Leaving from New York JFK or Have a 3 Hour Layover There? Do This.

JonNYC recently recommended Spicy Lanka restaurant at 159-23 Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, Queens. It’s a great option for two reasons.

  1. Good Sri Lankan food is always a great option.
  2. It’s just 5 miles from New York’s JFK airport

I was in New York for about 20 hours, flying into LaGuardia and out of JFK. I was on a 5:30pm flight out yesterday. The lunch event I attended in Manhattan yesterday was more useful for talking with folks and I decided not to eat anything, I got out of there around 2:30pm, so I decided to stop here on the way to the airport. Good call.

spicy lanka restaurant
(Although I was originally concerned by the ‘A’ rating in the window.)

spicy lanka restaurant

And I realized this is a great option for a long-ish layover at JFK. I don’t think most people should attempt this with less than a 3 hour connection. You’ll want to cab or Uber, public transit options are just going to take awhile. It can be as little as a 10 minute drive, but plan for 20. Traffic yesterday at 4:30pm was bad, naturally and it took me 16 minutes. I mapped it this morning around 9am and it was showing 19 minutes.

I didn’t have a ton of time while I was there. Around 3:30pm there were two other tables occupied. I stood in the entryway for a few minutes until the server came out with food for one of the tables, she apologized profusely. I didn’t take a menu, I just asked for chicken kothu and stringhopper noodles with fish curry. Then when I saw her bring falooda to the next table over and asked for some as well.

Chicken Kothu

It was outstanding, spicy, flavorful. It wasn’t quite the version I had three months back in Colombo, but it sure hit the spot.

String hopper with fish curry

The noodles were perfect and the curry excellent, folks that don’t like extremely ‘fishy’ taste of course won’t prefer the fish curry but I much enjoyed it.


Sweet, yummy goodness of course.

Here’s the restaurant menu. Kothu is a steal at $8 ($9 for beef or mutton). I can’t wait to go back to try their biryani and their other curries.

I’d highly suggest this for pre-flight dining out of JFK. I’ll take this over just about anything that’s going to be served onboard, and unquestionably over anything that’s available in terminals 7 or 8 which is where I’ve generally departed from.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Dan- pretty sure he meant that he wants to eat at places that spend more time and energy focused on food quality than on meeting an arbitrary cleanliness standard. Most high end restaurant kitchens are spotless, but “hole in the wall” type places have a harder time keeping things spic and span.

    The power move during rush hour is to take an Uber to the Jamaica AirTrain station, probably $5 for the Uber and $5 for the AirTrain, and then you avoid the traffic on the Van Wyck.

  2. DCJoe: agreed, at least start with the AirTrain, don’t Uber that horribly trafficked route from JFK during the day.

    Also, looks like a ~10 block walk from Sutphin/Archer; Google Maps pegs it at ~15 mins. Between that and AirTrain, you’re talking about ~30 mins each way, which isn’t bad, especially if you don’t have too much luggage.

    I’ll have to check this place out!

  3. @win, I know, I live in Manhattan and am well versed in the art of deciphering health reports.

    @DCJoe, in reality, many of NYC’s finest restaurants get hit with large violations because their methods of cooking go against the clinical standards prescribed by the NYC DOH, Le Bernardin caught a heavy B grade once, along with Jean George. Both of these establishments have merited themselves three Michelin stars. In reality, the best performing restaurants are corporate chains with strict health standards baked into the company or franchisee agreements. In fact, the cleanest chain on average is White Castle, followed by Taco Bell and then Starbucks.

  4. If not carrying heavy luggage, it’s only an 18 min walk to Jamaica Airtrain.

    Much more convenient than the Sri Lankan restaurants in Staten Island!

  5. (And it’s very close to the F train — which doesn’t help from JFK, but if coming from the city you could take the F train there, eat, and then easily head to JFK.)

  6. There’s actually a Kothu place in the East Village now although I haven’t been. This place definitely sounds like it’s worth a visit, however.

  7. @LarryInNYC: You probably mean Sigiri, and yes, their Kothu was incredible though overpriced at $14.50, even by NYC standards.

  8. I grew up just a few blocks from here. Seeing “Hillside Avenue” in a blog post puts a smile on my face. Of course, even if there had been a restaurant like this back then, I doubt the 8th grade me would have liked it much.

  9. Thanks for the tip, Gary. I live on Long Island and made the trip to Queens tonight to try Spicy Lanka. The server is extremely hospitable, and I was able to find street parking easily. I’m looking forward to trying the food soon (ordered the chicken kothu).

  10. Really glad you enjoyed it! I love the place and they are so, so, so nice. And, yes, great, no-stress street-parking!

  11. @thanh: I was actually thinking of Kottu House (write-up in the Times on May 14). Didn’t know there were other places short of going to Staten Island.

  12. Thanks for the tip Gary! Might have a long layover in JFK next summer and I’ll definitely do this!

  13. @Gary — Not to second-guess your tip, which does sound excellent — but just to address your automatic put-down of ALL restaurants at JFK: Bobby Van’s in T8 has excellent food. Overpriced, for sure, but just as good, quality-wise, as it’s city locations and definitely NOT airport quality food. Good steaks, fantastic burgers, excellent sides, and drinks. I don’t usually want to have that heavy of a meal before a flight, but I’d much rather eat there than have to make a stop before heading to the airport to have a meal, with all the associated risks and hassles that entails.

  14. @AS – fair, I’ll give Bobby Van’s a miss myself and wouldn’t ever prefer that over decent Sri Lankan but for what it is I trust it’s good. 🙂

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