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Three-Day Weekend: Nassau & Paradise Island

By Kaeli Conforti
November 3, 2015
Nassau Paradise Island
Courtesy Dreamstime
Beaches! Sky juice! Water slides! Conch fritters! Nassau and Paradise Island, Bahamas, are a short hop from anywhere on the East Coast, making the perfect island getaway closer—and more affordable—than ever. All you'll need is a valid passport and your bathing suit!

My hands are shaking and my knees are weak; I'm not in love, I'm climbing the steps of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort's Mayan Temple, ever so slowly approaching the entrance to Leap of Faith, the largest, steepest water slide I've ever been on. Not only that, this seven-story slide will take me through the Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon—a large aquarium full of Caribbean reef sharks. Gulp.

I've spent most of the morning chatting with people who have just been on the impressive-looking slide, trying really hard to talk myself into it. By the afternoon, I've rationalized everything—the drop, the angle, the speed—and am finally ready to take the plunge. And then I find out there's another, easier way to see the sharks up close: another Mayan Temple attraction called the Serpent Slide that doesn't involve a terrifying drop down a 60-foot tall almost-vertical body slide, but rather a fun ride on an inner tube that ends in a large, clear tunnel, slowly taking you through the shark-filled aquarium.

So, yes, I may have totally chickened out on the big slide, but at least this way I was able to glide past the giant sharks, and believe me, that was terrifying enough!

Don't have enough time to visit all 700+ islands of the Bahamas? Start with New Providence Island, home to Nassau, Paradise Island, and enough beaches and Bahamian culture to satisfy every foodie and history buff in your arsenal. Plus, the U.S. Dollar is on par with the Bahamian Dollar, so you don't have to worry about the exchange rate, and the locals are super-friendly. What's not to love?

Experience all the perks of the Atlantis Resort—for less!

We've all seen photos of the iconic pink towers of the Atlantis Resort's Royal Towers, but did you know there's a way to experience all the perks of the resort without actually ponying up the big bucks to stay there? The secret: stay next door at Comfort Suites Paradise Island (from $130 in early December). Not only will your nightly rate give you complimentary Wi-Fi and daily breakfast, it also includes day passes to Atlantis, which normally run $150 per person, for free. Spend the day taking on the water slides in more than 20 swimming areas and 11 themed pools, lounging on white-sand beaches, or feasting at the one of the resort's fine dining restaurants, then unwind by the pool and bar at Comfort Suites Paradise Island if you need a break from all the excitement. Don't miss the Lazy River Rapids (which feel like they're part lazy river, part wave pool!) and of course, the legendary water slides of the Mayan Temple that let you float or slide through an aquarium tank full of Caribbean reef sharks! Note: It's also worth checking for flash sales on the Atlantis Resort website for extra savings if you really want to stay on the property; rates at the resort's Coral Towers start at $170 per night in early December.

Enjoy tasty Bahamian fare—conch fritters, anyone?

Don't miss the Bites of Nassau Food Tour a three-hour food tasting and cultural walking tour through the colorful streets of Downtown Nassau, with stops at six local restaurants and specialty shops—like an artisanal chocolate tasting at the Graycliff Beer Garden & Chocolatier or a lesson in local Bahamian herbs and spices that will change the way you look at medicine the next time you have a cold (curry spices are used in cooking to treat inflammation and coughs, who knew?). You'll also stop at Van Breugel's Bistro & Bar for Caribbean fusion dishes; Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant & Bar, where the locals go for traditional eats; Athena's Cafe, the island's oldest Greek restaurant; and the Tortuga Rum Cake Company to taste flavored rum cakes that are baked daily with five-year aged rum (from $69 per adult, $49 for children ages 12 and under, children under 3 are free). For a fun, super-authentic dining experience, check out the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, a collection of small, local restaurants just outside Downtown Nassau where you can sample Bahamian favorites like cracked conch (pronounced "conk" by the way) and Sky Juice, a milky-white concoction made with gin, coconut water, sweet milk, cinnamon, sugar, and fresh nutmeg. A number of locals I spoke to recommended Oh Andros as their favorite spot for food in Arawak Cay and Twin Brothers for the best daiquiri cocktails. I concur.

