Chinatown and Little Italy are probably the first locations that come to mind when you think of New York City’s diversity and immigrant history. However, there were several other immigrant groups that migrated and clustered into various neighborhoods, forming smaller ethnic enclaves that also contribute to New York City’s identity as the “melting pot.”
Last year we published a series called NYC’s Micro Neighborhoods, which had more in-depth articles on specific ethnic communities. To provide you with a thorough guide to New York City’s diverse areas, for this list we combined neighborhoods mentioned in NYC’s Micro Neighborhoods with an additional 10 more to check out. Enjoy!
18. Little Dominican Republic in Washington Heights, Manhattan
Although Washington Heights saw many Irish immigrants in the early 1900s and European Jews escaping the Nazi regime in the 20th century, the neighborhood then witnessed an influx of Dominicans after the 1960s.
Washington Heights shows its tradition proudly. Dominican Republic flags hang in apartment windows; Spanish is ubiquitous; and street stalls sell food and drink along major corridors up through neighboring Inwood. Spoken Spanish is only faded out by the ascending volume of Bachata, a Latin musical genre originating from the Dominican Republic. Here, you’ll observe families and friends congregating in the streets, dancing in the nearby parks. It is a neighborhood of families and neighbors whose culture resonates throughout.
Broadway serves as Washington Heights’ main commercial artery with a number of mom and pop specialty shops, Dominican cuisine locales, along with more recognized chain retailers. Among the numerous eateries, El Malecon proves to be a more popular presence in the neighborhood specializing in authentic Latin cooking. El Malecon features traditional Dominican dishes such as mangu or mashed green plantains, and sancocho, which is Dominican-style stew.
But like many neighborhoods, the Washington Heights and Inwood areas are feeling the pressure of rising real estate prices – particularly with its strong stock of pre-war apartment houses. Neighborhood participation has been high in community meetings, as the city moves forward with plans for a rezoning in Inwood.
17. Little Senegal in Harlem
Little Senegal, or “Le Petit Senegal” to many of the Francophone locals, is home to African immigrants from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, and more. It is centered around 116th Street and Lenox Avenue right in the middle of Harlem. Over the past 30 years, the population of immigrants from West African countries has slowly grown and expressed its influence in the area.
This section of the city has a long and storied past, from being one of the hotbeds of the Harlem Renaissance to serving as a major site of the Civil Rights and Black Arts movements. While the vibrant African-American culture is still present and thriving, the influx of African immigrants has exerted itself.
African restaurants like Le Baobab and African Kine have sprung around classics like Sylvia’s and Amy Ruth’s, while renowned Ethiopian born/Swedish raised chef Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster blends traditional soul and African food. And Lenox Sapphire, just across the street from Sylvia’s, is another Senegal-owned restaurant. There is also a permanent outdoor market in the area called “Malcolm Shabazz.” Businesses offer everything from traditional African clothing to cell phone plans with discount rates to Senegal or Ghana.
Little Senegal is not all just good restaurants and beautiful garments — according to Humanity in Action, a longing for home is the theme for many conversations in this neighborhood. Faced with the stagnant Senegalese economy, most West African immigrants, typical to the New York immigrant story, arrive to the city with hopes of taking their share of New York’s reportedly endlessly booming economy. Unfortunately, though, several immigrants are faced with a tension between the fast paced paperwork-filled New York lifestyle and the traditional West African family lifestyle.
16. The Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Vietnamese Communities in Flushing, Queens
Downtown Flushing is home to many Chinese and Korean businesses
Though many know Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown for its dense Chinese population, Flushing, Queens has a nearly equal Chinese presence. About 70% of its population is Asian, making it a thriving ethnic micro neighborhood. In fact, according to a Daily News article citing the 2010 census, Flushing’s own Chinese population has overtaken that of Lower Manhattan’s Chinatown.
The heart of Flushing’s Asian community lies in Downtown Flushing, where the bustling streets and crowded markets are reflective of those in Asia. While the Chinese (and Taiwanese) presence is the most apparent, Flushing also has a large Korean community centered around Union Street and a smaller Vietnamese one.
