STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — If any food puts Staten Island in a league of its own it would be Sri Lankan fare. As the borough has the highest population of Sri Lankan’s outside of the Isle of Gems, the restaurants and markets here reflect such a phenomenon.
When looking to expand the palate and learn about new styles of cooking, it’s the Isle of Staaten that offers such a thing when it comes to Ceylonese cooking. It is similar to South Indian fare but with curries that are more concentrated. Now that doesn’t mean Sri Lankan food is fiery. Although chilies add some heat, depending on the dish, overall spices keep saucy bites of food intensely flavored and rich on the palate.
Check out these six places that are located within a mile of the ferry. If you’re not too hungry and don’t mind a walk up a fairly steep hill, the Tompkinsville concentration of restaurants are within a 30-minute hike from St. George. The handful of eateries here at Victory and Cebra Avenue can afford a do-it-yourself restaurant crawl. Or pack up the ala carte goods and some frozen product to haul home for a feast.
NEW ASHA — 322 Victory Blvd., Tompkinsville; 718-420-0649
Vigi Devadas established the first Sri Lankan eatery on Staten Island more than two decades ago. She just reopened this week after a major kitchen overhaul. Fans will be thankful to once again savor Vigi’s buttery roti bread, cooling ginger and coriander seed drink called kothamalli and satisfying mutton rolls that offer a bit of peppery heat. The steam table features different halal stews and curries (both vegan and meat-centric) served with fragrant rice. Famed hoppers, basket-like pancakes made from coconut flour, hold a sunny-side up egg and are served on weekends.
Sit down at a few tables with a cold soda or Indian beer for a casual bite. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
SAGARA FOOD CITY — 98 Victory Blvd., Tompkinsville; 718-285-4556, Sagarafoodcity.com
Even by Michelin Guide standards, the Tompkinsville Sri Lankan destination is actually a venerable one in the restaurant world. It has recently been called out for the second year in a row for its value and deliciousness with an award called “Bib Gourmand.” Sagara Hewabajgamage owns the market and its award-winning restaurant with his wife, Anuradh. Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. the restaurant is a busy one so allow ample time for orders from an expansive menu. There’s a lot to try here from “Deviled” dishes — shrimp, assorted fish or meat like mutton coated in a zesty chili sauce.
New to Sagara are Kimbula Banis which Anhura describes as a breakfast or late-afternoon snack also known as “crocodile buns” because of the bread shape. Also in the baked goods department are roasted paan (flat bread), seenisambol buns (fluffy brioche buns filled with savory, tangy caramelized onion relish) and Thati paan (flat bread served as an alternate to roti with curries.)
Since COVID-19, Sagara has added a marketplace that vends fresh vegetables and dry goods for home cooks. They also deliver around the region beyond Staten Island.
CEYLON CURRY — 324 Victory Blvd., Tompkinsville; 347-466-5338
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., the tiny dining room sports a few tables at which to cop a meal. Soft drinks like sodas, mango juice, mango lassi and faluda can cool a palate fired up with a little spice from mutoon rolls, assorted curries and chili paste in the Ceylon Curry Special — rice, chop suey, fried egg and choice of meat, fish or seafood. That offering and the Mixed Grill with its chef’s choice on samplings of proteins range from $30 to $70, meant to be shared. But other dishes like noodles, Kottu roti (shredded flaky paratha bread), sambals and breaded, fried fritters with meat and fish. Hoppers are served after 1 p.m.
LAKRUWANA — 668 Bay St., Stapleton; 347-857-6619, Lakruwanarestaurant.com
Perhaps the borough’s most famed Sri Lankan restaurant, the Wijesinghe family makes a great mullagatawny soup and lampries, an entire meal of rice, an egg, onion relish, sambal and protein neatly packed into a banana leaf. Other deliciousness on the menu hails from biriyani rice-based dishes, Kottu Roti, hoppers and its “string hopper” counterpart, rice noodles sauteed with chilies and protein of choice. Desserts like Mango Mouuse, Kir-Pani and watalappan (a steamed custard with cardamom notes) are house-made.
This is the most formal of S.I.’s Ceylonese spots with a sit-down format (to-go, too, is available) in a charming dining room. Lakruwana offers a great introduction to the cuisine via its all-you-can-eat weekend buffet, presented from 12:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for $15.95.
Note that Lakruwana takes a daily siesta each weekday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Otherwise it is open Tuesdays through Friday from noon to 3:30 p.m., then 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 12:30 p.m to 9:30 p.m. with no siesta.
CEYLON GROCERY — 313 Victory Blvd., Tompkinsville; 718-524-8124
For frozen product and ingredients for curries, sambals and baked goods, this small market is a counterpart to Ceylon Curry, its restaurant, right across the street. So if you enjoy a plate of food ala carte at the eatery, perhaps this will inspire a venture into the kitchen to whip up a curry.
LANKA GROCERY — 344 Victory Blvd., Tompkinsville; 718-390-0052
Not a restaurant but another cool market with pretty packed inventory of beans, legumes, spice mixes, batter mixes and frozen foods. It has a consistently good supply of fresh produce and ingredients particular to South Indian and Sri Lankan cooking from curry leaves to bitter melons and assorted chilies. On the awning are the words “apey kade” which means “our store” in Sinhalese, a dialect in Sri Lanka.
Pamela Silvestri is Advance Food Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].