispy tlayudas (partially fried, homemade tortillas topped with a choice of meat, black beans, cabbage, and Oaxacan cheese).
Casa Sanchez (Culver City)
This family-owned spot on South Centinela has long been a destination for special occasions, both because of its enormous banquet facilities and the live mariachi bands that play most nights of the week. Stop by for the entertainment and stay for the hearty servings of dishes such as tequila-grilled salmon, or filet mignon served on a bed of chipotle mashed potatoes.
Padrino’s Cuban Cuisine (Dania Beach)
The Padrino family opened its first restaurant in 1976 after immigrating from Cuba, eventually growing it into a mini empire that now stretches from Fort Lauderale to Orlando. Still family-run today, the restaurants serve up Cuban classics such as Cubano sandwiches and lechon asado, a dish of slow-roasted pork seasoned with a spicy citrus mojo and topped with sautéed onions.
Krakatoa Indonesian Cuisine (Hollywood)
After moving to the United States, Abe Muis found himself missing the dishes he grew up with in Indonesia. So he started cooking from memory, setting up a small stall in the Yellow Green Market that became so popular, he expanded into a brick-and-mortar location. From there, Muis serves up homestyle dishes such as his mother’s sepat, a grilled fish and shrimp dish covered in a sauce made from limes, tomatoes, and candlenuts, a nut that resembles a macadamia.
Ferraro’s Kitchen Restaurant (MiMo)
Growing up as the son of a winemaker near Venice, Italy, chef Igor Ferraro was exposed to the joys of food and wine very early in this life. That inspired him to get a degree in hospitality, and he went on to open a successful cooking school and collection of restaurants in Italy before decamping to Miami. At Ferraro’s, locals and visitors alike can get a taste of Italy through dishes such as mushroom risotto with fresh truffles, or by taking one of the Italian cooking or wine classes offered at the restaurant.
Havana Heights (Washington Heights)
This self-described “big, boisterous neighborhood restaurant” might be a relative newcomer to the Heights, but owner Gabriel Estevez and his family have deep roots in the neighborhood, having lived there for years as well as operating several local grocery stores and butcher shops. The menu combines dishes from Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, and Puerto Rican cuisines, so diners can share everything from ham croquettes and tostones to fajitas and mofongo in a single sitting.
Malecon (Washington Heights)
If you’re heading to Malecon, you’re getting the rotisserie chicken. The self-described “kings of roast chicken” crank out crispy-skinned, garlicky birds have developed a following far beyond the neighborhood. But don’t stop there: the enormous menu boasts a number of classic Dominican dishes, along with other Latinx and Caribbean influences, such as flakey empanadas or a whole fried red snapper in red chile sauce.
Floridita (Washington Heights)
This long-standing spot is legendary for both its 24/7 service and its Cubano — one of the city’s best examples of the ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard sandwich. Grab one for dinner and then stop by the next morning for tres golpes, the Dominican breakfast of mashed plantains or pickled green bananas served with fried eggs, fried cheese, and salami.
Atlas Kitchen (Upper West Side)
Head up to Columbia University and you’ll find Atlas Kitchen right next to campus, where chef Kaiyuan Li cooks up a dizzying array of regional Chinese dishes, with precision that earned him a MICHELIN Bib Gourmand nod. Dishes range from the hard-to-find, such as winter melon soup with pork ribs, to crowd-pleasers such as dan dan noodles.
In opening aRoqa, owner Monica Saxena wanted to create an Indian restaurant that stood out in New York’s crowded hospitality scene. The modern dining room reflects the menu, where diners will encounter familiar Indian flavors presented in unexpected ways. Corn paddu, a corn and rice fritter, arrives on the table in the basket of a miniature bike, while lamb chops come upright on a plate, held together by a single onion ring and dotted with cucumber mint raita.
Casa Ora (Williamsburg)
New York hospitality veteran Ivo Diaz opened Casa Ora with his mother, Isbelis Diaz, to present the flavors of his native Maracaibo Venezuela through a fine dining lens. Ivo oversees the bar, using his experience at acclaimed restaurants like Eleven Madison Park to create cocktails such as the Peligroso, which combines tequila, chile de arbol, tamarind, and orgeat. Isabela is in charge of the kitchen, where she creates memorable dishes such as monkfish wrapped in ripe plantains and topped with guayanés cheese, caramelized coconut milk, and ají dulce paste.