A very popular destination in downtown Flushing is the New World Mall on the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue, which prides itself in being the largest indoor Asian mall on the East Coast. There are 108 retail shops and a huge Asian supermarket on the first and second floors. The third floor has one of the biggest Chinese dim sum restaurants and banquet halls in the Tri-State area. Its food court has a plethora of options for Asian cuisine, from shaved ice with varieties of toppings, bubble tea, soups and noodles. There is also a karaoke lounge. The Golden Mall is a more underground, though equally popular food destination where Xi-An Famous Foods had its start.
15. Little Guyana in Richmond Hill, Queens
Open air markets are common in Guyana
Richmond Hill houses the largest Sikh population in New York City. However, since the 1970s, many Caribbean Indians have been calling the southern part of the neighborhood home, one of the largest populations being from Guyana.
Along Liberty Avenue, named for being the only toll-free road in the area during a bygone era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pizza or deli. Dotting the main drag are roti and dooble (a street sandwich consisting of fried bread, curried chick peas and topped with Caribbean spices, cucumber, coconut and a hot pepper sauce) shops interspersed with clothing stores selling fabric and traditional Indian clothing.
As diverse as its citizens, Little Guyana offers Caribbean twists on traditional Indian cooking. While predominantly Indian, you can find Caribbean, African and Chinese food—and every combination therein—to accommodate any price range. Guyanese restaurants and bakeries are abundant, notably Sybil’s Bakery and Restaurant Shop where you can taste the gambit of traditional Guyanese meals and the Little Guyanese Bake Shop which offers a variety of traditional cakes, breads and sweets.
The neighborhood has various sit-down restaurants and street-fare stalls as well, from Caribbean-Suriname crossover to Trinidadian “bake and shark” (exactly as it sounds; fried shark on a dough bun) to Chinese-infused curry dishes. Near the larger markets, it’s not unusual to find a picnic table selling fresh peppered mangoes and melons.
14. Little Poland in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Look past the emerging counterculture and you’ll find New York City’s Little Poland in Greenpoint. Though Greenpoint is rapidly developing, its rich Polish culture and history has yet to be completely expunged.
This North Brooklyn neighborhood is home to the second largest concentration of Polish immigrants in the United States, behind Chicago. When walking through the neighborhood, its ethnic character is still evident in the myriad Polish bakeries, meat markets and restaurants that dot Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint’s main thoroughfare. Polish specialty shops and restaurants include Old Poland Bakery and Bakery Rzeszowska, both of which offer a wide selection of homemade polish pastries. Popular items include the flavored babkas and kolorowe.
There is also the Lomzynianka Restaurant, one of the highest rated Polish restaurants in Greenpoint. Other establishments include the Polish National Catholic Church of the Resurrection Parish on Leonard street and the Polish National Home on Driggs Avenue, which is home to the Warsaw box office and bar and lounge. The venue hosts several events and musical concerts. Don’t be surprised at the profusion of Polish language news stands and magazines that can be found in just about any deli within the neighborhood.
13. Little India in Jackson Heights, Queens
Shops in Little India in Jackson Heights, Queens
Jackson Heights is situated in the northwestern portion of Queens. Like many neighborhoods in Queens, Jackson Heights has historically seen influxes of various ethnic groups settling into the area. Prepare to be dazed by the plentiful sight of garments, especially the colorful saris adorned by the neighborhood’s Indian women in Little India. The many savory aromas in the air are also certain to arouse hunger.
Considering the abundant locales and eateries, Jackson Heights doubles as a global ethnic market. While walking down Roosevelt Avenue—the neighborhood’s busiest commercial thoroughfare—you’ll find Indian restaurants juxtaposed with Colombian diners that sit next to Mexican taco shops. Among the most popular restaurants is the famous Jackson Diner specializing in Indian cuisine. Their Tandoori specials are not to be overlooked by visitors.
Along with the more familiar chain stores we can also find an excess of foreign mom and pop shops. The Butala Emporium serves as a great resort for an Indian souvenir. You’ll be delighted by their extensive selection of Indian clothing, incense, prints, instruments, Bollywood films, etc.
12. Little Ireland in Woodlawn, The Bronx
In the northern Bronx, just above its namesake cemetery and east of Van Cortlandt Park, you can find New York City’s own Little Ireland. The neighborhood of Woodlawn Heights or simply Woodlawn, as it is better known, has been a destination for the Irish exodus in New York City. Though originally populated by Germans, Woodlawn is now predominantly Irish with its share of Italian-Americans as well. It is here that you’ll find the greatest abundance of four-leaf clover insignias on storefronts in all of the city.