Visit Fort Charlotte, The Queen's Staircase, and a Pirate Museum!

History buffs will love exploring Nassau's old forts, originally built to protect the island from invaders, but luckily, none has ever had to be used in battle. Fort Charlotte is about a five-minute walk from Downtown Nassau and features displays of how the complex was built and what it was like to be stationed there in the 17th century (spoiler alert: it wasn't easy!) Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children ages 6-12, ages five and under get in free. Closer to Downtown, Fort Fincastle sits at the top of Bennet's Hill overlooking the city. To reach it, climb the Queen's Staircase, a 102-foot tall staircase built by slaves in the late-1700s and later named in honor of Queen Victoria, who is credited with abolishing slavery in 1837—or do what I did and take a taxi to Fort Fincastle and make your way down the Queen's Staircase instead (admission is free for both sites). Pirate lovers will want to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum, home to an interactive pirate attraction that feels like you've become part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride—keep an eye out for the pirate ship Revenge and get your close up of Blackbeard himself ($13 for adults, $6.50 for children ages 4-17).

See the Straw Markets

Brush up on your negotiating skills and pick up some locally-made handicrafts from the Straw Market on Bay Street in Downtown Nassau, a great place to find hand-woven straw bags, hats, and other Bahamian crafts and souvenirs for your friends back home. Smaller straw markets are also located on Paradise Island and in the Cable Beach resort area about a 20-minute drive from Nassau.

Go beyond Downtown Nassau

If you plan on renting a car to discover the rest of New Providence Island, keep in mind that everyone drives on the left in the Bahamas, so proceed with caution, especially if you're not used to it. I opted for taxis, a great option if you're traveling with a group, or an easy 10-minute water taxi ride to get between Paradise Island and Downtown Nassau ($4 one way, $8 round-trip, every half hour). Another option, especially if you're staying along Cable Beach or areas west, is to hop a ride on the jitneys into and out of Downtown Nassau, a great way to chat with locals who are doing the same thing (each ride is about $1.50). For a nice, quiet stay in Paradise Island, head east and try the Best Western Plus Bay View Suites for a relaxing romantic getaway. It's a five-minute walk to the nearest beach, and also a great option for large or multi-generational families traveling together who might need more space (from $160 per night).

Explore the hidden gems of Paradise Island

Tucked away on the eastern end of Paradise Island about a 15-minute walk from the Atlantis Resort area, you'll find Versailles Gardens, a lovely, terraced, European-style garden modeled after its namesake in France. The Versailles Gardens are located on part of the One & Only Ocean Club's property along Paradise Island Drive, but are free and open to the public 24/7, and as you can imagine, a popular spot for photos and weddings. You'll also find the remains of an original 14th-century French Cloister across the street that's part of the complex, purchased by William Randolph Hearst and later by Huntington Hartford, who brought it with him to the Bahamas.

The best part: it's closer than you think

I was surprised how fast the flight was from JFK, a mere 2.5 hours! Catch a nonstop flight on JetBlue from JFK, Boston, Orlando, Washington National, or Fort Lauderdale; fly on United for nonstop flights from Chicago, Houston, and Newark; SouthWest Airlines for nonstop flights from Baltimore; American Airlines for nonstop flights from Miami, Philadelphia, and Charlotte; Delta for nonstop flights from JFK and Atlanta; or Bahamasair for nonstop flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Keep an eye out for flash sales by following your favorite airline on social media or signing up for their email newsletters so the deals come straight to your inbox.

