Anthony Bourdain, whose death shook the culinary world Friday morning, traveled to destinations as far-flung as Hanoi and Tehran in his most recent TV series, “Parts Unknown,” but The New Yorker gave his adopted hometown its time in the spotlight, too.
In a 2014 episode, the host — who earned his cooking stripes in Manhattan kitchens before publishing the memoir that made him world-famous — took his production crew to the Bronx. In the boogie down borough, Bourdain explored local mainstays like the Puerto Rican greasy spoon 188 Cuchifritos, the counter-service Caribbean joint Lammy’s and old-school City Island seafood spot Sea Shore Restaurant with hip-hop pioneers such as Grandmaster Melle Mel and DJ Kool Herc.
Last May, he headed to Queens to visit hidden gems like Lhasa Fast Food, a Tibetan momo shop tucked away behind a cellphone store in Jackson Heights, and the one-woman-run Nigerian kitchen Africana Restaurant. (His companions that time around included the rapper Heems and restaurateurs Josh Smookler and Cosme Aguilar).
Eats in both the Bronx and Queens have a reputation for diversity, affordability and underappreciation, and Bourdain’s decision to highlight them for his massive viewership had the potential to lure a whole new wave of diners away from Manhattan. But would he capture the boroughs’ true spirit, locals wondered.
Here’s what foodie ambassadors from the Bronx and Queens have to say on the subject, and where they wish they could take Bourdain if they could have just one more day with the legendary storyteller and explorer, who died at age 61:
Justin Fornal, of the Bronx
Fornal, 40, a writer and producer who’s repped the Bronx for 20 years, served as a consulting producer when “Parts Unknown” profiled his beloved borough. (He also makes an on-screen appearance as Bourdain’s guide at 188 Cuchifritos, a place he says “oozes and emanates the flavor of the Bronx.”)
From the beginning, Bourdain and his team “accept this big responsibility to handle a place like the Bronx that has [been] mishandled by outsiders so many times,” said Fornal, who offered 30 suggestions for eateries to potentially highlight in the episode. He appreciated the way the production company took “such care… to tell the story [to a broad audience] in an unpatronizing way.” There wasn’t, he said, a “wink and a nod of like, ‘We’re going to the Bronx.’ ”
The narrative they presented to viewers across America portrayed the Bronx as “really the mecca of hip-hop”: “People in the community know that, but I think for people in Omaha, it was a chance for them to see that this global music started in the Bronx” and rap artists still live there, Fornal said.
The episode also depicted the Bronx as an epicenter of Afro-Latin and Caribbean food culture in America, and Fornal believes it may have inspired Andrew Zimmern to bring the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” to the borough two years later.
“I feel that his show put the Bronx out as a culinary destination for the population as a whole, for people who are not from New York,” said Fornal, who has since been approached by other productions looking to trace Bourdain’s footsteps.
His response is always a firm no: “This borough is too big to do the same thing over and over again.”
Where he wishes he could have taken Bourdain next
-Port Morris Distillery (780 E 133rd St.): The distillery’s tasting room made all of its cocktails and infusions with house-made Puerto Rican moonshine. The bar sets a sexy mood with dim lighting and offers a view of the operation’s copper still.
— Cozy Cottage (4105 Boston Rd.): This low-key diner serves up Greek, Italian and American classic dishes for both breakfast and lunch.
-El Nuevo Bohio (791 E Tremont Ave.): Familiar comfort Puerto Rican fare is served cafeteria-style here.
-Kaieteur (4379 White Plains Rd.): Try Guyanese and West Indian cuisine, including roti, at this Wakefield restaurant.
-Bronx Beer Hall (2344 Arthur Ave.): Located in the heart of the Arthur Avenue retail market, this bar offers a full lineup of New York State craft beer and an original menu sourced from Arthur Avenue’s Italian specialty shops.
Joe DiStefano and Ali Najmi, of Queens
Although jokes were made that Bourdain was just discovering Queens in 2017, DiStefano — a food writer, tour guide and event coordinator active in the borough for more than a decade — said the “Parts Unknown” host had always known about the borough’s expansive culinary offerings.
In a 2009 profile for Edible Queens, for which DiStefano took Bourdain and his good friend, chef Eric Ripert, to the Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing (where noodle chain X’ian Famous Foods was born), the former chef reflected, “Whenever I come here, I always feel a sense of frustration, there’s not enough time to explore all the food in this building, much less Queens.”
Bourdain likely felt the same frustration when he tackled the borough’s culinary scene for “Parts Unknown,” DiStefano, 49, speculated: “I’m sure he must have felt like, ‘Oh my god, how do I get my arms around this whole vast, diverse borough?’ That’s something I struggle with all the time.”
Attorney and community organizer Ali Najmi, 33, a consultant and location scout on the Queens episode through his childhood friend Heems, thinks Bourdain succeeded: “He was always able to teach people about other types of people through his shows, through his love of food, and I think he told the story of Queens excellently.
“He told the story of inclusiveness, of diversity, of immigrants, and he told the story of how valuable all these different communities are that make up Queens… when a ton of anti-immigrant rhetoric is coming out,” Najmi continued. “Of all his shows, this one had an advocacy element to it.”
DiStefano credits Bourdain for setting a standard for other foodies exploring unfamiliar cultures with the idea of “really just embedding yourself… we’re all just at the table and you can come to the table, too.
“I wish I had an opportunity to take him to Queens again, I really do,” DiStefano said.
Where he wishes he could have taken Bourdain next
-Pata Paplean (76-21 Woodside Ave): This pop-up takes place in a funky Thai bar every Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Authentic Thai boat noodles are served from 1 to 5 p.m. Try the pork blood one, if you’re brave.
-La Esquina del Camerron Mexicano ( 80-02 Roosevelt Ave.): At the back of a bodega, you’ll find excellent Veracruz-style seafood cocktails.
-Joe’s Steam Rice rolls (136-21 Roosevelt Ave.): The Hong Kong-style fast-food restaurant serves rice rolls filled with things like barbecued pork and curried fish balls.
-Ecuadorean food trucks in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park: Look for them in the southeastern corner of the park, just north of the Long Island Expressway. They served roasted cuy or guinea pig, a delicacy in some Latin American countries.
-New Curry Leaves (13531 40th Rd #1): From 4 to 11 a.m., this restaurant serves authentic Malaysian street food like curry laska, a noodle soup, at the counter.