Although Woodlawn has its definitive borders, the Irish community itself is present on both sides of McLean Avenue, which serves as the border between New York City and Yonkers. The majority of residents have lived here for generations, making it home to both an Irish-American and Irish immigrant population. The neighborhood’s proximity to Manhattan, along with the variety of imported Irish products available have long been attracting its inhabitants from across the ocean.
The commotion can be felt on Katonah Avenue, the main commercial district dotted with Irish pubs, cafés, restaurants and even shops specializing in authentic Irish imported goods and gifts. If it’s Irish style partying that you’re craving, be sure to stop at the Rambling House or The Tombstone Saloon. When hunger strikes, Mary’s Celtic Kitchen and Patrizia’s Of Woodlawn will satiate any palate. There’s also the Woodlawn Arts and Music House sure to satisfy local artists.
11. Little Odessa in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
In the southernmost parts of Brooklyn, nestled between Coney Island and Manhattan Beach, one can find New York City‘s very own Ukraine, far from Russia of course. Little Odessa, as it has been traditionally coined due to the great number of immigrants from Odessa, is located in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.
Little Odessa holds among the highest concentration of Russian immigrants outside the eastern hemisphere. This vibrant, beachside enclave was the site of the Russian immigration wave to New York City, which dates back to the 1800s. Yet, even today, Russian newcomers find themselves settling in this different and yet culturally familiar neighborhood of New York.
Whether it be from delighting in the many Russian delis or cafes, sampling the local clothing boutiques or visiting a Russian nightclub or bar, you can experience the every day lives of the Russian diaspora in Little Odessa. Brighton Beach Avenue is the main thoroughfare of Little Odessa, whereas the boardwalk can serve as a lively substitute in warmer weather.
If in Little Odessa, be sure to check out Winter Garden or Primorski Restaurant along with numerous other locals to get a real taste of Russian-style cuisine and lounging. If it’s a more theatrical form of culture you’re craving, Brighton Beach is home to the Millennium Theatre which features many Russian traveling theater groups. The grand theater holds performances exclusively in Russian ranging from musical performances, to comedy troupes.
10. Koreatown in Manhattan
Many are probably familiar with this bustling Korean neighborhood running along West 32nd street, as it is filled with popular restaurants and bakeries in an area surrounded by famous landmarks. What many do not know is that “K-town” essentially originated with a bookstore called “Koryo Books,” which sold Korean books and merchandise. Its first restaurant was Kom Tang, and along with the bookstore, a few other eateries also helped set the foundation for what the neighborhood’s success.
This area experienced a large influx of Korean immigrants in the 1980s; its proximity to the Garment District made it a good location to settle in. The heart of Koreatown – the portion of 32nd street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues – was nicknamed “Korea Way” in 1995 and contains about 100 small businesses.
9. Little Greece in Astoria, Queens
Occupying a rectangular region bounded by Ditmars Boulevard, Steinway Street, 36th Avenue and the East River is a neighborhood filled with traditional Greek taverns, bakeries, cafes and orthodox churches. Over the years, the Greek presence has shifted from Ditmars Boulevard to Broadway.
Large groups of Greeks migrated to the the region in the 1960s, with more immigrants arriving from Cyprus in 1974. In 1980, the population of Greeks in Astoria was 22,579, though that number dropped to 18,127 in 1990. Recently, the Queens Chronicle reported that the current Greek debt crisis has led to another influx of Greek immigrants to Astoria. Popular traditional Greek eateries in this neighborhood include Taverna Kyclades, Bahari Estiatorio, and the Omonia Cafe.
You may be familiar with scenes of Little Greece from the television show Orange is the New Black, where the character Red used to live and ran a deli.
8. Little Colombia in Jackson Heights, Queens
Though Jackson Heights is primarily known as an Indian neighborhood, it is also home to a concentrated Colombian population and several Colombian businesses. Roughly running between 80th to 84th streets and between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th avenue, Little Colombia is a center of Colombian life in Queens, which has the largest Colombian population in the United States.
Though gangs and drug dealers occupied the area in the 1990s, today it is a lively center that celebrates Colombian culture with the sounds of traditional cumbia and salsa music, an “Arepa Lady” food truck, and countless other businesses and restaurants.