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Inspiration

Happy 50th Birthday, St. Louis Arch! Admission Is $1 Today

Fair warning: I'm from Missouri, so pardon me if I wax poetic about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. The curvy stainless-steel landmark turns 50 years old today, on the anniversary of "the moment when builders set in place the landmark’s crucial keystone." That's the uppermost part of the Arch, the impossibly thin tip-top of the structure—a lookout point that affords incredible views, up to a 30-mile radius, paying special attention to the west (the Arch is an homage to Westward Expansion) and to the Mississippi River in the east. When you visit St. Louis, swallow your claustrophobia and go all the way to that 63-story-tall keystone via the Journey to the Top tram ride. Today, admission is $1, the original price when tickets were first sold in 1967, and the arch will be lit in gold-tone floodlights. Otherwise, tickets are $10, which is a steal for what you get. I'm from Southwest Missouri, a good three and a half hours by car to St. Louis, and I went twice, 20 years apart: Once in 1992, as a child, when my parents brought me, and once in 2012, long after I moved out east as an adult, because I wanted to go back. Couldn't get it out of my head. Here are five reasons you should go: 1. You've GOT to experience the crazy tram ride to the top. When I describe what it feels like to go to the top of the Arch, I end up saying something like this: "You stand in line on stairs, and when it's your turn, you step into what looks like a giant human-sized cylindrical clothes dryer. You sit inside on a bench with a few other people, and as you go skyward, the whole thing tilts...then clicks. Then tilts...and clicks. And suddenly you're at the top, standing on a thin strip of carpet, peering out at two different states with only a handful of other people." There are more technical terms for this experience ("enclosed tram," "the viewing area can hold up to 160 people," etc.—the National Park Service's website is an excellent resource for specifics), but going to the top of the Arch feels more personal than that, and that's a good thing in an age of selfie sticks and swarming crowds. 2. Midcentury-modern legend Eero Saarinen designed it. If you've ever watched Mad Men and admired Roger Sterling's office—the marble-topped "tulip"-shaped table and matching stools in particular—you'll be pleasantly surprised to note that the same guy who designed those designed the St. Louis Arch. Rust issues aside (hard to notice unless you're looking for them), the beauty of the design holds up. Seeing it silver and soaring from the ground up is one of my favorite recent travel memories. 3. You can walk from the Arch to get fried ravioli. (Enough said.) The Arch area is eminently walkable, a pleasant Midwestern surprise. Take a stroll along the well-kept grounds to the nearby downtown, and sit at an old-school restaurant like Caleco's, for St. Louis specialty fried ravioli dipped in marinara sauce (just trust me on this one) and a menu of seemingly unlimited incarnations of Budweiser. Or, head to the South Broadway location of St. Louis chain Imo's Pizza. Locals love it. Fervently. 4. The movies alone—even if you don't go to the top—are worth the trip. The filmstrip shown while you're waiting in line to hop the cylindrical tram to the top has the retro charm of a grade-school film strip—heavy on Mark Twain references (this is Missouri, after all) and scratchy execution—but, again, that's not a bad thing. If you decide not to go up to the top, the documentary film Monument to the Dream (included with admission to the top of the Arch and to the grounds) captures the construction of the Arch and Eero Saarinen in all his glory. 5. If you want Americana, this is it. I adore Paris (obviously). I live in New York City and love it accordingly. But big-city hooplah can get overwhelming when you're trying to have an authentic travel moment, and there's a quaintness to the Arch that feels like discovery. I'm biased, of course. I'm now a city girl through and through, but in 2012, after I went to the top for the second time, 20 years after my first visit, I couldn't resist buying an official Gateway Arch photograph, with the Missouri capitol building and the Arch digitally superimposed over my and my now-husband's beaming faces. The photo company throws in a few smaller copies too. Today I cut one out for my husband to put in his wallet. Here's how happy I was right before I boarded the tram (the woman to the left was excited too, I promise): A post shared by Neil Alumkal (@neeeil) on Jun 2, 2012 at 10:40am PDT

Inspiration

Secret Hotels of Rome (From $75!)

