Step away from your Facebook feed, close the laptop and turn off the talking heads. You can make the world a better place tonight just by eating dinner. 

Story by Kristen Schmidt

We’re thrilled to play a role in Columbus Kindness Month, an initiative of Besa and The Columbus Foundation. Friday, Feb. 17 is National Random Acts of Kindness Day, but these two organizations have decided to make a whole month out of it. We wholeheartedly endorse this idea—the world could use a lot more kindness. One of our favorite ways to show it: eating out at one of our city’s many immigrant-owned restaurants.

When my world is thrown into a state of anxiety and uncertainty, it’s my instinct to make it right, take action. Just do something. But lately, this challenge has seemed insurmountable. What can I do as an individual to make a difference? How can I rise above the fray and reach out to my neighbors in a gesture of goodwill and friendship?

Start by ordering a bowl of bibimbap. Follow that up with a banh mi sandwich, tacos, Nepalese dumplings and a big platter of fir fir tibs and injera.

In short, eat at any of the dozens of immigrant-owned restaurants in Columbus. What was a pleasant night out a few months ago is now an act of dinner-table diplomacy. It’s a way to reach out to our neighbors and say, “We love you. You’re valued here. You’re respected here. You’re wanted here.”

Korean food was my final frontier: It intimidated the heck out of me, because the menus were written in a language I didn’t understand, and the food was full of unfamiliar flavors and odors. A few years ago, friends took me to Arirang, a grocery store on Bethel Road where a small restaurant had just opened. We strolled down aisles crammed with foods I couldn’t identify and past a bank of refrigerators full of kimchee. Soon, bowl after bowl of steaming stews and rice were arriving. I tried bibimbap (and a lot of gochujang) for the first time that night, and I’ve never looked back. What was I so afraid of?

It seems laughably simple, but the secret to trying something new is showing up with an open mind and asking questions. You’ll find your curiosity and willingness to explore is reciprocated with warmth, smiles and recommendations. We love to sit at the counter at Nepalese-Tibetan restaurant Momo Ghar, watching the cooks prep vegetables and deftly fold dumplings (always with Bob Marley playing in the background). The other day, a woman was dicing an enormous mound of onions, and my eyes started to water. I asked her, how could she stand it? Another cook said, “It makes you stronger!” And there we were, having a good chuckle, even though we’re from such different places.

I crave this mutual reaching-out and common experience right now. I think we all do.

In any city, eating at restaurants owned by our immigrant neighbors seems like a good plan of action. But in Columbus, it feels essential to preserving the city’s spirit. Think about what Columbus and the metro area would be like without immigrants. We would be different, and not for the better. We would be less exceptional.

No matter where you live in the metro area, you are within minutes of the strip malls dotted with immigrant-owned restaurants, grocers, taquerias and carryouts. You can actually read these shopping centers like stories about how and where immigrants have settled here. Near Dublin and around Polaris, you’ll notice plentiful Indian offerings. The East Sides and parts of the North Side are destinations for African food. One of my favorite thoroughfares to explore is Bethel Road, from state Route 315 east to Sawmill Road. On this two-and-a-half-mile stretch of pavement, you’ll find Korean, Turkish, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese and Mexican restaurants, grocers and bakeries. There’s CAM, the Asian grocery store that’s a feast for the eyes. Banana Leaf, where the owner inevitably slips an extra something into our bag when we order carryout. Los Guachos, the ever-packed home of the celebrated al pastor taco. Arirang, too. Somewhere near your home is a strip like this.

Immigrants are drawn to Columbus by businesses like Honda, institutions like Ohio State University and, for many of the thousands of Somali people who call Columbus home, relatives who have already settled down here. As diverse as our city is, and as “open and smart” as Columbus is billed to be, many of our immigrant neighbors feel threatened by current events. By supporting each other in this way, at this time, we show we will not be driven apart by fear. I encourage you to set aside the noise, open your mind and heart and get to know your neighbors. The dinner table is the perfect place to start.

A few of our favorite meals

One of the greatest things about living in Columbus is you’re never more than 20 minutes away from world-class food from around the globe. And less time if you live on the East and North sides, which is where immigrant populations happen to have settled.

Addis (Ethiopian)
We can’t get enough of the tender, heavenly spiced Mahbarawi, slow-cooked beef cooked with peppers, onion, garlic and a little rosemary. Addis is humble on the outside and warm and inviting on the inside. Expect lots of smiles and the comforting fragrance of incense being burned near the entrance. 2750 Cleveland Ave., North Side

Jeddo Kebab (Persian)
Fluffy rice will carpet half your plate here, and you’ll want to savor every last grain (do indulge and mix in the pat of butter that comes along with your meal). Friends rave about the Jeddo “Queen” Kabab, which comes with one skewer of barg (traditional marinated and barbecued chicken) and one of ground chicken kabab. And try the Kashk O Bademjoon, an eggplant and whey starter served with pita bread. 2171 E. Dublin-Granville Road, North Side

Hoyo’s Kitchen (Somali)
Italians colonized Somalia in the 19th century, but Somalis have made spaghetti all their own in the ensuing decades. It’s served with a hearty bolognese sauce often seasoned with coriander and cumin. Somali cuisine also includes a lot of slow-cooked meats (including camel—surprisingly accessible), rice and flatbreads called canjeero. 5786 Columbus Square, North Side

Momo Ghar (Nepalese-Tibetan)
Confession: We sometimes eat momo twice a week from this tiny restaurant inside Saraga grocery store. These Nepalese dumplings are just that good. Jhol Momo is the star of the show: You’ll get a shallow bowl of several large spiced chicken dumplings wading in a warm, savory, spicy tomato-based sauce. Just what a cold Saturday ordered. 1265 Morse Road (inside Saraga), North Side

Sunflower (Chinese)
Don’t miss Sunday dim sum brunch at this sprawling restaurant tucked in the corner of a strip mall. Kids will love looking at the fish tanks in the entrance, and everyone will love choosing dumplings, vegetables, noodle dishes and other delicacies from carts that circulate the dining room. 7370 Sawmill Road, Dublin

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