When it comes to New York dining, many visitors imagine clinking cosmos at glitzy Manhattan gin joints or slicing into a Park Avenue special that takes longer to say than to eat. But for pure, visceral flavor like Mom used to make, Queens takes the cake.
Known for its ethnic diversity, the borough can cook up a feast in any language and almost always prefers traditional dress over the suited, slicked-up recipes across the East River.
To begin your tasting, catch the N or the G train to Astoria, where Queens’ highest concentration of tempting cuisine is rooted strongly in the neighborhood’s Greek, Middle Eastern and Slavic heritages.
When it comes to finding Greek dishes, most locals will direct you to join the line at Taverna Kyclades, popular for the quality of fish and seafood personally selected by chef Ardian Skenderi before dawn. Don’t leave without trying the grilled octopus.
Little Italy may belong to Manhattan, but the biggest Italian flavors can be found at Trattoria L’incontro — especially in its signature mascarpone cheese-and-pesto-stuffed mezza luna ravioli covered in an asparagus, brandy and walnut sauce.
Street food is no less tasty in Astoria. In fact, the city’s best falafel is served at the King of Falafel & Shawarma food cart just outside the Broadway subway stop. One bite of the falafel sandwich — only $4 — and you’ll understand why it won the 2010 Vendy Award for best street food.
Before leaving Astoria, wash down dinner at the 103-year-old Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. With lots of Czech beer on tap and room for up to 800 people, the high-walled garden quickly becomes its own universe, especially when the folk dancers and brass bands start up.
The rest of Queens has plenty of gems. In Rego
Park, Ben’s Best Gourmet Delicatessen serves the sort of pastrami sandwiches that make customers sweat with anticipation. The sandwiches may not have the size and presentation of Katz’s or the Carnegie Deli’s, but on taste and authenticity, they’re a winner — especially with the coleslaw and half-sour pickle.
Farther out in Forest Hills, chef Danny Brown displays the unique blend of Old World training and New York savvy that won his restaurant, Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen, the borough’s first Michelin star. Try the Creekstone Farms’ Grilled Hanger Steak and see why.