Lakruwana Restaurant in Little Sri Lanka
About a fifteen minute walk from the Staten Island ferry terminal exists a quaint, unassuming area home to one of the largest Sri Lankan communities outside of Sri Lanka itself. Historically home to a large Irish and Italian population, “Little Sri Lanka,” situated in the areas of Tompkinsville and Stapleton along Victory Boulevard and Bay Street, houses over 5,000 people of Sri Lankan descent. The area has attracted celebrities and food connoisseurs like Anthony Bourdain.
Sri Lankans began to arrive in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and by 2000 around 700 Sri Lankans called Staten Island home. Yet why they came to Staten Island is a bit of a mystery. After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which lifted discriminatory policies against non-European immigrants, Sri Lankan families like the Gunaratne family arrived in the late 1960s. The first families were attracted to the island due to its quiet and calm nature as well as its affordability and access to downtown Manhattan. Once the first family arrived, they soon invited their relatives and friends to the island.
Once more Sri Lankan families settled on Staten Island, many Sri Lankan Buddhists decided to open the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara in nearby Port Richmond in 1999. The Buddhist temple offers weekly meditation classes, full moon observances, and a Dhamma School for children. Soon after the temple opened, a handful of Sri Lankan restaurants and groceries surfaced as well, with five restaurants, a grocery, and even an Art and Cultural Museum.
Here is our guide to what to see in Little Sri Lanka!
1. Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum
Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum
The first of its kind outside of Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum opened in 2017, featuring Sri Lankan art, Buddha statues, gemstones, and even ceremonial weapons. The museum was opened by Julia Wijesinghe when she was only 18 years old, and Wijesinghe resettled the museum to a larger space at 61 Canal Street in Stapleton in 2018. Her father, Lakruwana Wijesinghe, opened up one of the first Sri Lankan restaurants in the United States and inspired her to share Sri Lankan culture with her community.
Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum plaque
Julia first began to plan the museum at just age 15, inspired by yearly visits to her grandmother in Colombo. She began to gather a collection of Sri Lankan artifacts and shipped them to New York. With her father’s help, she accumulated objects like musical instruments, religious objects, cooking materials, rubber tree logs, and palm-leaf books and opened up her museum originally in the basement of her father’s restaurant. Proceeds from the museum go to the Lakruwana foundation, a non-profit organization that donates to a school in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka. Check out a video of her speaking about her heritage at the museum’s opening.
2. New Asha
New Asha Restaurant
The four-table eatery New Asha, which opened in 2000 in Tompkinsville, was one of the first Sri Lanka eateries in the United States, run by Vijayakumari “Viji” Devdas, who opened the restaurant with no professional cooking experience. This unassuming, cafeteria-style eatery offers diners with an authentic taste of Sri Lanka. Colorful dishes are served on plastic plates with plastic silverware.
Chicken kotthu roti and fish roti
The menu, which has barely changed since its opening, features a selection of appetizers like fish roti, curried fish wrapped in a soft flatbread, dhal vadal, a type of deep-fried lentil, and hoppers, bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. New Asha features a selection of rather spicy curries with proteins like mutton, shrimp, and even occasionally cuttlefish. These curries are also offered daily for lunch specials, served alongside rice and assorted vegetables. In addition to serving sour and spicy devilled chicken, they also offer kotthu roti, a Sri Lankan specialty made with shredded roti, vegetables, egg, and spices.
Originally located in Manhattan, Michelin guide-rated restaurant Lakruwana restaurant opened in Stapleton in 2004 by Lakruwana Wijesinghe. The ornately decorated restaurant features many Sri Lankan artifacts like Buddha statues similar to those found in the Sri Lanka Art and Cultural Museum. Customers sit on skinny triangular-shaped metal chairs underneath hanging artworks and creative light fixtures. The exterior of the restaurant also features a gold-colored door, an intricately designed scene of Buddhist figures, and painted elephants walking in a line.
