Whoever thinks Manhattan is the right place for ethnic food in New York has got off at the wrong stop because it is in Queens, along line number 7 of the subway, that you can really set out on a worldwide culinary tour.
The new destination for New Yorkers seeking new fine food experiences is on the other side of the East River in Queens, the most multiethnic district of the multiethnic Big Apple where you can go around the world in a few subway stops, as you taste food from the Philippines, enjoy Latin American cuisine or eat your way from Nepal to Thailand, passing through Little India and ending up in China. The last stop in the world’s quirkiest food tour in search of the best ethnic food and restaurants in Queens. A tour which is also very, very pop.
Astoria stop (N/Q line, 30 Av stop)
The first stronghold for the inhabitants of Manhattan within one mile, the Astoria district encapsulates the best that International cuisine has to offer. Greece, Columbia, Mexico, Japan and China alternate with Ma&Pa' Shops with their flashing signs and street stalls of vegetables. Traditionally known as THE place for eating Greek food, historical venues are now being flanked by the first tailor-made establishments for the young foodies who roll up in taxis dressed in fashionable attire. The latest but by no means least important of the new openings is a busy restaurant called Burnside Biscuit, a new “Southern” expression coined by the Bareburger people, where you will be offered fried chicken and delicious biscuits. Not far away, just a few steps from the Museum of the Moving Image, you get to drink beer, lots of it, at the beer garden called The Garden at Studio Square, whilst watching matches on a giant outdoor screen. But for a truly authentic experience, you have to go a few more stops along the number 7 line running between Grand Central and Long Island. This is such a rich destination for foodies that it resembles an asphalt street food jungle – Rob, from the Queens Economic Development Corporation NYCGo.com puts me in touch with, has been my guide in this journey of exploration. It is here that he was born, raised and continues to live with his family.
3207 30th Av, Astoria, NY
The Garden at Studio Square
35-33 36th St, Long Island City, NY
Along line 7: first stop, the Philippines
Departure point , the 46th stop, with the aim of looking into Philippine cuisine, the latest global food trend. Tito’s offers “granny’s” satisfying recipes, extremely tasty Adobo or Kare Kare (a stew that is a proper tribute to offal) while, just a few doors away, Payag is a venue that is popular for important events where it is possible to celebrate with a menu of special recipes for sharing among the various guests, or organize banquets and, on Friday and Saturday, finish in style with a dance cum karaoke as you rub shoulders with the Philippine community of Woodside. On the 69th street at Krystal's Cafè, coffee & cake are served with the sweetest of sweets and then there is Renee's Kitchenette, which has even been featured on Cooking Channel, making Renée a local celebrity. She is renowned for her "reneesilongs" which are tapsilong or tocilong, strips of beef or port marinated and fried, to be eaten at lunchtime and, in any case, no later than 3 pm.
Tito Rad’s Grill
49-10 Queens Boulevard, Woodside, NY
Ave/ 52nd St, Woodside, NY
Renee's Kitchenette & Grill
69-14 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside, NY
74th St - Broadway: Little India and starred Thai cuisine
“57th St may be the geographical centre of NY” explains Rob, but this is the real centre of the world! When you get off at the 64th St stop, you will find restaurants offering Thai cuisine, those of South East Asia, the Himalayas and Little India in all of its splendour, squeezed together in a street leading off Roosevelt Av, the 74th St. If you go to Jackson Diner in the afternoon, for just a few dollars, you can sit down to the area’s most popular all-you-can-eat buffet of curry and tandoori and, just a few doors away, you can shop at a large Indian supermarket with bags of rice piled ceiling-high, whilst at Butala’s, once you get past the incense display, you will find every type of pan, dish and metal tableware. Just down the road, at the Himalayan Yak, Nepalese cuisine is on the menu (try the excellent Momos, Tibetan ravioli, and Nepal-style street food served as appetizers) as well as dishes made from yak meat, as their names clearly indicate. The Zabb Elee Thai restaurant boasts one Michelin star and offers its customers papaya salads, khao toam rice soups and skewers with meat from every possible part of any imaginable animal at 2 $ per couple (a complete dinner costs less than 25 $, in line with the rest of the venues mentioned).
37-47 74th Street, Jackson Heights, NY
72-20 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, NY
75 2nd Avenue New York NY
Latin American cuisine
Latin American cuisine could not fail to be represented in this Babel of different flavours, which adds up to a street food paradise. Along Roosevelt Avenue, there are Peruvian restaurants serving ceviche, Ecuadorian cake and pastry shops, Columbian delis and Mexican tacos bars. But you can also taste two more unusual specialities: the pupusas di Izalco, the national dish of El Salvador, a corn tortilla filled with queso or meat in the same way as ravioli. And the arepa from De Arepa Lady, a pioneering local food truck owned by lady Maria Caso, a Columbian lawyer and judge, now in her seventies, who has become a legend of the street food scene played out in the shadow of subway 7. Now she has settled in a small establishment on 77th St where she turns out her famous arepa, sweet corn tortillas folded in half and filled with chorizo or cheese. But old habits die hard and, ever Saturday evening, the food truck reappears on the corner of the street.
6405 Roosevelt Ave, Woodside, NY
De Arepa Lady
77-02 Roosevelt Ave, Queens, NY
Off the tourist track and ignored by guidebooks
As we eat our arepas in the car, darting through the traffic on Roosevelt Ave. and heading in the direction of Main St, which is the last subway station and the new China Town (a proper town with its own retail centre, the Queens Crossing), Rob still seems to be amazed by my interest for this type of food, in view of the fact that I am Italian. "Only one other Italian woman ever came here – he tells me – and I accompanied her. Very pretty, but all she did was taking photographs of the clothes she was wearing (actually, her boyfriend took them), and she kept changing them”. I open my eyes wide and exclaim happily: of course, she’s called… “Oh no, I don’t remember her name, was she famous?” She certainly is famous, very famous! I reply… “Oh well, but what do you think of the arepa? The corn is so sweet…” What’s the point of continuing this conversation: Bob turns to me and asks: “Shall we stop off for a dim sum?” I have discovered a real foodies’ paradise: Queens, where food beats fashion 1-0.
Queens Crossing Mall
136-17 39th Ave, Flushing, NY