New York is, in many ways, the archetypal American city, and thus there is a tendency to think of it as the base, the form unto which other cities apply more unique, surprising twists. But the truth is that New York is, in itself, unlike any other place in America, if not the world, thanks largely to the unprecedented and still unequaled convergence of different ethnic groups that settled there upon immigrating to the United States. One of the most virbrantly, ethnically alive neighborhoods in Manhattan is undoubtedly the Lower East Side, including its slightly more modern, chic section, the East Village. One of the most prominent ethnic groups to settle in the East Village around the turn of the twentieth century were Ukrainians, and they brought with them their distinct, versatile cuisine: a nuanced variation on the pierogis, borscht, buckwheat, and kielbasa that characterizes most Eastern european cuisine. As time as passed however, old traditions have given way to modern influences, and many of the great old Ukrainian restaurants of the East Village have disappeared or are breathing their last, save one.
Veselka, named the Ukranian word for rainbow, is a bonafide Ukrainian restaurant, a wonderful relic of a time gone by. What is more interesting, however, is that it is also an American diner. Don't be fooled by the apparent incompatibility of those two traditions; from the 24 hours service, to the all-day brekafast menu, to the tempting slices of cheesecake and rice pudding behind a glass case, Veselka is a diner in the truest New Jersey/New York tradition, and it cares just as much about maintaining that part of its legacy as its Eastern European routes. The result is a restaurant that provides some of the most uniquely eclectic and satisfying meals you will have. Hungry after a night at the bars, maybe a club or two, and not in the mood for the same corner Chinese? Start your midnight snack at Veselka with a bowl of kasha varnishkes (that's buckwheat groats with bowtie pasta, a carb-coma if ever there was one.) Still hungry, but not feeling goulash (it's excellent, but there is a time and place for everything.) No matter; Veselka serves one of the best cheeseburgers in Manhattan, one that has been written about rather extensively by the food media. Craving something exotic, after all? The kielbasa has been praised as well, by such publications as the Village Voice.
It would be a shame not to mention Veselka's aesthetic spirit and atmosphere either. The restaurant is over sixty years old, and has been owned by some permutation of the same family since the beginning. However, the decor has evolved overtime, with color murals having been added to the walls and bizarre memorabilia added over time. The result is a look and feel that crosses the electric urgancy of a bebop tune, a touch of European mystery and poetry, and that bohemian New York wierdness that has come to define the East Village, in particular. Only a few blocks from NYU and a stone's throw from St. Marks, Veselka is in the perfect spot to satsify all of a young New York neophyte's comestible needs, all hours of the day, every day of the week. If you are in the area, it would be foolish not to stop by.