7. Little Puerto Rico in Clason Point, The Bronx
Nestled on a peninsula in the South Bronx near Harding Park is Little Puerto Rico, which is about 80% Latino and Hispanic, with Puerto Ricans constituting the largest ethnic group. Its narrow streets and small former bungalow houses (there is often very little space between homes located across from each other), this neighborhood is strikingly different from others in the city. There are chickens roaming around the houses, some of which have small vegetable gardens and colorful decor. There are also nearby fishing locations and vacant “desert-like” areas.
Many Puerto Ricans moved here in the 1960s, and by the 1990s, people were calling it “Little Puerto Rico.” The area used to be mainly Irish, Italian and Jewish; however these immigrants could not own this property. Then, a pioneering group of Puerto Ricans and other Latino groups arrived and bought most of the 250 bungalow homes, renovating them and gradually making the area a close-knit community of their own.
6. Little Pakistan, Coney Island Avenue Brooklyn
Though it may seem surprising, the largest Pakistani population in New York City is located on Coney Island Avenue. Beforehand, this area was primarily Jewish (and there is still a large Jewish population in the area) until Pakistani migration in the 1990s. The number of Pakistanis in Brooklyn was roughly 9,903 in 2010. However, Little Pakistan was almost nonexistent after 9/11.
After 9/11, several agencies came into Middle Eastern and South Asian neighborhoods looking for suspicious activities and inciting fear in residents, some of whom could face deportation for small immigration-related problems. As a result of this suspicion and interrogation, business in Little Pakistan dropped by 50%. At the peak of this time, 20,000 members of Brooklyn’s Pakistani population left the United States.
Since then, however, the area has recovered and is now filled with Pakistani restaurants (four of which are open 24-hours), salons and jewelry shops.
5. Little West Indies in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Though the micro neighborhood seems to get smaller and smaller, a strong West Indian and Caribbean presence is still present around Nostrand Avenue between Eastern Parkway and Fulton Street. The most famous food joint may be Gloria’s, seen on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, but there are plenty of other spots to check out as well, including The Food Sermon (which is south of Eastern Parkway), Peppa Jerk Chicken, and more. The West Indian Parade is a festive.
4. Little Sri Lanka in Tompkinsville, Staten Island
Home to about 5,000 Sri Lankans and restaurants serving traditional roti, dosas, and Sri Lankan crepes and stews, Little Sri Lanka is a little-known cultural gem that is also the most popular homes for Sri Lankans other than Sri Lanka itself.
Attracted by Staten Island’s affordable property and proximity to Manhattan, the Sri Lankan population in the neighborhood has increased rapidly in recent years while keeping connections to their home country. In 2012 they celebrated New Year in Ocean Breeze with traditional Sri Lankan festivities and in 2014 they collaborated to send aid to Sri Lanka in wake of a tsunami.
2. Little Tibet in Jackson Heights, Queens
At certain times of the year, you can see native Tibetans dressed in fancy, traditional attire in the area around 74th street between Roosevelt and 37th Avenues in Jackson Heights on certain religious holidays. The area also has at least a dozen Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants in the area and “Tibetan Mobile,” a cell phone store. A 2011 New York Magazine article gave two nicknames to this area: Little Tibet and Himalayan Heights. While this area has been a recent development, it is thriving for now.
1. Little Manila in Woodside, Queens
Home to countless authentic Filipino restaurants and businesses, “Little Manila,” which runs from 63rd to 71st Street in Woodside, Queens makes Filipino immigrants feel at home.
New York State’s Filipino population is about 200,000 and the majority of these Filipinos live in the Little Manila area. One orienting point in this neighborhood is the bee greeting customers outside the Filipino fast food chain, Jollibee. Though there are over 500 of these chains worldwide, Little Manila’s Jollibee, established in 2009 something, was the first on the East Coast. Red Ribbon, a Filipino chain bakery, also found its place here in 2010.
Other restaurants include Ihawan (famous for their traditional barbeque), Perlas ng Silangan, Renee’s Kitchenette, Fritzie’s Bakeshop and Krystal’s Cafe, all of which sell traditional Filipino dishes. There is also a Philippine National Bank, a Filipino recreational center and Filipino salons and grocery stores.
FIlipino religious practices are also maintained here: the majority of Filipinos are devoutly Catholic, so the nearby St. Sebastian’s Church helps host “Simbang Gabi” (night mass) every Christmas, which is a novena of nine masses at dawn, which is a traditional practice in the Philippines.