Food & Drink

The Definitive Sunnyside, Queens Dining Guide

Published On 10/07/2016 Published On 10/07/2016
chicken astoria
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Cemitas El Tigre

Best tacos: Cemitas El Tigre

When this trendy Mexican sandwich spot, which started out as a Smorgasburg stand, popped up out of nowhere with craft beer and tacos directly across from a 24-hour laundromat and the bodega-of-all-trades (Fiesta Market!), the neighborhood was naturally incredulous. But with good sangria, local beers on tap, a super-friendly staff, and the most inventive tacos in the neighborhood, Cemitas El Tigre quickly won everyone over. The two most popular tacos on the menu were inspired by owner Danny Lyu’s youth on the beach in Baja California -- a fish taco, made with Atlantic cod topped with just the right amount of chipotle mayo and slaw, and a Southern fried chicken taco, a nod to Lyu’s time manning a chicken shack in Cali. If you want to stick to the classics, the barbacoa taco is great as well, stuffed with enough meat that you’ll need both hands to hold it together. Best of all, if you come right before closing time, you might get offered a free shake (assuming whoever’s at the bar is feeling generous).

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Best diner: Alpha Donuts

Stop by Alpha Donuts at 3am if you ever want to feel like one of those NYC cabbies on the night shift in Taxi Driver. The 24-hour diner opened in 1976 and has hardly changed since, from the handwritten menu and the garishly red-and-yellow storefront to the antique cash register and the slightly grumpy but well-meaning older Greek gentlemen who dole out extra napkins unprompted. If there isn’t any room on the wrap-around counter for you to sit down and order the $5.95 breakfast special -- eggs, home fries, coffee, juice, and toast -- then get yourself a donut or a dozen (the latter is just $10) to go. Alpha makes the airiest French cruller and the richest Boston cream, both of which are far better than any gold-flaked donut you’ve seen on Instagram.

Best burger: Dog and Duck

Located on the edge of the historic Sunnyside Gardens, Dog & Duck is somewhere between a leather-upholstered gastropub and a cozy neighborhood watering hole. While it’s got solid Irish-pub standards like bangers and mash, the move is the Beef Burger, which is totally undersold by its name. The extra-thick patty comes stuffed with overwhelming amounts of cheddar and jalapeño, along with a side of Cajun fries for an extra kick. Honorable mention goes to Pete’s Grill, a 24-hour diner with the best, quick bacon cheeseburger you’ll get in Sunnyside at 4am.

Best brunch: The Haab Mexican Cafe

Someone here really likes Pinterest. Year-round at The Haab, you’ll find a colorful display of Jarritos bottles in the window and fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, though the general aesthetic varies based on whatever holiday or season is upcoming. (Do peek in ahead of Día de los Muertos for some sugar skull action.) Come in on the weekend for the tiny cafe’s extensive brunch menu featuring selections like eggs with grilled cactus and a side of home fries and rice & beans, classic huevos rancheros, and caramel pancakes. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying a giant piece of homemade flan drizzled in caramel and topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream.

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Best Peruvian: Los Pollos

This small, family-run restaurant is famous for its mango mousse and live music every Saturday night, but most importantly, it boasts the best Peruvian green sauce (aji verde) in Sunnyside, which deserves to be bottled up and sold to the masses. If you couldn’t tell by its name, Los Pollos serves up excellent spit-roasted chicken -- which you should generously apply that green sauce to -- but it’s actually the seafood, like the mixed ceviche (shrimp, mussels, squid, fish) in spicy lemon juice, or the mixed seafood soup (a must-have on a cold day), that keeps people coming back.

Best Turkish: Mangal Kabob

Mangal is a super-casual Turkish spot, the type of place with a giant backlit menu over the counter. It may not look as inviting as its nearby competitor Turkish Grill, with its tablecloths and window seating (and very good manti -- lamb dumplings in yogurt sauce), but Mangal is a quick-stop neighborhood gem. Start with the red-lentil soup, blended with hints of red pepper and presented with a side of fluffy bread (which you can get a giant paper bag of if you order delivery). After that, opt for a combo of grilled classics like lamb adana or shish kebab, or go veggie and get a falafel in either a traditional pita pocket or the famous fluffy bread. And don’t forget the “pide” -- more bread, but coated in gooey cheese.