CASA DI SANTA FRANCESCA ROMANA Enjoy an elegant stay on the cobblestoned Roman street of your dreams. If you prefer lodgings with a little history, this fine hotel is named for the saint credited with performing miracles here in the 15th century. A decidedly modern miracle is that this place, situated in the charming Trastevere district near upscale shops, dining, and the legendary Porta Portese Flea Market, comes without sticker shock. Enjoy your complimentary breakfast amid the orange trees of the interior courtyard and pay a visit to the beautiful little chapel. When you’re ready to explore the neighborhood and beyond, ask the friendly staff for their tips (Via dei Vascellari 61, from about $122 per night). MUST-SEE: Movie buffs will get a kick out of the Bocca della Verità, featured in Roman Holiday, a short walk from the hotel. Then take off across the Tiber to Palatine Hill (the Park Avenue of ancient Rome), where you can explore the ruins of a stadium and imperial palace and take the panorama of the Eternal City, including the Forum and Colosseum. For discounts and shorter lines at museums and archaeological attractions, invest in a Roma Pass (from about $31). MANGIA: Da Lucia offers a reliable menu of pastas and meat dishes, but its antipasti, like cheese and honey or anchovies with lemon juice, are the real stars (Vicolo del Mattonato 2B, 011-39/06-580-3601). SEVEN KINGS RELAIS Revel in midcentury-modern style at a great price just steps from the “Steps.” While some people come to Italy to revel in the ancient, the proprietors of Seven Kings Relais are more interested in the recent past. The hotel wears its fashion sense proudly, with 1960s details like floral wallpaper, a baroque-style sofa done up in pink, and a contemporary espresso bar right in the lobby. They’re also more than happy to dispense tips on navigating the local Metro stops and bus routes, the 15-minute walk to the Spanish Steps, and where to indulge your shopping urges (Via XX Settembre 58A, from about $75 per night). MUST-SEE: The Piazza di Spagna, named for the nearby Spanish Embassy, is the base of the gorgeous 1725 staircase affectionately known as the Spanish Steps. Once you get over the “pinch me” moment of seeing the steps for real, check out the fountain said to be designed by Bernini’s dad. MANGIA: The Spanish Steps area is super-popular, and it’s a relief to know that Pizzeria Leoncino is not only nearby but is also, unlike many Rome pizzerias, open for lunch. Elizabeth Minchilli, author of Eating Rome and the app Eat Italy, recommends Leoncino’s pizza with onion, beans, and sausage (Via del Leonci- no 28, 011-39/06-686-7757). RELAIS PALAZZO TAVERNA Betcha never thought a converted stable could look this beautiful. The 10-room Relais Palazzo Taverna used to be stables dating back to the 15th century. Their conversion into a hotel is the loving work of a family of art lovers that includes a Venetian art expert from Christie’s. When you’re not exploring nearby Piazza Navona and other Roman delights, savor the dramatic black-and-white damask wallpaper from England and the Japanese printed paper, not to mention the massive 500-year-old beams original to the stables. You’ll be just off a street lined with antiques stores that leads straight to the piazza... if you can drag yourself away from the pastries and cappuccino delivered right to your door each morning (Via dei Gabrielli 92, from about $105 per night). MUST-SEE: Ogle Bernini’s stunning Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in nearby Piazza Navona, where a few cheeky tourists famously attempted some late-night bathing this past summer. MANGIA: Fill up on hearty servings of pasta tossed with eggplant, tomato, and garlic at Da Tonino al Governo Vecchio (Via del Governo Vecchio 18–19, 011-39/333-587-0779). SUITE ORIANI Psst! Want to sleep in a villa in one of Rome’s poshest quarters? Yes, the streets are lined with embassies and mansions, but inside the 1929 Art Nouveau villa at No. 92 Via Barnaba Oriani, you’ll find five rooms filled with antiques like Tiffany-style glass lamps and ornate chairs that can be all yours for a song. Oh, and how about your own