Best Guyanese Restaurant In Queens Ny – Where the A train dead ends at Lefferts Boulevard, Liberty Avenue stretches into the heart of the enclave known as Little Guyana, part of the larger Richmond Hill neighborhood. Once a year, on the Hindu holiday of Diwali, a sunlit motorcade transforms the street into an eruption of color, music and lights that is a flavor of home for many Indo-Caribbean neighborhoods.
Despite this decorative display of community pride, this population remains obscure to most Americans and even New Yorkers. “People don’t know who we are,” says Lakshmee Singh, a talk show host and community leader in Queens. Richmond Hill, once a predominantly German and Italian neighborhood, has seen a steady stream of Guyanese immigrants since the 1970s. Today, it is home to the largest Guyanese community outside of Guyana itself, with Guyanese immigrants representing the second largest foreign-born community in Queens.
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But Lakshmee explains that even Little Guyana has become more diverse than it once was: “Today I call it Little Indo-Caribbean.” Trinidadian, Guyanese and Surinamese businesses operate side by side along Liberty Avenue. The majority of the population of this area are descendants of “East Indians” from the subcontinent who were brought to these South American countries by the British as indentured servants to work mainly on the sugar plantations. “I think it’s very important that people know that we’re not from the East Indies,” he adds. “Perhaps generations ago, but now we have our own identity.
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Guyana and its South American and Caribbean neighbors are diverse nations and their culture is a mixture of South Asian, African, indigenous and colonial influences. But at the Liberty Avenue Diwali Parade, everyone comes to celebrate this Indo-Caribbean tradition. “No one gets paid for the motorcade, but we put a lot of money into it,” explains Lakshmee, “and you know how that happens? Through the support of local businesses.” Little Guyana has a kaleidoscopic array of restaurants and specialty shops, but there are a few reliable, affordable, and cozy establishments that are true community anchors.
The crown jewel of Little Guyana is Sybil’s Bakery, which resides in a triangular Flatiron-shaped building at the east end of Liberty Avenue, in the shadow of the AirTrain that runs from Jamaica to JFK Airport. Sybil’s does brisk business seven days a week and the full diversity of Guyana is reflected in their staff, clientele and cuisine. Pepper pot, a rich spiced beef stew traditionally served at Christmas, is served here all year round. One of Guyana’s national dishes comes from a Native American recipe for stewed meat with cassareep, a molasses sauce made from cassava root. The chili pot is best eaten with a piece of soft Guayan braided bread, and Sybil’s makes the best loaf in town.
“We have a lot of stuff here that I don’t think any other Guyanese outfit in New York has,” says owner Viburt Bernard. “We try to put a lot of love into our work because we do it for pride, not necessarily money.” Viburt, known locally as Cookie, opened the Liberty Avenue location of Sybil’s, originally started by his mother, Sybil Bernard, on nearby Hillside Avenue more than 40 years ago. “When most Guyanese came here,” says Viburt, “Sybil’s was already here.”
Viburta’s office above the bakery is decorated with large photographs and paintings of Demerara, Guyana, where the Bernard family has its roots. He still owns property in the rainforest there, which can only be reached by boat or helicopter. However, New York has been his home base since the early 1970s.
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One of nine children, Viburt learned to bake by working in his family’s shop in Guyana. When his mother lost her job in Queens in 1976, she suggested he get involved and help start a new business. “So we started baking out of the house,” he explains, “in the kitchen for two years, then we moved to the basement, and then in 1978 we went out to Hillside Avenue and bought a little place there.”
The Liberty Avenue branch, now something of a flagship, opened 10 years later and their offerings began to expand. “My grandmother was Indian,” says Viburt, “she had a lot of Indian recipes that she gave to my mom.
