Taste South America Without Leaving Jackson Heights: A Culinary Tour

Vegetable quinoa soup, stew with avocado, corn, beans
Vegetable quinoa soup, stew with avocado, corn, beans | © Anna_Pustynnikova / Shutterstock

The diversity of Jackson Heights restaurants has made the neighborhood a foodie destination, attracting enthusiasts from all over New York City for a taste of their favorite dishes. While a handful of Indian restaurants might have been what originally put Jackson Heights on the map, there are several Latin American spots that cater to the huge Latinx population in the area.

Owned by first- or second-generation immigrants, the eateries on this list serve up authentic dishes that will either remind you of home or inspire your next trip to South America.


1. La Boina Roja Steak House

Butcher, Restaurant, South American, Steakhouse

Varieties of bandeja paisa, a classic Colombian platter, is available at Boina Roja Steak House in Jackson Heights
© Jonathan Hood / Flickr

Jackson Heights is saturated with Colombian restaurants, and while La Pequeña Colombia is well-known throughout the tri-state area, La Boina Roja (the “red beret”) is a smaller neighborhood joint that specializes in steak and pork from the attached butcher shop next door. The restaurant offers variations on the classic bandeja paisa—an enormous platter consisting of rice, beans, sausage, pork, beef, fried egg, and more—so be sure to come here on an empty stomach. It originally became popular in the Andean region (including Medellin and Bogotá) as a traditional breakfast before a day spent working in the fields.

The interior can feel a bit cramped with small tables that get crowded quickly. So, come with good friends, or be prepared to make new ones—especially if there’s a soccer game on.


2. Urubamba

Restaurant, Peruvian, South American

Named after a town in the Sacred Valley, this Peruvian restaurant is cozy and dimly lit from inside arched window dressings, making it a great spot for date night. While other Peruvian restaurants in Jackson Heights specialize solely in rotisserie chicken (pollos a la brasa), Urubamba offers a wider menu that includes not only a great roasted chicken but also delicious ceviche and jalea (fried fish) too.

The friendly waitstaff are happy to explain potentially unfamiliar items on the menu, such as tacu tacu, Peru’s answer to refried beans, or papas a la Huancaína, boiled potatoes in a yellow cheese sauce (try it!). You’ll leave here buzzing from their strong sangria and dreaming of a trip to Machu Picchu.


3. Arepas Burger

Restaurant, Sandwich Shop, Venezuelan

Different types of arepas
© nehophoto / Shutterstock

Inside an unassuming fast-food-style storefront on Northern Boulevard are some of the tastiest Venezuelan creations anywhere in New York. Specializing in both “traditional” burgers (if you consider three quail eggs, crushed potato chips, or pineapple sauce “traditional”) and the sandwich-like crispy arepas stuffed with meat, you will not be going home hungry. Arepas Burger is more of a takeout spot than a sit-down restaurant, where a burger or arepa won’t cost you more than $10—a small price to pay to bite into the juicy pabellón (shredded beef, black beans, avocado, maduros, and queso blanco) and be transported to the streets of Caracas.


4. La Puntilla Bar and Restaurant

Bar, Restaurant, South American

Llapingachos, fried potato cakes that originated in Ecuador
© Alexandre Rotenberg / Shutterstock

If you’ve never had Ecuadorian food before, you’ve probably never known the satisfaction of the savory crunch of a fried potato cake slathered in peanut sauce and topped with onions and fried eggs—but now you will. Ecuadorian bar and restaurant La Puntilla serves these llapingachos along with a wide array of stews and seafood dishes typical of the country. A modestly decorated restaurant along the main drag of 37th Avenue, it’s easily reached by the 90th Street station on the 7 line. Order the guatita (beef tripe in peanut sauce over rice) if you’re feeling offal—or awful; Ecuadorians say it will cure a bad hangover.


5. El Chivito D’Oro

Restaurant, Steakhouse, South American

Revered for its grilled Provolone appetizer, an egg crate-like platter filled with melty ham and cheese bites you can scoop out with a fork, El Chivito D’Oro is one of only a handful of Uruguayan restaurants in New York City. Uruguay sits just north of Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires, and the cuisine of both countries share more than a few similarities, including the elevation of grilling meats to an art form—steaks and sausages, especially.

Chivito” refers not to goat meat but to the national sandwich of Uruguay—available at kiosks and street corners everywhere—which consists of steak, bacon, ham, hard-boiled egg, olives, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. If you possibly have any room left for dessert, consider trying the colorful confections at La Gran Uruguaya Bakery, one block down on 85th Street.


6. La Fusta Restaurant

Restaurant, Argentina, South American, Steakhouse

Grilled beef steak with chimichurri sauce
© AS Food studio / Shutterstock

Just steps outside the southern border of Jackson Heights, down the block from the 82nd Street 7 train station, is La Fusta Restaurant, serving the best Argentine food outside Corona Avenue’s “Little Argentina” since 1970. A dark and romantic traditional restaurant with dark wood beams and clay walls, it is a perfect place to take someone special and enjoy a glass of wine (or sangria!) and steak. The key here, as any Argentinian will tell you, is to ask for the vacio (“flap steak” in English)—it’s the most flavorful cut that lends itself to crispy, charred edges on the grill that sop up the ubiquitous chimichurri (parsley, garlic, and olive oil) sauce. An evening spent here feels like sharing an intimate meal with family at a gaucho’s ranch house in the Argentine countryside.


7. Aroma Brazil Restaurant

Cafe, Restaurant, Brazilian, Steakhouse

© hlphoto / Shutterstock

The population of Jackson Heights residents is overwhelmingly Spanish-speaking Latinxs from all over Latin America, but the neighborhood has recently welcomed a Brazilian restaurant too. At Aroma Brazil, diners pay for food by the pound, which is great for when you’re in the mood for rodizio (the all-you-can-eat-style steakhouses that serve grilled meats right off the spit) but not for the price tag. From the buffet in the back, you can pile food onto a tray should you wish to stay and eat at one of the padded banquets up front, or into a foil container to take home. Grilled meat is still available from the open kitchen window, but the bacalhau (cod) is especially light and fresh and will make you feel like you’re sitting on the beach in Rio.

Bright and welcoming despite the high-traffic area underneath the elevated train tracks, Aroma is located one block east of the major train hub at the 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue station (7, E, M, F, R).

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