f you’re going to have Greek food in New York City, you should go to Astoria. And if you’re only going to have Greek food in NYC one time, you must
go to Astoria. Just across the East River (minutes from Midtown
, in realtor speak), the northwest Queens neighborhood beckons visitors with a taste of the Mediterranean, by way of the 59th Street or Robert F. Kennedy bridges. Named in the 19th century for multimillionaire John Jacob Astor, the sprawling Queens neighborhood has long been a haven for Greek transplants
, offering both a fresh start and familiar comforts, via a healthy mix of churches, social clubs, and cultural centers. And the area’s dining scene reflects those blue-and-white roots more than any other part of NYC.
Of course, Astoria is a hub for all manner of cuisine and communities -- expect to savor the smell of freshly baked bread when passing the various Italian bakeries and pastry shops, pass enticing taco trucks, see old school diners and barbecue destinations, and spot scented smoke billowing out of the hookah lounges in Little Egypt, on Steinway Street. But there’s a reason Astoria is known as the Mount Olympus for Greek food in New York City. Wherever you sample moussaka, orzo with lamb, grilled octopus, souvlaki, pastitsio, spanakopita, and tzatziki in the neighborhood, you’ll be reminded of Greece.
Many Greek eateries are concentrated near Ditmars Boulevard, the final stop on the N/W subway line. The elevated train tracks that run up 31st Street lend that long stretch a sort of cinematic look, intermittently casting tall shadows on the mom and pop shops below. The yellow line rumbles overhead, spilling commuters onto commercial avenues packed with bodegas, nail and hair salons, wine shops and fruit stands. You’ll catch the neon glow of big banks and corporate coffee chains, too, but, for now at least, they’re less of a blight than they are back in Manhattan. Astoria still feels like a neighborhood; a decidedly Greek enclave of people who’ve made their homes nearby but who still maintain a connection to someplace far away. You can have a taste of that connection by sitting down for a meal.