Starling Avenue, the "Banglabazaar," runs roughly a third of a mile, from Unionport Road to Glebe Avenue. The short run means less traffic than the adjacent Castle Hill Ave, but there isn't a time of the day when you won't hear Bengla spoken in the streets.
Starling Coffee Shop
Your first stop should be Starling Coffee Shop for pitha and excellent chaat. Though it's not listed on the menu, you can—and should—get borhani ($1.50), a zesty, spicy yogurt drink made fresh to order.
2172 Starling Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462 (map); 347-579-4271
Chaat and Street Snacks at Starling Coffee Shop
Somasas and singaras ($1-1.50, top left) are made daily (drop by late morning for your best bet at fresh from the fryer), while others are made fresh to order. The moglai ($3-4, bottom left) is not entirely unlike burek: a crisp, airy shell filled with fluffy egg, greens, and green chilies. Also consider the black chana ($3, bottom right) cooked with ginger ale, or spicy and sour chotpoti ($3, top right). The soupy chickpeas, garnished liberally with fresh onion, cilantro, chilies, and hardboiled egg, will breathe life into your morning.
Here, pitha—a winter dessert typically made of rice flour—comes in many forms. Some are cooked fresh to order, but most are made throughout the day as dictated by demand. Particularly good are the puli pitha ($1.50, top right), stuffed with coconut and oozing with oil, and the crunchier lobanga pitha, flavored with aromatics.
Next, skip down to neighborhood gem Neerob for the borough's most consistently delicious restaurant eating. Always bustling, Khokon Rahman's eatery is the de facto community center for the local Bangladeshi population. Since opening in 2009, its fame has spread across the five boroughs and beyond. First, get daal ($1) to pour over your rice and a couple vegetable dishes ($3): various preparations of okra, cabbage, and spinach among others. If you're in the mood for snacks, phakora ($1, fried onion fritters) and samosas ($1.50, chicken or vegetable) are very tasty. Made in house, the breads are surprisingly good.
2109 Starling Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462 (a href="http://g.co/maps/h6jnq">map); 718-904-7061; neerob.com
Proverbs aren't always useful in modern life, but the old Bengla saying "machhe bhate Bangalee" ("fish and rice make a Bengali") is as solid advice for dining at Neerob as you'll find. Drop the menu and skip over the pan-South Asian fare displayed up front, and veer towards the garden and the sea. Fish comes in many guises: keski mas ($5; baby anchioves), rhui mas ($6.00; similar to carp), sardine curry ($5), and shutki chutney ($1-3, dried fish bharta). Typically served with Chinese okra or snake gourd, billi mas ($5, baby fish, pictured) comes in a puddle of sauce flavored with its own juices and enhanced by turmeric. Ask for what's fresh (the whole fish dishes tend to sit longer), and flaunt your adventurous side.
Bhartas—mashes of vegetables and/or seafood that are boiled, sautéed or lightly fried—are a must. The selection ($1 for small portion, $3-4 for large) rotates daily. Garlic and onion often find their way in, as do coriander and thunderous quantities of mustard oil, as in the spinach. For those who don’t fear the funk, shutki, with a hidden sweetness, is a must. Other bhartas include smoked eggplant (baghain), baby shrimp (kechu), mung dal with dried shrimp (chhingri bhorta), and a sizzling mix of red chilies and baby shrimp (described by Khokon as "kapow").
Just next door, Al-Aqsa is the largest grocery store on the small strip. Unique products are hard to come by here—all the stores offer a wide variety of beans and standard spices—but you will have one of those "only-in-New-York" experiences: alongside the channa and dal are mixes for West African staples like fufu.
2109 Starling Ave, Bronx, NY 10462 (map); 718-904-0700
Vegetables from Al-Aqsa
Produce for the Bengali cook comes cheap here. Several unique greens are available: Asian bitter melon, fuji melon (both top right), Chinese okra, tindara (bottom left, behind the scallions and sweet potato leaves), whole jackfruit, and other bounties.
Our final stop on Starling, Kabab Curry offers a change of pace: meat- and bread-centric Pakistani food.
2165 Starling Avenue, Bronx, NY 10462 (map); 347-281-4981
At Kabab Curry, an order for flatbread will produce rolling pins and the sound of young dough being slapped against the wall of their tandoor oven. Catch the action from the counter—the kitchen will be happy to oblige.
Alex, the bread maker, rolls the dough after dusting it with flour. He then uses the woven instrument (top right) to throw it against the oven's wall. The bread immediately begins to bubble. When ready, he removes the bread with long tongs and brushes it with ghee (bottom right).
In addition to two less recommendable parathas, the kitchen produces five varieties of bread (top left to bottom right): tandoori naan ($1.50), whole wheat roti ($1.50), rogni naan ($1.99), and garlic- or onion-stuffed naan ($2.49). Brushed with ghee, the light and airy tandoori naan and crisp roti are both fantastic—if you've never had fresh flatbread, you'll find it hard to go back. If flavored naan is your calling, the rogni naan speaks strongly of sesame and is the most satisfying.
Beneath the cloak of tikki masala, Pakistani renditions of traditional Muslim dishes cooked across South Asia can be found. A bone and goat foot stew, the nihari ($7.99, bottom right) is oily with a creeping heat; haleem ($6.99, top left), packed with threads of shredded chicken, has a thicker consistency like chowder. Particularly good are the chicken keema ($6.99, bottom left), marinated minced chicken with onions and other vegetables, and the heavily spiced chapli kebabs ($2 for 3.99, top right).
Cap off the meal with a sweet or salty lassi ($1.99), crowned with a thick layer of foam.
Ice Cream at Kabir
Before hopping on the 6 train, you should grab a kulfi pop ($1.25) at Kabir's Bakery. Like a denser ice cream, its available in 3 flavors. Or, across the street, you can pick up some wiri-wiri peppers ($6.99 a pound during summer; $12.99 in winter) from Indo-Guaynese bodega World of Spice.