Lakruwana features a weekend buffet offering dishes like devilled chicken, black pork curry, dal, pineapple curry, and crispy pappadam, as well as various desserts like gooseberry mousse and sago pudding. For their normal menu, Lakruwana offers classics like kotthu roti, string hoppers made with rice noodles, and Godamba roti, square-shaped bread with choice of curry. Also popular is lamprais, literally translating to “packet of food,” consisting of curry with rice, fish cutlet, sambal, and eggplant wrapped in a banana leaf.
4. Ceylon Curry
A rather quaint eatery, Ceylon Curry, located next door to New Asha, offers a selection of Sri Lankan favorites at reasonable prices. With red tablecloths on tables, a small buffet table below Sri Lankan art, and a rather bright interior, Ceylon Curry offers a casual sit-down dining experience. The restaurant takes its name from the former name of Sri Lanka which changed in 1972.
Ceylon Curry’s menu is similar to that of nearby New Asha with a few notable differences. Ceylon Curry offers a selection of small appetizers like mutton roti, fish buns, and seeni sambol buns, filled with caramelized onion relish. In addition to a selection of fried rice dishes, the eatery also offers biryani prepared with saffron and herbs with choice of protein. As the restaurant’s name suggests, the restaurant also offers a selection of curries with options like fish and chicken in addition to deviled dishes with green and red peppers and ginger. There are also a selection of kotthu roti dishes, lamprais, and a few specialty dishes like coconut roti and pittu, rice meal and coconut served in a cylindrical shape.
5. Sagara Restaurant
Sagara Restaurant, which opened up in March 2018 by Sagara and Anuradh Hewabajgamage, offers a selection of Sri Lankan, Indian, and Chinese fare. Situated a few minutes walk from the center of Tompkinsville’s “Little Sri Lanka,” Sagara was recently written up in the New York Times as a Critic’s Pick. The decor is rather casual, with pink walls covered with maps of Sri Lanka and pictures of spices, tables covered with black and white tablecloths, and a counter featuring a selection of hot appetizers.
Sagara features a very similar selection of appetizers to the other Sri Lankan eateries in the area with the addition of prawns vadai, deep-fried prawn fritters. In addition to kotthu and string hopper kotthu, Sagara also features a selection of Indian-inspired dosas, thin rice batter with choice of plain, cheese, or masala. The New York Times raves about their lamprais, theirs prepared with cashews, as well as their pittu prepared with ragi, a type of millet. There are also a selection of curries with options like mutton and crab in addition to Sri Lankan-Chinese fusion dishes like chili chicken and chicken noodles.
6. Dosa Garden
Across the street from New Asha and Ceylon Curry, Dosa Garden offers a selection of Sri Lankan and Chinese dishes in a more formal setting. The restaurant mainly serves food from Chettinad in the Tamil Nadu state of India, yet there are a handful of authentic Sri Lankan dishes that are worth the trip. The narrow dining room features elegant pink tablecloths, images of sites like Colombo, and photos of South Asian fare.
Dosa Garden offers a selection of Sri Lankan favorites like pittu with sambal, kotthu roti with options like mutton, egg, and vegetable, and string hoppers. The restaurant prides itself on dosas, including a Sri Lankan-style dosa and a selection of regional dosas like their Mysore with spicy chutney and Rava dosa made with wheat flour. Dosa Garden also offers a large selection of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian curries as well as a variety of Indian breads like naan and kulcha.
7. New York Lanka Grocery
New York Lanka grocery
One of the only Sri Lankan groceries in all of the five boroughs, New York Lanka, also known as Ceylon Grocery, offers a selection of Sri Lankan specialties, as well as products from India, the Philippines, and the Middle East. Located in Tompkinsville, New York Lanka offers a variety of fruits and vegetables like jackfruit, wood apple, which is actually like tamarind, and mangosteen. Additionally, there are many frozen items like fish and pre-packaged roti as well as many dried goods and spices. They also offer a selection of snacks like kokis, crispy rice flour in a star or pinwheel shape, and sev, crunchy noodles mixed with spices.
Next check out this Himalayan monastery-like museum on Staten Island dedicated to Tibetan art!