By CAMILA VELLOSO — Hyattsville has a new Uyghur (pronounced “WEE-gur”) restaurant that opened in November 2018, and it has already gained a loyal following.
Located at 6504 America Boulevard in University Town Center, Marco & Polo offers traditional Uyghur and Turkish cuisine, from lamb-centric dishes to hand-pulled noodles and homemade bread.
“It’s like soul food, which speaks to you deeply,” Bethesda resident Lesley Krauland said.
Krauland and her lunch companions, Sarah Elder and Cindy Hess, all heard about the restaurant through community group email lists and recommendations from friends.
“Personally, I was just curious to see what Uyghur food was,” Elder, dining at the restaurant for the third time, said. “Honestly, where else could you possibly find it?”
Owner Gairatjan Rozi named the restaurant after 14th-century merchant Marco Polo, whose travels along the Silk Road promoted a cultural exchange and allowed for the spread of Uyghur cuisine to the West.
Through food and music, Rozi hopes to introduce his customers to the history and culture of the Uyghur ethnic group, which hails from western China and central Asia.
On weekends, Rozi provides musical entertainment with his dutar, a two-stringed lute. Sometimes he performs the song he says he played for the Dalai Lama’s 2012 birthday celebration in the Netherlands. Rozi previously ran a Uyghur restaurant there before moving to the U.S. three years ago.
Rozi’s customers often ask him to play his dutar.
“The first time we came here, [Rozi] came out and played some of the instruments,” College Heights Estates resident Jana Over said. “It was fascinating to see one of those long-stem guitars being played.”
Walking into the restaurant, guests will find a variety of traditional Uyghur artifacts, including dutars and tapestries hanging on the walls.
“We love the decoration, the design [and] hearing the stories that [Rozi has] told us,” said Over, who was out to lunch with her husband, David Harrington.
Rozi enjoys interacting with customers and being part of their dining experience. From taking orders to preparing and serving food, he tries to make sure everything is to his customers’ liking. “I don’t want something [to go] wrong for people,” he said.
Not even the frigid temperatures and snow during late January could keep customers away. “I think the Uyghur soup is really good, especially in this kind of weather,” Elder said.
The family business — run by Rozi with the help of his son Bugra — is also contributing to the diversification of dining options in the area.
“We have been here for 35 years,” Harrington said. “It’s so nice that so many of these really interesting restaurants have opened.”
Many local residents have embraced Marco & Polo and would like to see it remain in the area.
“There’s been a lot of excitement about this restaurant because we’d like to sustain it,” said Krauland.
“I hope that people will come and try [the food],” Over said.
Rozi decided on Hyattsville as the location for his newest business because of its proximity to D.C. and the University of Maryland.
“These are good customers,” Rozi said. “I am happy here.”