Taste of Samarkand opened in 2015 to fill a gap in traditional Uzbekistan food. Credit: Ambar Castillo

For most of his life, Rasul Hoshimov, an Uzbek Muslim, never imagined himself in the kitchen. Growing up in his hometown of Samarkand, he had no need. He had four sisters and a mother who cooked for the family. When he later owned a restaurant in (what was then) Russia, his business partner did the cooking. 

But in the summer of 2015, years after immigrating to the United States, Hoshimov found himself manning the kitchen of the restaurant he had just opened in Queens. 

Taste of Samarkand, located in Rego Park along Queens Boulevard, was meant to fill a gap in traditional Uzbekistan food in the borough. His original partner for the restaurant, a fellow construction worker, was not good in the kitchen, and quickly left. The future of the restaurant now depended on a man who had never really cooked. 

Taste of Samarkand staff ensure their various kebabs are kosher. Photo: Ambar Castillo

From construction workers to a restaurant partnership 

During Taste of Samarkand’s first six months, Hoshimov devoted himself to replicating the recipes he loved from back home. He didn’t sleep for 10 days, he says, stressing about getting them right. 

“In Islam, the most important thing is patience,” he said. “We do not worry about money; God always gives. So you just have to do your best and be patient and the reward always comes.” 

He called his mother to guide him through crowd favorites like pilaf, kabobs, soups, and samsa, flaky dough pockets stuffed with finely chopped veal and lamb and spices. He asked customers for feedback to figure out whether the dishes needed a little more or less of this or that.   

Samsa is one of Taste of Samarkand’s most popular food items. Credit: Ambar Castillo

“It was good to hear from the people, but the ultimate judge has to be you,” Hoshimov told Epicenter NYC through an interpreter, Lina Bankauskaite, who is a co-manager at Taste of Samarkand. “The same dish, one person says too much salt, the other person says no salt. Everybody has their own taste.” 

So Hoshimov decided to trust his taste — and not just with his recipes but also the aesthetics of the current space. And he followed his intuition to find a new business partner.

Hoshimov met David Abramov, a Bukharian Jew from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, through his old partner. In the small world of construction, Hoshimov and Abramov had also worked on a project together, doing interior design and electrical work, respectively. They spoke the same language, came from similar cultures. 

The two men’s backgrounds ran parallel in more ways than one. Not only were they from neighboring countries, but Hoshimov is also ethnically Tajik. And Abramov also used to own a restaurant in Queens that didn’t work out. When he came on board at Taste of Samarkand, he started handling the business operations and finances, while Hoshimov continued to oversee the vision, kitchen, and staffing. 

How Taste of Samarkand found its groove

The Rego Park and neighboring Forest Hills neighborhoods are home to thousands of Bukharian Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, so the chefs keep the kitchen kosher.

Asked about whether the war in Gaza has created palpable tensions among customers from these communities, Hoshimov says their Jewish and Muslim clients know how to refrain from talk of politics abroad to create safe spaces: “For regular people, it doesn’t matter — it’s all politics.”

Seeing these different communities gather to eat and chat — particularly for Iftar when Muslim families have come to break their fast during Ramadan — is a joy, Hoshimov says: “In our culture, when you do good to people, God gives you blessings.” 

Co-owner Rasul Hoshimov with guitarist Amir Muslimov, who provides live entertainment on weekday evenings. Credit: Ambar Castillo 

On the evening Epicenter NYC visited, a lone couple dancing to live music gave way to families whirling and shimmying across a makeshift dance floor. The customers danced in between a series of wooden columns hand-crafted in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. This ancient city — a major stop on the Silk Road trade route between the East and West — gave Hoshimov inspiration for the redesign of the restaurant in 2018. 

When he first opened Taste of Samarkand, it couldn’t have looked more different: it was a fraction of the space it now occupies, and its style was pure pizza parlor. In 2018, the owners expanded the venue and designed it to look like an ancient madrasah, or higher learning institution, from back home. The pictures of Samarkand on the walls are all framed by lambskin. And the waitresses, with the traditional Uzbek kuilak (long tunic) and lozim (pants), imbue the place with color.  

This winter salad at Taste of Samarkand isn’t your standard salad. Credit: Ambar Castillo

Learning how to serve like family

Two waitresses hired by Hoshimov in the early days of the business are now co-managing it. “I grew up here,” says Zukhra Kamborova. “I learned patience and about different cultures.” And like Hoshimov’s cooking, Bankauskaite, the manager who interpreted for Hoshimov, had to learn skills that didn’t come naturally to her: how to manage people on both sides of the business. 

When Hoshimov first offered her a job as a waitress, she warned him: “You don’t know what you’re asking me — I don’t work in the restaurant; I eat in the restaurant. You’re risking putting me there because I have no idea what to do there.”

But Hoshimov’s intuition told him she was someone he could trust. 

“I’ve had to overcome my shyness,” Bankauskaite said. “Because to go up to a stranger, inside of me, I was dying.” 

Over time, the introvert found she could overcome these feelings. 

Lagman soup — with beef and hand-spun noodles — is one of their most popular soups. Credit: Ambar Castillo

It helped that the staff — most from Russian-speaking countries — “feels like family after so many years,” she said. They help each other out with Uzbek-speaking customers: “Someone speaks more, someone speaks less, and we figure it out,” Bankauskaite said.  

Another unofficial member of the family: Amir Muslimov, an Uzbek guitarist who showed up one day asking if they could use a musician. While Taste of Samarkand opened a cozy outdoor dining space during the pandemic, the main dining room is always in high demand because of the live entertainment. Muslimov plays everything from traditional and Uzbeki pop music to rock classics like “Hotel California.” 

Every year, Hoshimov heads to Uzbekistan to visit his family. Now he’s the one who cooks for his sisters and mother.

“They’re all in shock,” he said. “They say, ‘how did this happen? How did you learn to cook?’”

Taste of Samarkand

62-16 Woodhaven Blvd, Rego Park, NY 11374

Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(718) 672-2121

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