balcony overlooking private gardens and a towering cedar of Lebanon tree? (That’s in the Orchidea Room.) In warm weather, a generous breakfast spread of meats and cheeses, homemade jams, yogurt, and fresh fruit is served in the garden’s umbrella-shaded outdoor living room (Via Barnaba Oriani 92, from about $129 per night). MUST-SEE: Before you take off to drink in the old city, you’ve got to go for a hand-in-hand stroll through jaw-dropping Villa Borghese, Rome’s most famous park, and check out the nearby Accademia di Santa Cecilia, housed in Renzo Piano’s ultra-modern Parco Della Musica. MANGIA: La Pariolina offers an array of fritti and pizzas heartily recommended by Oriani’s proprietors (Viale dei Parioli 93). MECENATE ROOMS Live like a local in your own chic apartment. Sure, you may be one of the 30 million travelers who descend upon Rome each year, but that doesn’t mean you have to live like a tourist. Your lodgings are an apartment (No. 79) in a quiet part of town that’s just a five-minute walk to the Colosseum. Once inside the circa-1900 building’s luxurious wood-and-brass doors, you’ll be warmly welcomed to views of the iconic arena, coupons for breakfast at local cafés, and one of four surprisingly spacious rooms (Via Mecenate 79, from about $75 per night). MUST-SEE: Many visitors find the Colosseum to be the most exciting attraction in Rome. Even if you find the arena’s dark past a bit of a buzzkill, it’s an undeniably impressive sight. It once held 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators and was, of course, the place where Roman gladiators fought wild animals and one another. MANGIA: Taverna Romana, in the Monti district near the Colosseum, will have a line. You’ll have to wait about 20 minutes to get a table. A heaping bowl of rigatoni with melted pecorino makes it totally worth it (Via della Madonna dei Monti 79, 011-39/06-474-5325). LE STANZE DI ORAZIO Fine art is on view inside the hotel and just down the street. Just 10 blocks from the Vatican, this five-room hotel was launched in 2011 by a proprietor with a passion for art history. Good taste is on display everywhere you look, from the Philippe Starck lamps to the lovely striped fabrics for the curtains to the original floor tiles. Ask for personalized itineraries and hand-drawn maps, and be prepared to be treated like family—in a good way (Via Orazio 3, from about $85 per night). MUST-SEE: Walk to the Vatican Museums and get lost for hours, or days, in their immense art collections. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid long lines, and remember that the museums are closed most Sundays but offer free admission on the last Sunday of each month from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MANGIA: Pizzarium, near the Vatican, may be the most famous pizzeria in Italy, and Minchilli recommends it (Via della Meloria 43 [near Vatican, metro Cipro], 011-39/06-397-45416). TORRETTA DE’ MASSIMI Your country estate is waiting in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of the city. Arriving here might make you think you’re dreaming. The 12th-century tower—which has been transformed into a suite of rooms spread over four floors, with a kitchen and a living room at the bottom and two bedrooms at the top—looks too much like a fable to be true. The fact that a prince, and a very charming one at that, hands over the keys adds to the surreal feel. But the place does exist, hidden within 350 acres of park-like greenery in the humble La Pisana neighborhood of Rome’s southwestern fringes (Via della Pisana 600, from about $210 per night for a two-bed- room suite). MUST-SEE: Spend time wandering the amazing grounds themselves, or take the 881 bus from the property to Rome’s historic center, near Campo de’ Fiori and the Vatican. MANGIA: You can use the property’s kitchen to cook for yourself (grocery stores are a short walk away), ask the staff to prepare your meals, or, our favorite option, book on-site cooking classes. For a night out, nearby eatery Schiavi d’Abruzzo will pick you up and return you to the property after filling your plate with unforgettable pasta dishes and pizza (Via Di Bravetta 370).

