Nepali refugees share their culture in Akron through food

Restaurants like Nepali Kitchen help add unique flavors to North Hill

By Andrew Kuder

Nepali Kitchen, Akron, Ohio. Photo by Andrew Kuder.

Akron’s North Hill area is nicknamed “Akron’s International District.” It features restaurants, grocery stores and more businesses from Afghan, Nepali, Karen, Bhutanese, and Vietnamese refugees, among many other groups. A majority of these places are run by refugees, and they offer the chance for locals to connect with their cultures in fun and interesting ways.

Right on Cuyahoga Falls Avenue is Nepali Kitchen, which employs refugees from Nepal. It’s the type of place many might not notice at first, with a small, plain-looking building. The inside is somewhat the same: a small waiting room and dining room, and a tiny kitchen where the chefs are constantly working. Even when there aren’t many customers dining inside, they seem to always be working on take-out orders.

The menu has a wide variety of traditional Nepalese dishes, including momo (a type of dumpling), chow mein, curry, Nepali spaghetti, and many more. Each dish comes with several types of meat like chicken, goat, and lamb, as well as vegetarian options. But the restaurant is probably best known for their unique spices; when walking into the building, one can immediately smell them from the kitchen.

Although Nepali Kitchen’s food is made by and for the Nepalese community, it is still popular with non-Nepalese customers. The owner, Suresh Rai, has seen this firsthand.

“I definitely believe that food can bring people from all communities together. ”

Suresh Rai

North Hill started as a predominantly Italian and African-American neighborhood. However, as refugees from Bhutan, Nepal, and other regions began flocking to Akron, they quickly chose North Hill as their main settlement due to its affordable housing. As a result, restaurants like Nepali Kitchen have added a greater variety to North Hill’s dining options. 

North Hill owns its image as the international district. Photo by Andrew Kuder.

Rai is what the International Institute of Akron (IIA) refers to as a “secondary refugee,” meaning that he came to Akron from an area outside of his home country. In Rai’s case, he originally settled in Virginia before he found his next calling in Akron.

Nepali Kitchen was originally founded by Rai’s brother Hem, but in 2017 he asked Rai to take it over. Since then, the restaurant has become a beloved part of North Hill, and an example of how refugees have left an impact on Akron.

The neighborhood once dominated by Italian restaurants features offerings not just from Nepal, but from India, Mexico, and more international cuisines. These businesses not only give Akron residents fun places to explore, but also offer glimpses into other cultures through great food.