Eat Like a Local in Queens
The world is discovering what New Yorkers have known for a while now: The National League Champion New York Mets' home borough, Queens, is one of the most diverse and insanely delicious culinary hotspots in America.
Thanks to a few Michelin-starred restaurants and high-profile food markets like Smorgasburg Queens and LIC Flea & Food, the dining scene in Queens is finally getting more well-deserved attention. But this isn’t a borough that runs on what’s hip or trendy. Here, in one of the most diverse places on Earth, eating like a local is akin to traveling the world: a cultural experience in which you’ll encounter people and dishes from countries as far-flung as Nepal, Thailand, Colombia, and Greece. It’s about neighborhood stalwarts and local legends that support those neighborhoods where the melting pot has survived and thrived, beloved eateries long content to fly under the radar of the general New York City public, and newer restaurants that seamlessly fill a culinary need without fanfare or pretension. Want to eat Queens right? Here are 10 palate-expanding spots that’ll jump-start your sense of adventure and impress any borough resident worth his or her salt. Go forth and explore.
Best known for its excellent Greek food, Astoria has no shortage of tavernas at which to get your saganaki fix. But for fresh fish prepared Mediterranean style, at dirt-cheap prices, you’ll want to head to Greek-owned market-cum-eatery Astoria Seafood. Start by choosing your meal from the displays of raw seafood on ice—whole branzino, sea bass, and red snapper; calamari and octopus; shrimp, scallops, lobster tails—then bring it to the counter for weighing, paying, and cooking: grilled in garlicky olive oil or breaded and fried. Add a Greek salad, some rice, and lemony potatoes, and you’ve got yourself a feast, simply prepared and absolutely delicious, that’ll set you back about $30 for two (the place is also BYOB). It’s a winning formula; there’s nearly always a wait for a table come dinnertime. Sure, you’ll be dining with plastic utensils under florescent lights in a well-worn space, but nobody among this convivial, diverse local crowd—which has been known to erupt in spontaneous dance—gives a damn. 3710 33rd St., Long Island City; 718-392-2680
It’s appeared on Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern and is a popular stop on neighborhood food tours, but Dhaulagiri Kitchen, in the heart of Himalayan-heavy Jackson Heights, is so much of a hole-in-the-wall that it’s remained a strictly local favorite. Perhaps this is due to its easily missable exterior—the only signage is for Tawa Food Corp., the small roti bakery that shares its already-cramped space—and the extremely limited seating inside. No matter: The tiny Nepali eatery serves up wonderful, inexpensive regional food from Kathmandu, the chef-owner’s hometown, from momos (thick-skinned dumplings with various fillings) to sukuti (air-dried and stewed beef, buffalo, or goat jerky). But it’s the generous plates of thali—traditional rice platters with dhal, mustard greens, pickled vegs, fried bitter melon, roasted soybeans, and your choice of curry (from $9)—that best show off the complex range of flavors at play here: bitter, spicy, sour, earthy. If the food’s too fiery, arm yourself with just-cooked sel roti, a subtly sweet, deep-fried doughnut-like ring made from ground rice. Don’t forget to pick up some fresh roti and paratha to bring home. 37-38 72nd St., Jackson Heights; 718-877-7682
Plant Love House
With stalwarts like Ayada and Chao Thai anchoring an ever-growing “Little Bangkok,” Elmhurst is ground zero for the city’s best Thai food. Since joining the scene last November, Plant Love House has quickly become a go-to for local Thais and the borough’s chowhounds, for good reason: The homestyle cooking, made by a Thai mom and her two daughters, specializes in spicy street food and the kind of Instagram-friendly desserts beloved by Bangkok’s youth—plus the overwhelming majority of dishes clock in under $10. The small, cheery restaurant’s eight signature dishes include the popular num tok, a fiery pork-blood noodle soup with pork balls, and yum khanom jeen, fermented rice noodles topped with crispy salmon; one of several can’t-miss desserts is the Plant Love toast, a thick, buttery square of bread topped with vanilla ice cream and bananas. This is not your run-of-the-mill Thai menu. In fact, it’s quite compact, meaning you can probably try every dish in just a few visits. (Trust us: You’ll want to.) 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst; 718-565-2010