Brooklyn may get the lion’s share of New York’s non-Manhattan glory, but Queens dwellers (including this author) know their borough is pretty damn special. What it lacks in plethoras of hipster-filled, exposed-brick cafes, artisanal charcuterie plates, and indie bookstores, it makes up for with vibrant art scenes (RIP, 5POINTZ), searing urban landscapes, slice joints, and off-the-hook affordable ethnic eats that're the welcome result of living in the city’s epicenter for cultural diversity.
Here are 20 reasons (most of which you can go do) why Queens is actually the best borough. NO Jersey, you're not a borough. Stop it.
Warm Up at MoMA PS1
Every summer Saturday, these all-day al fresco soirees in the courtyard feature a lineup of DJs, dancing (without having to drop a ton of money), and a line you're gonna want to get in quick, if you want to get into the club. Hungry? Yeah, you're gonna do M. Wells Dinette.
Actual, authentic Thai cooking -- wherein spicy, sweet, sour, and salty all successfully commingle, super nakedly -- proliferates in Woodside and Elmhurst. Here's how to do it right: get anything at SriPraPhai, the crispy catfish salad at Ayada, the fiery chicken larb at Ploy, and seafood-laden khao soi noodles at Chao Thai Too.
Sichuan cuisine (rightfully) gets the most buzz in Flushing, but when you're maxed out on cumin lamb, the Ganesh Temple Canteen -- located in THE BASEMENT of a beloved Hindu temple -- is the spot. Go up to the counter and order ghee-slicked dosas that are 1) mammoth, 2) paper-thin, and 3) best when in Pondicherry form (aka spiked with chiles, son!).
There's both water you can swim in (hello, public pool), and water you can year-round stare at (hello, East River... especially the views between the RFK and Hell Gate Bridges).
You’ll be hard-pressed (like, REALLY hard, we're talking borderline pushing) to find a better bowl of noodles than the one served up at this Elmhurst favorite. Uncle Zhou -- that’s owner Steven Zhou -- hails from Henan, Central China’s breadbasket, and it’s clear the man’s got a way with wheat. He stretches and twirls each mound of dough into delightfully chewy, never-ending ribbons that get knife-shaved and smattered with tomato, egg, and mushroom, or doused in vinegar.
Queens’ microbrew scene -- particularly in Astoria and Long Island City -- is thriving. One of the first to make a dent with its quality beers across the city is Astoria’s SingleCut Beersmiths. Hanging out in the brewery’s relaxed tap room, with a shepherd’s pie and the Mahogany Ale = Uh, yeah, let's do that.
I mean... Goodfellas was filmed at Neir’s Tavern. But if you need more: it's one of the city’s oldest bars (1829!). Unassumingly situated in Woodhaven, it's really one of its essential dives, with a mix of old-timer bar flies and bikers that make it one of the most memorable stops for a burger and a pint.
Acclaimed Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi designed a home for a bunch of his insane art in this open-air sculpture garden in the middle of industrial Long Island City. Basically, it's way more zen than a yoga class.
Food cart-laden Roosevelt Ave, one of Queens’ main drags, does late-night the way late-night should be done: with the scent of freshly griddled arepas, the 7 rumbling above, and muffled music filtering out of mysterious clubs. It's equal parts seediness and possibility. Actually, hopefully a little bit more possibility.
A finer drink in Queens will not be had than the one sipped at Dutch Kills. This dark, ambient bar is from Little Branch and Milk & Honey alum Richie Boccato, who's held court on a barren crook of Long Island City for five years now.
Wafa Chami does deep-cut Lebanese at her namesake Forest Hills restaurant -- from tender chicken shawarma, to smoky baba ghanoush, to parsley-dotted logs of kefta -- while her sons rove between the kitchen and dining room, dispensing killer homemade hot sauce and pouring inky black coffee. The signature dessert (which you're gonna order as soon as you read about it, EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT IN THE RESTAURANT)? A warm cheese oozing out from underneath a shredded, wheat-like kataifi.
Queens County Farm Museum
This is a place in Queens. This. Is. A. Place. In. Queens. The Queens County Farm in Little Neck, right on the Long Island border, has been around since 1697, and it’s one of the city’s most serene spots, complete with an orchard, freshly laid eggs, and house-made raw honey.
You have a soft spot for demolishing an old-school slice folded in half. In Queens, the place to do it is Dani’s House of Pizza, a Kew Gardens institution since 1959. Grab a stool at the counter, order a fountain seltzer, and then check out a movie at the porno film house(!!!!!)-turned indie cinema (ohhhhh...) across the street.