Inspiration

Hop on This Amtrak Flash Sale Now!

My favorite way to explore the Northeast (where I live and work) is by train. For my money, there’s a convenience, comfort, and, yeah, even romance to riding the rails. Some of the most delightful East Coast adventures I’ve had started out by boarding an Amtrak train in New York City’s Pennsylvania Station (which everbody here calls “Penn”) and riding down to Baltimore to visit my cousins, explore the Inner Harbor, the aquarium, and discover one of the tastiest Little Italy neighborhoods I’ve ever eaten in. (And, in case your wondering, my cousins frequently ride up to NYC for holiday window-shopping, skating in Bryant Park, and the other myriad possibilities my native city offers visitors.) Of course, I have to admit those memorable Baltimore trips may have been topped by my excursions down to Washington, D.C., a few hours’ down the coast from my home and a world apart in history, art, science, and food. (Budget Travelers already know how much I love D.C. for the wide array of free activities, including all the major museums, memorials, and historical sites.) So, I was pretty psyched to learn about Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 3-Day Sale. I can get from Midtown Manhattan to downtown Baltimore or D.C. for rates so low I had to do a double-take. The sale is on now through Thursday (October 29), and is valid for travel December 1 through 18, 2015. How low are we talking here? NYC to Baltimore from $39. NYC to D.C. from $43. These are rare deals and worth jumping on for a fall getaway that doesn’t involve traffic on I-95! Whether you share my love of train travel or just want to nab the most convenient and affordable way to get from “downtown to downtown,” as Amtrak puts it, I suggest you check out this sale before time runs out.

