Ethnic food is making a comeback in the United States. Cuisine of the world was once relegated to greasy takeout and hole-in-the-wall joints, unable to break through barriers to culinary refinement. That’s all in the past, as today’s melange of chef-driven restaurants redefine intimidating dishes and make foreign cuisine approachable, modern and fun. And it’s not going without notice—James Beard Foundation, Michelin Guide and Food Network TV are recognizing these groundbreaking eateries on a mission to cross borders and foster cultural exchange over a delicious plate of food from around the world.
The bold spices of South Asia can be daunting to many. Tava Kitchen keeps it simple with locally sourced ingredients, halal-certified meats and a healthy serving of California creativity. The unpretentious fast-casual restaurant dishes up interpretations on the flavorful cuisines of India, Burma, Nepal and other Far East destinations. The menu ranges from Malaysian yellow curry to “burrotis,” Tava’s specialty wraps that pack a punch. Curry in a hurry never tasted so good.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Where chain restaurants and fast-food joints ruled, Sioux Falls was not necessarily the place in which one would open a vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant. But Sanaa Abourezk was determined to show America the merits of slow cooking and wholesome food when she opened her eponymous restaurant in 2003. Since then, the Syrian-born chef, author and competitor on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay has enticed carnivores and herbivores alike with delicious plant-based meals such as fatayer sandwiches, falafel and moussaka.
New York City
Legendary chef Enrique Olvera is making waves across North America with his newest fine-dining addition, Cosme. Olvera is the mastermind behind Mexico City’s Pujol, regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world. His New York City establishment is garnering rave reviews and Michelin stars, counting former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama among its upscale clientele. If you can get a reservation, try the uni tostadas and sepia spaghetti. Finish with a sublime husk meringue with corn mousse.
Thai food in America has suffered throughout the ages. Unsuspecting diners have unknowingly consumed pad thai improperly made with some combination of ketchup and peanut butter, among other atrocities. For those after the real taste of Siam—fermented fish sauce and all—Andy Ricker is revolutionizing Thai food with his bicoastal restaurant franchise, Pok Pok. Although a foreigner, the two-time James Beard Award-winner goes to great lengths to replicate authentic dishes such as charcoal-roasted chicken and spicy papaya salad.