Go Global Visiting These Multicultural US Neighborhoods with an LGBTQ Twist

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 23, 2021
Originally published on April 30, 2021

Little Havana, Miami
Little Havana, Miami  (Source:didemma / Instagram)

Travel is sensuous. Visiting a new destination can fill us with sights, sounds and flavors that inspire and delight us. And if we've learned anything from more than a year of hunkering down due to the pandemic, it's that we need those morsels to feed our souls.

While the travel forecast for 2021 is looking up — the EU may soon allow American visitors — many of us are shy to plan a trip abroad in the short term. Fortunately, immigrants from around the world built America, which means most major U.S. cities are home to multicultural neighborhoods where we can channel the spirit of international travel into a local trip. Here's how you can go global by eating, drinking and shopping local.

Little India — Queens, New York

When it comes to diversity and international pride, no place beats New York City, where as many as 800 languages are spoken across its five boroughs (including obscure and endangered dialects). It's estimated that in Queens alone, you can hear around 150 different languages across enclaves that span Filipino, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Haitian, Turkish, Greek, Russian, and many more cultures.

Little India stands out for its colorful, spice-infused 74th Street strip in Jackson Heights. Just off the 7 train, the neighborhood stretches from Roosevelt to 37th Avenue. The beloved Jackson Diner — a local favorite since it first opened in 1980 — anchors the neighborhood and offers delicious curries and other North Indian cuisine. Stroll the area to discover outposts for jewelry, clothing, sweets, and unforgettable spice shops where you can stock up on Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ingredients as home-cooking souvenirs.

For LGBTQ visitors, that area of Roosevelt Avenue is also home to a vibrant Latin nightlife scene thanks to bars like True Colors and Club Evolution; and Queens's oldest gay bar, Friends Tavern. Each is open and welcoming queers to dance and sip (with masks and limited capacities), plus Friends is open for Sunday late brunch (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), followed by two drag shows.

Little Havana, Miami

On the mainland west of downtown and South Beach lives the spirit of Cuba, and it's saying bienvenido to you. Rolling out from Calle Ocho, Little Havana is a lively neighborhood with music and murals, and desserts and dominoes in the park. Cultural Fridays (Viernes Culturales) showcase art every last Friday of the month, and galleries like Molina Fine Art Gallery & Studio present inspiring works that represent Afro-Cuban folklore and modern works. Browse stogies at Little Havana Cigar Shop, pick up a Cuban coffee from a café window, and build up an appetite for bites at great Latin restaurants, including El Cristo and iconic Versailles, both serving classic Cuban cuisine.

LGBTQ-owned/friendly spots are all over, too. Alfaro's Supper Club is a must for cocktails and live shows. Nearby, El Santo and its smaller taqueria provide the sustenance that precedes an evening inside Don Diablo tequila speakeasy. The LGBTQ Cuban community even has its own pride celebration in Little Havana, so mark your calendar for February 2022's Gay8 Festival.

Mexico by Way of Chicago

From its name, you'd be right to guess that Pilsen began as a Czech enclave. But the Lower West Side area evolved into a Mexican-American hotspot by the 1950s and 60s, as did the Little Village neighborhood to the west. Today this central Chicago area is sometimes called the "Mexico of the Midwest" and is a lively destination for art, music, nightlife and culinary traditions. Pilsen/Little Village is a great area for wandering, so bring your comfy shoes and be ready for tantalizing street photography.

On your visit, don't miss historic El Milagro, a cafeteria-style Mexican eatery that's part of a tortilla factory of the same name, opened in 1950. Head to Frida Room for Mexican breakfast/brunching on chilaquiles, huevos a la Mexicano, and other zesty dishes. By evening, grab drinks at locals' favorite watering hole at Caminos de Michoacan on S. Paulina Street. Just arrive early since the bar currently has limited capacity, especially when evening karaoke breaks out. LGBTQ fun awaits at La Cueva Night Club on W. 26th Street, which recently reopened for reduced-capacity late-night dancing and weekend drag shows.

Vietnam by Way of Houston

A handful of U.S. cities have thriving Vietnamese neighborhoods (New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, and others), but Houston is home to one of the largest. Little Saigon occupies a swath of Southwest Houston mainly along Bellaire Boulevard, to the west of Houston's Chinatown. But make no mistake, the neighborhood that's also dubbed Vietnamtown and Viet-Town stands apart as an enticing enclave. Head there for authentic pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and banh mi sandwiches at popular Pho VN 21; taste what's made family-owned Thien Thanh beloved for three decades; or check out the mashup with Cajun flavors at Crawfish & Noodles — all on Bellaire.

Be sure to check out Montrose, the city's main LGBTQ neighborhood, for a rainbow-tinted welcome, especially for its late-June Pride Houston celebration (as of press time, 2021 event details have yet to be announced).

Koreatown, Los Angeles

Home to more Korean people than any city outside Korea, L.A.'s "K-town" is a large, dynamic neighborhood that's happening day and night. It's centrally located between S. Western and Vermont Avenues, with Wilshire Boulevard running right through it.

LGBTQ visitors love Koreatown's 24/7 adventures, from karaoke and bars to late-night eateries, prime K-Pop music and merch shops, and both hip and affordable hotels — plus the always-enticing Korean-inspired taco trucks. Take a detour down through an unmarked door in the parking lot at Caffe Bene on Berendo to discover Dwit Gol Mok, known as DGM to locals, where you'll find kimchi stew, soju and seafood pancakes, make sure you have a translation app downloaded to decipher the Korean menu.

Don't miss late September's long-running Korean Festival & Parade, with live performances, a fashion show, food expo and parade down Olympic Boulevard.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.