Nargis Cafe (Sheepshead Bay)
Chef Boris Bangiev’s grilling talents have drawn fans from all over New York City to Sheepshead Bay for a taste of one of Nargis’s smoky kebabs. But the skewers are just a gateway to the rest of the internationally inflected Uzbeki menu, where the region’s interactions with Central Asia and Eastern Europe are on full display via dishes such as a Korean carrot salad or crispy potato dumplings served with sour cream.
Sofia’s Taqueria (Staten Island)
Sofia’s is the brainchild of Staten Island native Peter Botros and his longtime friend Ignacio Garcia, who moved to the borough from Mexico when he was 13 years old. The restaurant quickly gained attention for its collection of more than 100 tequilas and mezcals, but tacos are the main focus. Served on a housemade half-corn, half-flour tortilla, the lengthy taco menu offers everything from traditional carnitas to fried lobster tails.
Hawker Fare (Mission)
Chef James Syhabout is best known for his tasting menus at the MICHELIN-starred Commis. But at Hawker Fare, Syhabout displays his talents in a more casual setting, cooking up food inspired by his mother’s cooking and his childhood in Northern Thailand. Flavors are masterfully layered in dishes such as the crispy rice ball salad, where the crunchy rice is tossed with fermented pork, peanuts, cilantro, dried Thai chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, and finished with a flurry of herbs.
Chef-owner Hanif Sadr first gained attention through his Berkeley pop-ups and catering company, quickly attracting a following for his ambitious dishes that merge Bay Area ingredients with the foods he grew up with in Northern Iran. Against all odds, Sadr also opened a brick-and-mortar in the midst of the pandemic, serving his signature blend of herbal, spicy, and sour flavors via dishes such as a pomegranate and walnut stew studded with barberries and sumac-roasted chickpeas in a casual, café setting.
Z&Y Restaurant (Chinatown)
There are many places to try Sichuan cuisines in Chinatown, but only one where your meal is prepared by the former chef of not one, but two Chinese presidents. Chef and owner Li Jun Han’s deftness with chiles has impressed both dignitaries and earned the restaurant MICHELIN Bib Gourmand recognition. Here, pieces of fried chicken thigh come buried under a heaping pile of dried red chiles, though there are also options for the more spice-adverse, such as tea-smoked duck.
Chef Chu’s (Los Altos)
In the Heights director John M. Chu knows a thing or two about good food — his father Lawrence C.C. Chu has been at the helm of his namesake restaurant Chef Chu’s since 1970, where you can still find him almost every single day. What started as a small restaurant in a strip mall has grown into a Silicon Valley icon that has played host to everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Margaret Thatcher and Serena Williams, serving up dishes such as sweet and sour pork alongside Sichuan hot pots packed with tofu, vegetables, and chile sauce.
Omega Ouzeri (Capitol Hill)
After running two beloved cafés in Seattle, Thomas Soukakos opened the more upscale Omega Ouzeri, an airy, white-walled restaurant that transports diners to Soukakos’s native Greece. And while the dishes are more refined, such as a whole Mediterranean sea bass dressed with fenugreek oil and crispy garlic, Soukakos’ signature hospitality is still on full display — diners can regularly find him circling the dining room, shaking hands and offering waiting parties a glass of Greek wine.
Jaleo (Penn Quarter)
In 1993, a young Spanish immigrant named José Andrés took over the kitchen at Jaleo, where he crafted a menu that showcased the rich regional diversity of Spanish cuisine. Fast forward almost two decades: Jaleo is a MICHELIN Guide-recognized D.C. destination, and Andrés is a household name known for both his award-winning restaurants and his Nobel Peace Prize-nominated humanitarian work. Celebrate the origins of this success story at his flagship restaurant, where the five course, $35 prix fixe Tour de España offers diners a tour of tapas classics such as gambas al ajillo (garlicky shrimp) and chicken croquetas.
Letena (Columbia Heights)
Owner Yamrot Ezineh was a chemical engineer in her native Ethiopia, a detail-oriented profession that informs how she runs Letena, her Washington D.C. restaurant. And while the dishes may be traditional, Letena is a thoroughly modern restaurant. Ezineh developed all of the recipes herself, sourcing natural ingredients as a base for her dishes and cooking them in full view of diners from the restaurant’s open kitchen. Vegetarians and meat-eaters can both find items to enjoy on this menu, where golan (sauteed collard greens with ginger, garlic, onions, and jalapeños) sits alongside braised goat.
*The film will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.