Anthony Bourdain described Queens as a “wonderland” for food, thanks to its street vendors. In this overlooked New York borough, culinary innovation begins at street-cart level – and the multicultural population makes it that bit more interesting. You’ll find hand-pulled Lanzhou noodles in Chinatown, fluoro-pink sugar-topped concha in Corona’s Mexican bakeries, and trendy takes on okonomiyaki in up-and-coming Long Island City.
Michelin gave Queens seven new Bib Gourmands (a highly commended award for value and quality food) this year, boosting the number of Bib restaurants here to 19. And in many low-key, tourist-free spots you can expect sit-down lunches for as little as $10. Queens is also surprisingly easy to get to: the 7 train transports you from Manhattan in as little as eight minutes. Here’s where to stop.
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Glassy new residential buildings are shooting up across Long Island City, but don’t let that put you off. Queens’s hipper, more upscale restaurants based here are all heart.
Where to eat: Casa Enrique is most notable, as New York’s first and only Mexican restaurant with a Michelin star. It’s affordable and, despite white walls, tables and chairs, not stuffy. Expect killer cocktails, perfectly balanced ceviches and tequila-marinated skirt-steak tacos from the Chiapas-born, French-trained chef. Nearby Mu Ramen has a Bib and is best for experimental takes on Japanese classics – trout okonomiyaki comes topped with flying-fish roe and foie gras syrup. Busy, uber-cool BYOB spot Adda serves enormous slow-cooked goat biryanis served with a pastry lid, kale pakora, whole tandoori fish, chicken liver tawa kaleji and, for the very brave, bheja fry: creamy goat brains, in a cracker of a chilli sauce.
Stick around for: MoMA PS1, a contemporary art gallery in a historic 19th-century red-brick school building.
Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue (8 min from Times Square), Hunters Point Avenue (9 min), Court Square (11 min), 33 St-Rawson St (15 min)
New Yorkers may know Jackson Heights for curry houses, but Latin pop ballads coursing through the air on Roosevelt Avenue provide an obvious clue as to what else to eat here.
Where to eat: Colombian immigrant Maria Piedad Cano, known as the Arepa Lady, built a reputation serving the big, buttery corncakes from a cart on Roosevelt Ave. She’s quite a character having famously hung up on the Food Network when they asked to film, and is said to have slapped Bizarre Foods presenter Andrew Zimmern for making arepas wrong. Visit Cano’s bricks-and-mortar site for bursting arepas with extra helpings of glazed, melt-between-the-teeth pork belly, drizzled with pineapple sauce.
Stick around for: Amaru Pisco Bar then steaming-hot tamales from late-night food carts on Roosevelt Ave.
82 St-Jackson Heights (26 min)
This multicultural neighbourhood is predominantly Hispanic, and refreshingly remains gentrification-free.
Where to eat: Culinary Backstreets tours delve deep into Latin cuisines and cultures in Corona and beyond, with knowledgeable local guides (ours was Arepa Lady’s son). Stops include Tulcingo Mexican bakery for conchas (sweet, sometimes neon-pink sugar-topped bread rolls) and hot chocolate thickened with corn meal; La Espiga for tender slow-cooked goat and crunchy cricket quesadillas; Frida Kahlo shrine Beky’s Bakery for chorizo, papalo, string cheese and pickled chipotle pepper-stuffed cemitas (huge sandwiches from Puebla, Mexico); and, finally, Seba Seba for doughnut-like Colombian buñuelos.
Stick around for: Louis Armstrong House Museum, in the jazz musician’s former home.
103 St-Corona Plaza (30 min)
With a large Asian population away from the hustle of Manhattan, Flushing has been described as “New York’s real Chinatown”.
Where to eat: New World Mall Food Court is as authentic as it gets. There’s everything from offal-heavy, tongue-numbing Sichuan dishes, to steaming congees, oyster pancakes, Taipei-style purple rice rolls and a karaoke booth. From communal tables, watch chefs hand-pull ropes of dough into noodles for soups and stir-fries at Lanzhou Handmade Noodles. Tian Fu is a master of sharing bowls: pick from various meats, tofu and a spectrum of mushrooms and veggies like lotus root. Finish with a mango, matcha or durian layered-crêpe cake from T Baar.
Over in Arcadia Mall, you’ll find Tianjin-born chef Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy. The Bib Gourmand restaurant that’s just become a James Beard semi-finalist started as a cart serving three types of pork dumpling – You now makes more than 100. Try spinach-dough soup dumplings and the four-seasons with sweetcorn, carrot, edamame and mushroom.
Stick around for: A walk through Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Queens Botanical Gardens.
Flushing Main St (40 min)
Buzzy Moxy Times Square (from $139 per night) is in central Manhattan, close to the 7 train. It’s a modern, design-focused micro-hotel with compact rooms and great shared spaces. Its excellent Legasea restaurant serves fresh, sustainable takes on NYC seafood classics (think grilled branzino and shellfish towers) with craft cocktails. Sharing a similar vibe, the just-opened Moxy Chelsea (from $159 per night) is a few blocks south in the flower district. Enter through the flower shop to be greeted by enthusiastic staff, then head to the rooftop lounge for DJ sets, flower workshops, pizza-making classes and views all the way to the Hudson.
British Airways flies from London to New York from £283 return.
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