[fried spicy dough balls] and potato balls. We did it, of course we made curry and some bakery products like tennis rolls, bread, another cake called
Now Sybil’s offers over a hundred different items to cater to a wider audience. In addition to the distinctive, pie-shaped miniature Guyanese beef patty, you’ll also find the standard Jamaican variety. The variety of the menu brings huge crowds and Sybil’s is a clear crowd favorite in Little Guyana. “I’ve been doing this for so long and it’s not an easy job,” Viburt says. “But the sign has my mother’s name on it and we are proud of it. Sometimes I want to work less or get out somehow, but we provide jobs for so many people and provide these products to the community. And I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.”
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As for other businesses from Guyana and Trinidad in Little Guyana, Viburt says he wishes them the best, but there are so many that it can be difficult to distinguish one from another. Bakeries and roti shops sometimes come and go, and the sheer variety of places can be overwhelming. It’s a joy to stroll down Liberty Avenue and enjoy the garlands of flowers adorning the Hindu shops, the smell of curry and the sounds of Bollywood and Jamaican dancehall music, but Sybil’s isn’t the only local restaurant worth checking out. A few other devices have also been distinguished.
A few blocks south on Rockaway Boulevard is the Flamingo Restaurant and Mantra Lounge, a slightly more clubby place that specializes in curries, Trinidadian snacks, seafood, and the kind of sweet and spicy Chinese-Caribbean cuisine that is popular in Guyana and Trinidad. The Bake and Shark, a bread sandwich with chunks of fried shark meat, vegetables and tamarind sauce, is a popular choice. This dish is served here “Maracas Beach” style, referring to the beach in Trinidad where the roaster and shark was popularized and where the shark is caught right on the shore and fried on the beach. By night, Flamingo may feel more like a club, but by day, Lakshmee says, “It’s the only family-style Trinidadian restaurant we have in Richmond Hill.
At the Good Hope Restaurant, as well as many other Guyanese-Chinese establishments on Liberty Avenue, the beer is cheap and the soul hits of the 80s are played loudly. These bars are modeled after the Chinese restaurants around Guyana, which are generally dimly lit taverns. Good Hope serves a great rendition of the Sino-Caribbean dish Cha Che Kai Chicken, skin-on chicken pieces fried and tossed with chilies and green onions to create a distinctly West Indian flavor. It’s best enjoyed with a beer while watching a cricket match or horse racing on one of Good Hope’s five flat screens.
Although Good Hope’s funky playlist may be more likely to inspire a beer sing-a-long, Little Guyana’s real soundtrack is chutney music, a Caribbean fusion genre created by the Bhojpuri and Hindi-speaking diasporas of Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad. To outsiders, chutney can sound a bit like Bollywood dance music set to a Jamaican dancehall beat, and although many chutney songs have Hindi lyrics, Lakshmee Singh says most of the Indo-Caribbean people who sing along don’t really understand them because they’re narrated in Caribbean English. However, despite its name, the chutney evokes the taste of Guyana.
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It’s hard to walk down Liberty Avenue without hearing chutney, and Singh’s Roti Shop & Bar has a DJ spinning chutney, soca and reggae while you eat. On Saturday nights, live Caribbean bands play while patrons drink at the bar and eat rotis. Singh’s rotis are filled with chicken, goat, oxtail, fish or chickpeas and sit on steaming trays alongside chow mein and fried rice. The place serves 800 dhalpuri, rotis filled with ground yellow peas, every day.
Although their Guyanese clientele is affluent, the Singh family hails from Trinidad and specializes in Trini street food such as the Twins, a favorite of all Indo-Caribbeans. Double dishes consist of curry chickpeas sandwiched between a pair of fried Bara breads, possibly accompanied by various hot peppers and tamarind sauces. Bara refers to the Indian roots of this dish, which comes from Indian funnels called vada, which were brought to the Caribbean by servants. Shivani Singh, whose family owns the shop, says that today the twins are ubiquitous and cheap street food on the island. “It’s almost like their version of a hot dog. Everyone eats it. All ethnicities.”
A single double at Singh’s costs a dollar, and a sign announces that despite rising costs, refreshments will never cost more. “It’s also for the community,” says Shivani. “You want to eat quickly and cheaply. My parents have been here for 30 years and they don’t do much
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