Where Whitechapel starts and where Whitechapel ends is hard to say. It’s a sprawling area that begins near the City before snaking off on Whitechapel and Commercial Road respectively, with a chaotically charming market that’s always bustling in there for good measure. The Bengali community means that it’s long been a destination for Bangladeshi as well as Punjabi and Pakistani cuisine, but Whitechapel has a bit of everything - bagels, sushi, and modern British - as well as no less than three Perfect Fried Chickens shops, filled with naga wings and occasional haleem specials, all best consumed on the top deck of the 254.
Like many bakeries, Rinkoff’s is steeped in history and tradition. The Jewish bakery first opened in 1911 and has been making and supplying challah, pastries, and of course bagels, ever since. The century-old bakers is still in the family, from boys to mensch, and once you’ve had one of their smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, you’ll understand why it’s such a Whitechapel favourite. Comfortingly doughy with a little bite to the exterior, this is a bagel for the ages.
There’s no shortage of Bangladeshi, Punjabi and Pakistani options around Whitechapel but for all the big names and big spaces, Shalamar Kebab House’s little spot on the corner of New Road should be near the top of your thinking. The Pakistani restaurant is a straightforward canteen-style room with a short menu that ranges from homemade samosas to chicken tikka, to curries, daal, biryani, and naans. The chicken tikka, whether on a plate or in a roll (for just £3.50), is particularly delicious. Perfectly moist and spiced, and better than any other in the area. That said, the meat biryani - a mountainous plate of moist rice mixed with flaking pink beef - is pretty fantastic too. It’s a quick and casual place and once it’s in your restaurant repertoire it will never leave.
Al Kahf is a lowkey Somali restaurant off of Whitechapel Road, not obvious to the eye and nor to Google maps but a quick search will tell you it’s very much known about - and you’ll be able to taste why. Their lamb shank is so tenderly cooked that a cursory glance at it will cause the juicy meat to fall from its bone. It’s perfect. The best shank we’ve eaten in years, up there with the best lamb too. Paired with a sharp whack of basbaas (Somali green chilli sauce), a tear of smokily charred flatbread, and a scoop of sweet and lightly spiced bariis iskukaris. Alternatively you can go for beef suqaar (a spiced stir-fry), marinated tandoori chicken leg or, of course, some Somali spaghetti. Either way you’re getting a 10/10 meal for around £10 or less.
The raucous BYOB Punjabi curry house just off the Whitechapel Road is a certified London institution. There are multiple ways to do Tayyabs. One way is with jangling bags from the offie and another is with several generations of family in tow, all with empty stomachs. What’s non negotiable is the reassuring sizzle and smell of plenty of portions of their famous lamb chops. Not to mention the obligatory poppadoms, lamb curries, chicken tikka garlic naans, saag paneer, seekh kebabs, and pakoras. Note how everything is plural.
Sushinoen is a crowd-pleaser that suits pretty much any and every situation. The Japanese diner has a comfortable easygoing feel with sushi that’s better than your average. There’s a large selection of always-good sashimi and nigiri, from aburi sake (seared scallop) to tamago (sweet Japanese omelette) as well as maki and temaki. On the hot side of things there’s yakisoba and donburi, of course, while the karaage is particularly juicy and crisp.
Out of all of Whitechapel’s canteen-style restaurants, often filled with the pungent smells of marinated meats and curries past, Lahore is surely the most famous. The kebab house off of the Commercial Road has seen many a solo diner and many a big group through good times and bad. Their skinny lamb chops in a yoghurty thick spiced rub are the kind you could get through a troughful of, but if you’re coming with friends then you’ll want to get karahi, naans, biryani and daal as well.
The moment a sizzling dish of sisig arrives beside your table at Cirilo, juices spitting and the rich smell of frying onion, pork fat and chicken liver in the air, you’ll realise you made the right decision. Dishes from this Filipino spot err between decent (the Pancit Singapore noodles, heavy with Malay curry powder) to the downright delicious (the creamy, moreish sisig). It’s a useful little spot on Cable Street and is often busy with couples sharing kare-kare.
Round the corner from Tayyabs is Needoo, another Pakistani restaurant with claims to the best lamb chops in Whitechapel. To be honest, both have their good and their okay days. But if you’re looking for a big old school Punjabi restaurant that’s a little a less rowdy than Tayyabs (and with a similar quality of curry) Needoo is an easy choice.