Ethnic Choices

French-Canadian food has been hard to find except at Memère’s house and in the diner ambiance of Chez Vachon (625-9660) on Manchester’s West Side, where Chef/owner Paul Normand serves poutine with the proper tangy cheese curds, hearty tourtiere (pork pie) and savory paté called cretons. But a new addition is Frenchy Family Restaurant (524-5299), hidden inside Belknap Mall in Belmont.

Authentic French-Canadian dishes are served in a no-alcohol family atmosphere, or you can buy Claude and Johanne Montembeault’s tourtiere and salmon pie to take home.

If north-of-the-border food is scarce, it’s just as hard to find authentic Mexican amid all the cheese-drowned plates in sombrero-decked bars. Our pick is La Carreta (891-0055), in Nashua, where the usuals are supplemented with a staggering menu of real tamales, mole poblano, arroz con marisco and others unknown to the go-for-the-Margaritas set. And speaking of Margaritas, authentic Mexican and trendy downtown dining blend nicely at the six Margaritas Restaurant and Watering Hole locations in New Hampshire. Owners John and David Pelletier, Shawn Joyce and Stan Bagley take special pleasure in adding authentic Mexican art as well. (See sidebar.) While in Nashua, don’t overlook El Mexicano Birrieria and Taqueria (886-8998), an authentic stand-up taco counter, where tacos are spicy, generous and cheap.

Family-owned El Mexicano (665-9299) in Manchester serves Central Highlands dishes — not only authentic home-style cooking, but regional foods you won’t find in the average place. C. J. Devine doesn’t pretend to be Hispanic, but she knows Mexican cuisine from the inside. Six months before long-time owners of Little Mexico (329-5697) in Hampstead retired, they invited C.J. — “the best chef they knew” — into the kitchen to learn all their secrets. She’s a fast learner, now serving real (no tomato sauces) mole, menudo and pork verde.

Travelers who have strayed beyond Dominican Republic resorts to taste the local cuisine will want more. They’ll find it in Manchester at Donquijote Restaurant (622-2246), small and family-owned, where you can get kid, fried plantains and some Cuban foods, as well. For more tastes of Havana, stop at Nachos Taqueria (669-9460), where you’ll meet local Latinos sipping tropical fruit smoothies. For a more pan-Carib approach, there’s Caribbean Spice (647-7423), serving Jamaican, Haitian and other cuisines, including jerk pork and brown stew fish. Take a trip to Brazil at Sabor Brasil (886-5959) in Ya Mama’s old Canal St. digs in Nashua. Fried cassava root and the mixed grill known as charrascao are specialties, along with creamy desserts such as crème de milho.

Jumping across the ocean to the less-common European cuisines, the first stop is Irish fare at Cu Na Mara (744-6336) in Bristol, where Ray and Maryann Gardiner dish up bangers and mash, hearty Guinness beef stew and shepherd’s pie. Tipsy McStagger’s (625-0810) and Wild Rover (669-7722), both in Manchester, also serve authentic Irish fare in companionable pub settings.

Those longing for goulash, paprikash or delicate layers of dobostort will find them on Elm Street, at Lala’s Hungarian Pastry (647-7100), where Ladislau Lala’s American dream story has spun into far more than a pastry shop. Although it’s only served on Wednesday evenings, Theo’s Restaurant (669-4678) offers a special menu of authentic German favorites, including jaeger schnitzel and the more-common Wiener schnitzel.

Chef Franz Dubach serves Swiss alpine favorites to skiers from nearby Waterville Valley at The William Tell (726-3618) in Thornton. Along with cheese fondue, the menu includes Wiener schnitzel, rouladen and Zurich-style Ratsherren topf, served in a very Swiss atmosphere of cozy elegance.

Lebanese-Americans longing for soul food hope to find one of the oilcloth-covered tables free at Martha’s (929-5092) in Hampton Falls. Martha herself cooks skewers of kafta, moist stuffed grape leaves, falafel, tabouli and hummus, which she serves with freshly toasted pita chips.

Japanese, Thai and Indian restaurants, while not as ubiquitous as Chinese, are becoming less of a rarity, except in the North Country. That makes North Conway’s family-owned Shalimar of India (356-0123) all the more pleasing to find, with its tandoor oven for roasted meats and its variety of biryani rice dishes. While the Gorham institution, Yokohama (466-2501), serves both Chinese and Japanese dishes, its Japanese owner Tazuru Eastman was possibly the first to introduce her cuisine to New Hampshire.

A few Korean restaurants have sprung up, including Manchester’s tiny Korean Place (622-9377), especially popular with Palace Theatre-goers, and Yama Restaurant (298-5477) in West Lebanon. Nashua offers the decidedly unfancy Vietnam Noodle House (886-4566), where you can find authentic pho (soup), noodle dishes, curries, and seafood choices. A more upscale setting for Vietnamese food is Rice and Roll (882-8644), also in Nashua. NH

Barbara Rogers is co-author of “Eating New England,” a guide to local food sources and experiences, published by Countryman Press.