Where To Eat Caribbean Food In Little Guyana
In this installment of Island Hopping for the best Caribbean food in NYC, we head to Queens, the roti capital of the city.
Home to a huge concentration of NYC’s Indo-Caribbean community, Little Guyana has seen a steady influx of immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname since the 1970s. This Queens community is made up of descendants of East Indian indentured laborers that migrated in large numbers to the West Indies mainly Trinidad and Guyana post-Emancipation of Afro-Caribbean slaves in the British colonies in 1834.
Much like Brooklyn’s Little Caribbean, Little Guyana boasts jewelry stores, temples, mosques and Caribbean food. So much Caribbean food. The offerings range from Chinese-Caribbean restaurants and street vendors peddling homemade anchar, to markets blasting chutney music and selling Indo-Caribbean staples like curry, dutch pots, hassa fish, and freshly baked goods.
For this guide, I consulted with Indo-Caribbean community organizers Richard David and the Founder of the Caribbean Equality Project, Mohamed Q. Amin. What I quickly learned is that not only is Little Guyana a must-visit, but also the roti capital of New York City. With the help of these Little Guyana locals, we’ve put together a guide to all the best Caribbean food in the neighborhood.
A cultural entrepreneur born in NYC and raised between Brooklyn & the Caribbean, Shelley Worrell created I AM CARIBBEING, spearheaded the designation and development of Little Caribbean, and is the head of Caribbean Partnerships for the US Department of Commerce. Worrell has produced 400+ immersive experiences in partnership with top corporations and cultural institutions including James Beard Foundation, Google Arts & Culture, Studio Museum in Harlem, Vox Media and others. Her multi-platform & cross-cultural activations have been featured by Black Enterprise, NBC, and Hyperallergic; and she has been personally profiled in The New York Times and Good Morning America. Worrell holds a BA in Cultural Studies from CUNY, Brooklyn College and a MA in Media Studies from the New School.
A venerable institution and sister to Brooklyn’s Island Express, Sybil’s is named after the family matriarch who started selling baked goods out of a car in the 1970s and is one of the places that all Guyanese visit when they come to New York. Like Allan’s in Flatbush, you can expect a very long line on weekends. But don’t worry, a greeter will quickly welcome you with a number like you’re at a butcher shop, which will give you time to wander around and make selections from the very extensive menu. The recommendations here are pine tarts, chicken patties, and pepper pot, Guyana’s national dish, which is a savory meat stewed with cassareep, an aromatic syrup prepared with bitter cassava and spices traditionally served during holidays with freshly baked plait bread.
One of the few full-service restaurants in the area, Hibiscus’ extensive menu draws heavily on West Indian-Chinese cuisine with over a dozen variations of fried rice, chow mein, and lo mein. I also look forward to trying the fried banga mary, crispy crab bites, spicy ginger lamb chow mein, and roast duck fried rice alongside an icy cocktail.
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The original Veggie Castle in Little Caribbean has been an institution since before veganism became a thing, so I knew I had to try Veggie Castle’s other location. Right next to Sybil’s, you’ll find this unpretentious juice bar and restaurant with a juice selection named after body parts, ailments, and remedies like Eyes, Allergies, and Skin Bright. If you’re eating curries, stews, pepper, and sweets nearby, know that Veggie Castle has your back when you need a healthy option to balance it all out. I was dying to try a juice cure and opted for the Cleaning Cocktail, a refreshing blend of carrot, apple, ginger with aloe vera and vegan fish and chips and was pleasantly surprised that the flavors and textures were on par with their legacy and lived up to the hype.
The debate about who makes the best roti in New York City never tires. And with a name like Trinciti, a town in Eastern Trinidad, I had to pull up to see what the hype was about. Not only does the line here wrap around the corner, but you’ll also notice customers filling their vehicles with trays of skins and currys - an indication that this place is the real deal. There were also two separate lines, one for bake and shark with toppings that transport you straight to Maracas Beach and one for everything else like delicious curries, perfect doubles, Caribbean snacks like caramel, red mango and homemade drinks like mauby, peanut punch and sorrel. Turns out, this is one of the best rotis I’ve ever tasted in NYC. The buss up is flaky and moist, and the curry has the right balance of spice. For extra flavor, go with tamarind, extra pepper, and curry mango. The roti is why I will continue to make the trek to Queens for roti.
A double-storefront market chock full of West Indian goods, Little Guyana Bake Shop welcomes you with its bright red and gold sign. Tucked away in the back corner is the baked goods section with a beautiful display of Guyanese delicacies. There you can order mithai, cheese straws - a savory, crunchy snack, and pick up Indo-West Indian pepper sauce for home-cooked meals and traditional Guyanese soda. When I was here, we ran into a young girl who visits every week for cheese balls and other Guyanese snacks. This is a real community staple.
Best known for its Caribbean-Chinese cuisine and an interior reminiscent of a rum shop, at the Nest some great go-tos are shrimp wontons and fried rice. With a generous seating area, we sat down to warm up over a generous lunch-sized portion of rice, che chi kai (a crispy stir-fried chicken marinated in seasoned soy sauce), and shrimp wontons fried to perfection.
Tropical Jade Garden Restaurant
With several outlets along Liberty, Tropical Jade is another must-visit that’s popular with locals. You’ll be greeted by blasting chutney soca, the perfect soundtrack when stopping for doubles. The iconic street food is stuffed with curried chickpeas and topped with a range of sweet-to-spicy chutneys.
Last but not least, no visit to Little Guyana is complete without a West Indian Beer. Pull up to the Golden Arrow Bar for an ice-cold Banks or Carib.