There’s a bleak, sweaty place on 34th Street where adults run 60-yard dashes to catch trains to Baltimore, Rangers fans wait in line to buy tallboys in paper bags, and children trip over their Frozen wheely suitcases while chasing indoor sparrows. It’s called Penn Station, and you probably try to avoid spending too much time there. But walk one block west and four blocks north, and you’ll find a little restaurant that feels about as different from that place as humanly possible. With its relaxed atmosphere and excellent Central Asian food, Farida is a spot you’ll actually want to hang out in.
Every angle of this small, one-room restaurant is decorated with murals or objects ranging from pistols in holsters to a portrait of a young girl in a snowy mountain setting petting a fawn. But watercolor animals aside, the best part of the room is the TV in the corner, where they’re constantly playing Uzbek music videos. It’s like Uzbek TRL, and you probably won’t be able to turn away.
The menu has dishes from a few different cuisines, including Russian (pickled herring and borsht), Georgian (really good rice and lamb rib soup), and Uzbek (most of the rest of the food). If you’re not a meat-eater, you’ll be missing out on the best things here - namely the tender beef and lamb that come in soups, on swordlike skewers, and in the Uzbek plov (a rice pilaf dish we love). Everything is simply seasoned and presented, usually with some fresh dill on top, and most dishes come with chickpeas, pickled vegetables, and a piece of thick homemade bread on the side. You can’t really go wrong, but a general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t come to Farida and not order the manti. These flat, circular dumplings come stuffed with either beef or pumpkin, and would make extremely nice throw pillows on an edible couch.
You’re not going to find any ticket-holder-only waiting lounges (where no one checks tickets) or giant plastic-wrapped chocolate chip muffins here, but one similarity between Penn Station and Farida is that they’re both extremely casual. While you can’t quite go to Farida, use your suitcase as a chair, and read an issue of Us Weekly (a.k.a. the height of Penn Station elegance), you can show up here whenever, wearing anything from work clothes to gym clothes, and with concrete plans to spend no more than around $20.
The last time you were in Penn Station, the most exciting things about the whole experience were the smell of someone else’s Shake Shack and the 20 minutes you spent thinking about how Amtrak should really have a “C.” But next time, you’ll go knowing there’s something nearby you can really look forward to - a spot with food so good you might decide to take the train to Baltimore more often.
Good things usually happen when you surround meat in steamed, soft little envelopes. And the dumplings at Farida are no exception. In fact, they’re our favorite dish on the menu. They come with either pumpkin or beef fillings, in a wooden steamer basket, with a little sour cream dipping sauce on the side.
These have a thick pastry crust that you can knock on like professional bakers do with their breads. We like the ones filled with beef, but you can also order them with pumpkin or spinach.
If your friends are nice enough to offer to bring you soup when you’re sick (and they follow through), this brothy Shurpa soup is what you should be requesting. It has chickpeas, massive chunks of carrot and potato, and really tender and flavorful beef.
This is a traditional Georgian soup with tons of rice and lamb ribs. If you’re a soup person, you’ll love it.
We like grilled meat on sticks, but we’ve found that we like it even more on swords. This chicken is rubbed with lots of spices and cooked perfectly.
We like this even more than the chicken skewer, and it’ll probably make you wonder why you don’t eat more lamb.
Ordering this dish is kind of like a Farida hack, because you get the best of the skewers (simple, delicious meat), plus rice pilaf, chickpeas, and vegetables. (You just won’t be able to wave around any swords.) If you’re trying to get a sense of the food at the restaurant in one dish, this is it.