Lampreis in Staten Island? Yep. Kotthu Roti, too? Yep. Surely not hoppers, pittu, and string hoppers? Yes, yes, they have all that and more!
I had been hearing reports like this for a while out of the Sri Lankan enclave in New York’s oft-forgotten borough of Staten Island, but I couldn’t quite believe it. After all, the last time I had been on the Island, the least populated and most suburban of NYC’s five boroughs, it had been to interview Wu Tang Clan, probably the greatest rap group of all time. While I had heard that the Wu’s former stomping grounds–the housing projects of Stapleton and Park Hill—were now filled with Liberians, and I already knew about Staten’s old-school Italians, I failed to realize that it is also the home to an estimated 4-5,000 Sri Lankans. But a trip out to the North Shore of SI, a bizarre pastiche of suburban sprawl, post-industrial wasteland and historic Victorian homes, and you realize there is much more here than meets the eye.
After exiting the Staten Island ferry by taking a left on Bay Street, and strolling a few blocks up to the intersection of the next main thoroughfare, Victory Blvd., you discover how diverse this area really is by its food options. In addition to Taco Bell and Dominoes, you’ve got a Jamaican joint, a Polish restaurant, a couple Italian eateries, an African restaurant, several Mexican spots, the requisite Chinese, and what’s that weird spot all the way in the corner whose entrance is flanked by two pearly white, faux-Greek statutes? Welcome to the San Rasa restaurant, which, in my humble opinion is the best of the Sri Lankan restaurants you will find here.
I almost hate to say it, because I did not have a bad meal at any of the Staten Island Sri Lankans, and all of my hosts were most gracious, but San Rasa’s comfortable ambience, traditional décor, and tasty, authentic food make it a place you could actually bring a date to and score points with her and your stomach. Perhaps the fact that it is run by Chef Sanjaya Handapangoda, a veteran of the long-running Lakruwana in Manhattan, which sadly closed down after a fire, makes all the difference. Handapangoda has been introducing Sri Lankan food to Americans and keeping his own expat countrymen fed since 1994, and though his current restaurant is only 5 years old, his sublime mastery of the cuisine is evident from the amazing smell that hits you when you first enter the premises.
I arrived for the all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet ($11 eat in/$10 take out), and loaded my plate up with rice and the usual assortment of curries—including chicken, fish, and mutton (goat), along with paripoo (Sri Lankan lentils), eggplant, leeks, mallung (sautéed greens), coconut sambol, cashew curry, french beans, garlic curry, and some lunu miris (onion and chili sambol) for heat. Wow! I felt like I was in one of the best restaurants in Sri Lanka. All the dishes were well spiced, but not too hot (for those to whom that matters). I could have taken it much spicier, but I realize the good chef has the general public’s palate in mind. The only hazardous part about this open
Sunday buffet is overeating, but luckily I opted for a take-out plate, which even so lasted me two days. Though slightly pricier than the other Sri Lankan restaurants on Staten, this place is located conveniently close to the ferry (about 4 blocks), and if you want to relax in a nice pleasant environment and take your time, this is the place to do it.
San Rasa Gourmet Restaurant
226 Bay Street (and Victory Blvd.)
Staten Island, NY 10301
open 7 days
Lunch 12-5; dinner 6-11
Sunday buffet 11-11 ($11/$10 takeout)