Best sushi: Takesushi

You won’t find NYC sushi-royalty Robin Kawada plating mayo-slathered, marinated pieces of tuna or mackerel. His goal is to have his guests understand the true flavor of the fish -- which is why he strives for top-quality ingredients that can stand on their own. Kawada wakes up every day at 3am to trek to Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, loading up on rare finds to bring back to the restaurant -- including any special seasonal fish imported from Japan. (Be sure to ask if there’s anything special in the kitchen -- it won’t be on the menu). It’s been argued that he was the first to open an exclusively sushi Japanese restaurant in New York City with his first iteration of Takesushi in 1975 (which closed in 1996 after he ventured into the fish distribution business). The Sunnyside iteration, which opened in 2012, boasts somewhat high prices for the neighborhood, but it’s still more affordable than what you’d find in Manhattan, especially when you take into consideration the quality, freshness, and thickness of the cuts of fish on your plate. To experience the widest variety, order the colorful Kaisendon, an assortment of sashimi cuts like blue-fin tuna, scallops, salmon, and uni over rice.

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Best Italian: SoleLuna

Family-run Soleluna opened up on a (relatively) quiet corner of Queens Blvd last year and has since left Sunnysiders lining up for the warm and gooey arancini (rice balls), which change daily. For something a bit more filling, a crowd favorite is the “Fagottini alla Valerio” -- a house-made “ravioli-style” pasta dish, stuffed with salty cheese and sweet pears in a rosemary butter sauce. The tiramisu is a must-have dessert, with light, creamy layers that offer just the right balance of sweetness and coffee flavor. As for the service, we’ll leave you with an anecdote: a local once asked for the tiramisu to go, which they don’t normally do, but they graciously packed the dessert as-is in the restaurant’s own glass mugs and sent her home with it anyway.

Best bar food: Bar 43

If you’re from Sunnyside, you’ll always see someone you know at Bar 43 -- and for good reason. With sidewalk-side seating and a newly expanded interior, this part-restaurant, part-sports bar is the perfect after-work drinking den (as well as the perfect place for a hollandaise-drenched brunch). Most importantly, it’s known for having bar food that’s way better than it needs to be. Get a plate of wings coated in as much spicy Buffalo sauce as you can handle, paired with one of 32 different beers on tap. The potato skins and nachos really lean into the meaning of “loaded,” so be prepared for that -- and if you can’t choose, do yourself a favor and get the appetizer platter, a combo of any four apps on the menu.

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Best Thai: Blu Orchid

You know when restaurants warn you about how spicy their dishes are and then the food doesn’t even live up to the threats? Blue Orchid doesn’t bother warning you, but we mean that in the best way possible. If you get the medium spice-level drunken noodles (be sure top it off with flank steak) grab a Thai-iced tea on the side -- the condensed milk will help your flaming tongue calm down enough to take another bite. The teas here are also huge, and the ice is made up of even more frozen tea, so you’ll be very well prepared.

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1. Cemitas El Tigre 45-14 48th Ave, Woodside, NY 11377

A Smorgasburg stand turned brick-and-mortar, Cemitas El Tigre is serving 10-layer (10!) cemitas, tacos, burritos, and milkshakes in Woodside. If you're bold enough to take on the cemita, do some mouth exercises before attacking the sesame-seed bun filled with your choice of meat (barbacoa, carnitas, or Southern fried chicken), avocado, Oaxaca cheese, chipotle, papalo, pickled onions, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and black bean puree. When it comes to tacos, fans of this airy counter-serve opt for the Atlantic cod or Southern-fried chicken, the latter of which is a nod to the owner's time manning a chicken shack in California. Pro tip: come right before closing time, and you might get a shake on the house. They’re served in old-fashioned glasses and come in three flavors: dark chocolate, vanilla bean, and strawberry.

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2. Alpha Donuts 45-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104

Tucked beneath the elevated 7 train subway platform in Sunnyside, this tiny sit-down diner serves a wide array of bang-for-your-buck dishes, plus destination-worthy donuts. The all-day menu features everything from three-egg omelettes and full Irish breakfasts to chicken souvlaki and tuna melts. Made fresh daily, the donuts are so light and fluffy that you almost need two (or three) to fill you up. Craving a cruller at 3am? Alpha's got you covered -- it's open 24 hours.

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3. The Dog and Duck 45-20 Skillman Ave, Sunnyside, NY 11104

On the edge of Queens' historic Sunnyside Gardens is The Dog and Duck, a corner Irish pub that has the laid-back vibe of a neighborhood watering hole and a kitchen that takes Irish classics up a notch in dishes like grilled pork bangers with scallion mash, and fish & chips served atop pea puree. Not to mention, the burger here is reason alone to come to Sunnyside: an extra-thick patty stuffed with cheddar and jalapeño, and served with a side of spicy Cajun fries. Cozy up in leather-upholstered banquettes with one of the house cocktails, like “Hair of The DOG (and DUCK),” mixed with ruby red Absolut, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, ruby red grapefruit juice, and champagne.