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Eat Like a Local in Queens

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. Astoria Seafood 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 Dhaulagiri Kitchen 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 New World Mall’s Food Court Flushing, Queens’ large and bustling Chinatown, has no shortage of outstanding Chinese (not to mention Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, even Indian) restaurants, but locals know the best way to experience the neighborhood’s sheer diversity of cheap East Asian eats is to hit up a food court in one of its several malls. They are each worth visiting for a few standout stalls, and the huge, modern, fluorescent-lit court at the basement level of the New World Mall is no exception. Start with some juicy, crispy-fried pork and leek potstickers, or guo tie, from the corner stall called Li Lanzhou Stretch Noodles/Shanxi Sliced Noodles, then move on to cold-skin noodles from Beijing Cuisine and hand-pulled noodle soup from Lanzhou Handmade, or perhaps Szechuan fried chicken, Taiwanese pork buns, and Japanese-style crepes from some of the other 32-plus vendors. It’s hard to go terribly wrong here. 136-20 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, 718-353-0551 The Queens Kickshaw Since opening in 2011, The Queens Kickshaw, with its exposed brick walls and dangling Edison bulbs, has been a breath of fresh air amid the discount shops and hole-in-the-wall eateries of southeast Astoria. But it’s what’s on the menu that makes this an undying local favorite, and the kind of place where it’s all too easy to while away half your day. The husband-and-wife owners nail just about everything a city dweller needs: specialty coffee, craft beer, cider, wine, mead, and, well, fancy grilled cheeses (from $9). Beyond those signature sandwiches, the from-scratch seasonal cooking here is thoughtful and delicious; for summer, we love the watermelon- feta salad and excellent creamy sweet-corn farro risotto—and of course, homemade ice cream. 40-17 Broadway, Astoria; 718-777-0913 Uncle Zhou Here’s a secret: You needn’t travel to Flushing proper for top-notch Chinese food in Queens. Located in Elmhurst, this unassuming eatery specializes in food from Henan, the region known as the breadbasket of China thanks to its wheat production. At Uncle Zhou, diners gorge on handmade dumplings and wheat noodles prepared every which way: thick and knife-shaved with tomato and egg; skinny and hand-drawn, swimming in soups; threadlike and baked to a crisp atop a whole fish; broad and nestled amid the chile-studded “big tray of chicken.” Pro tip: Start with some of the cold appetizers, like vinegary ribbons of cucumber and wood-ear mushrooms, selected from under the counter in back, before moving on to the to-die-for steamed lamb dumplings. 83-29 Broadway, Elmhurst; 718-393-0888 Arepa Lady What started as a late-night, weekends-only street cart with a cultlike following is now a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Colombian Jackson Heights, where, despite a slew of press over the years, Arepa Lady remains as revered as ever. Maria Cano—the lady in question—still operates her legendary cart under the 7 train in warm months, but thanks to the cozy new space, run by her two sons, those buttery, cheese-filled griddled corn disks (from $5) are available to the masses seven days a week, at lunch and dinner. (The masses, it should be noted, lean toward a pretty local, regular crowd.) Try the arepa de queso, kneaded with mozzarella and topped with salty queso blanco, as well as the sweeter, golden-hued arepa de choclo, made with freshly ground corn and folded around more queso blanco and the grilled meat of your choice—and pair it with a blended Colombian juice, like guanabana (soursop) mixed with milk. 77-02AA Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights; 347-730-6124 Cannelle Patisserie The original location of this pastry and cake shop is hardly impressive: smack in the middle of a nondescript strip mall in East Elmhurst, a solid mile from the nearest subway. No matter—the place is packed every weekend with customers clued into the serious baking that goes on at Cannelle, courtesy of a Brittany native (now Queens resident) who was formerly the pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria New York hotel and his Sri Lankan partner. This is food for the people by the people, if exquisite French pastries and tarts can be such a thing. At one end of the spectrum are the buttery almond croissants, glistening peach tarts, and fine quiches; at the other, a glass case filled with gorgeous little treats, from napoleons and choux Chantilly (cream puffs) to red velvet mini cakes. You’ll stare dumbfounded at that case deciding which to order, but at $3-$4 apiece, it’s easy to try several (the bliss-inducing rectangles of praline crunch and refreshing lemon squares are always good bets). A second branch opened last year in Long Island City. 75-59 31st Ave., East Elmhurst; 718-565-6200  Tito Rad’s In Woodside, Queens, a.k.a. Little Manila, lies the ideal opportunity to explore Filipino food, itself an underrated, endlessly interesting cuisine. Newly expanded and remodeled, Tito Rad’s is a welcoming place to start—specifically with the chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines), lumpia sariwa (fresh spring rolls), and an avocado shake. From there you might try the satisfying crispy pata, or pork knuckle; spicy laing (taro leaves with shrimp, pork, and hot peppers in coconut milk); delicious dinuguan (pork-blood stew); or inihaw na panga, a massive grilled tuna jaw. Entrees are generous (most are $8.95) and perfect for sharing among a large group, thus inviting an epic Filipino feast. Fear not if the large menu overwhelms with its exoticism: You can always ask the advice of a neighboring table, which is sure to have some Filipinos present. 49-10 Queens Blvd., Woodside; 718-205-7299 Rincon Criollo Just steps off the 7 train in the heart of Latin American Corona, this one-room Cuban restaurant opened its doors in 1976, sharing the same name as the Acosta family’s first restaurant in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba. Here you’ll find legit, homestyle Cuban comfort food in friendly quarters: croquetas and frituras de bacalao (cod fritters) in a tasty homemade mojo (garlic sauce); well-done traditional standards (from $10.95) like vaca frita, arroz con pollo, and rabo encendido (stewed oxtail); spot-on maduros (fried sweet plantains) and flan de coco (coconut flan). But regulars will urge you to examine the daily specials, for that’s where you’ll find the more interesting dishes, like Monday’s tamal en cazuela, a soupy pork-and-cornmeal casserole of sorts. Order off that menu and you’ll be one of la familia in no time. 40-09 Junction Blvd., Corona; 718-458-0236 This article was written by Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of food-travel website Eat Your World, a guide to regional foods and drinks in destinations around the globe, and a proud Queens resident since 2008.

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