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4. The Haab Mexican Cafe 4722 48th St, Woodside, NY 11377

Row upon row of colored Jarritos bottles line the windows at The Haab Mexican Cafe: flashes of red, orange and green turning the sweet sodas into mini rainbows. Brunch is the word at this modest, family-owned spot in a space that was formerly a neighborhood bodega (you can tell, in a cute way). Go for the huevos rancheros (as if you weren’t going to already), served alongside a lake of refried beans, mounds of rice and two corn tortillas. Tortas (milanese de pollo, carne asada), tacos and flan draw lunch and dinner diners.

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5. Los Pollos 45-51 46th St, Woodside, NY 11377

The Peruvian style of roasted chicken has spread globally like wildfire (due mostly to its smoky, salty, cumin-laced appeal), only to become the namesake dish in this Sunnyside family-run restaurant. Rack after rack of wines on the exposed brick wall contrast with the gaudy blue and purple lights that shoot from the bar (you can’t take the Queens outta the place, ahrite). The pollo combo stands apart on the menu: a whole spit-roasted chicken (those unable to consume an entire bird can get half or quarter portions), with salad, rice & beans AND french fries. Don't skimp on the addictive green sauce (Aji verde). How many ways can Peruvians fry rice? At least seven here, with shrimp, chicken and several seafood variations. Live music on Saturdays make it a fiesta.

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6. Mangal Kabob 4620 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104

Just like most hole-in-the-wall eateries, what Mangal Kabob might lack in decor it makes up for in authentic Turkish cuisine. That is to say, we don’t care what it looks like as long as it’s good…and there’s no doubt that Mangal is top of it’s class in taste. Their traditional turkish menu options like shish kebabs, falafel, gyros, and baklava out-perform most any halal restaurant or food cart in the five boroughs. Not to mention they make endless freshly baked bread that has a reputation for superior fluffiness, and they even make Lahmacun (turkish pizza).

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7. Takesushi 4346 42nd St, Sunnyside, NY 11104

Japanese tradition rules the roost in Sunnyside sushi annex Takesushi, where owner Robin Kawada has one objective, and one objective only: serving fresh, high-quality fish. Takesushi offers items typical of your neighborhood sushi joint; salads and tempura bites are followed by a wide selection of sashimi, special rolls, and inside-out rolls. Of course, the menu’s star is its dedicated fish section, which features everything from monkfish liver to grilled mackerel to steamed manila clams and often details both country of origin and whether each fish is farm-raised or wild. In case you’re wondering, Kawada handpicks the catches he serves up at Fulton Fish Market every single morning. For the vegetarians among you, much of the produce served in the summer and fall months comes straight from Kawada’s sister’s garden in Westchester. A restaurant like Takesushi can get away with skipping the frills when it’s got food so fresh.

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8. SoleLuna 40-01 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104

SoleLuna was born from the beautiful marriage of restauranteurs hailing from both Southern and Northern Italy bringing together the iconic fish fare of the south and the north’s starchier, heavier dishes that we tend to favor. Sit at the cozy industrial-style bar or at one of the many intimate tables that fill the family-operated restaurant and indulge in the Monday night oyster special or the local favorite arancini (rice balls) that changes daily. The menu runs the gamut from Italian pastries for breakfast to familiar dishes like burrata (mozzarella and arugula), lasagna bolognese (lasagna with a red meatsauce), and tagliolini ai frutti del mare (pasta with shellfish in tomato sauce).

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9. Bar 43 4306 43rd St, Sunnyside, NY 11104

Sunnyside’s Bar 43 will be the answer to your prayers when you finally get tired of hosting game day in your shoebox apartment. With flat screen TVs in every direction, you’ll plop yourself onto one of the red leather, studded barstools (this place doesn’t skimp on style) and order Bar 43’s signature nachos that will rival even your buddy’s illustrious tailgate recipe. The menu is dominated by standard bar bites, like tacos, spring rolls, and, if you’re feeling wild, a bucket of “Atomic” wings to share with your crew. Spice levels range from mild and medium to “hot,” “abusive,” and “nuclear” intensities. Without a doubt, you’re going to require one of the thirty beers on tap to extinguish whatever’s going on in your mouth after that.

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10. Blu Orchid 45-04 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104

When you order thai food, your first thought is usually just about scarfing down those piping hot rice noodles—we can’t blame you. At Blu Orchid, surrounded by jade green, raw wood accents, and ambient lighting, your meal isn’t just delicious but also really easy on the eyes. Blu Orchid makes an effort to present food that looks almost as fresh as it tastes, like their crowd favorite Thai Iced Tea, made with Thai tea ice cubes, and the adorable cup of taro custard—their answer to creme brûlée. And yes, they deliver (in more ways than one).