Formerly the old Pathmark supermarket on Long Island City’s car dealership-packed Northern Boulevard, Food Bazaar offers an abundance of fresh produce, 24 hours of fun, and ethnic delicacies galore (behold the extensive Goya selection), spanning Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper hot sauce, organic sushi rice, kimchee, and Ecuadorian sardines.
Legendary New Orleans trumpeter, Louis Armstrong, moved into a Corona home in 1943, and lived there with his wife, Lucille, for nearly 30 years before they turned it into a museum. If you haven't seen his gilded bathroom (yep, the entire wall is mirrored, which is pretty baller) and the trippy, futuristic blue kitchen, your life is just a little worse than everyone else's.
After undergoing a slick revamp in 2011, this institution is better than ever, with loads of cinematic artifacts, tons of screenings that often bring in celebrities (Martin Scorsese! Julia Louis-Dreyfus!), and an opportunity to play a vintage Space Invaders game, which is just awesome.
This Sunnyside lair run by the affable husband-and-wife team Dan and Tara Glasser is where you go to get your mid-century Danish home bar and an impressive stash of vinyl that they constantly replenish, including a first pressing of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Home to both the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs (do they still have those?), Flushing Meadows Corona Park remains an awesome place to check out landmarks like the The New York Hall of Science, Queens Theatre, the Unisphere, and the just-expanded Queens Museum, where you'll get all the world-class art of the Met, and none of the crowds.
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A longtime resident of Astoria, Alia Akkam was born in a Forest Hills hospital that no longer exists, lived out her tyke years in Laurelton, and, when not writing about food, drink, travel, and design for myriad outlets, is the editor of Edible Queens. Follow her on Twitter.
This article was originally published on April 10, 2014.
1. Museum of the Moving Image3601 35th Ave, Astoria
2. The Noguchi Museum9-01 33rd Rd, Long Island City
3. MoMA PS122-25 Jackson Ave, Queens
4. Louis Armstrong House Museum34-56 107th St, Corona
5. Ganesh Temple Canteen45-57 Bowne St, Flushing
6. Uncle Zhou83-29 Broadway, Elmhurst
7. Wafa's100-05 Metropolitan Ave, Forest Hills
8. La Porteña Restaurant74-25 37th Ave, Jackson Heights
9. Dutch Kills27-24 Jackson Ave, Queens
10. SriPraPhrai Thai Restaurant6413 39th Ave, Woodside
11. Ayada Thai7708 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst
12. Ploy Thai81-40 Broadway, Elmhurst
13. Chao Thai Too8437 Dongan Ave, Elmhurst
14. Rockaway Taco95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaway
15. Sayra’s91-11 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Far Rockaway
16. Uma’s92-07 Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaway Beach
17. Singlecut Beersmiths19-33 37th St, Astoria
18. Neir's Tavern87-48 78th St, Woodhaven
19. Stray Vintage & More4809 Skillman Ave, Sunnyside
20. Food Bazaar Supermarket4202 Northern Blvd, Astoria
21. Dani's House of Pizza81-28 Lefferts Blvd, Kew Gardens
This Queens museum is the only one in the US devoted to film, television, and digital media.
This Long Island City museum is devoted to the artistic works of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. It features two stories of Noguchi's sculptures, drawings, architectural models, furniture designs, and stage designs.
Founded in 1971, MoMA PS1 is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art institutions in the US, and serves as an exhibition space rather than a collecting institution.
This National Historic Landmark is the actual former home of Louis Armstrong and his wife, and it remains nearly exactly the way it was when the couple lived there in the 1940s. It is available for tours in which you can listen to actual recordings made by Louis while living there.
Authentic, buttery dosas are waiting for you in the basement cafeteria of a Hindu temple in Flushing. Open to anyone, Ganesh Temple Canteen serves a full menu of vegetarian south Indian food that includes tiffin items like puri roti and deep-fried lentil donuts, rice dishes, and of course, the aforementioned dosas. Made from a thin dough of rice and lentils, the dosas are huge, flaky, and served with toppings like red chutney and green chiles.
Owner Steven Zhou draws from his roots to serve up traditional Henan-style eats at this pint-sized Elmhurst restaurant. All of Zhou's specialties are spicy, savory, complex and far from the run-of-the-mill Americanized Chinese dishes. The regional da pan ji (big tray of chicken), a stew-like dish with bone-in chunks and potatoes doused in chile, star anise, and peppercorn seasoned sauce, is a must-try. Note: Uncle Zhou's is cash-only.
Chef Wafa Chami and her two sons give this Mediterranean Forrest Hills eatery a serious family feel. They'll serve you up some of their signature eats like chicken shawarma, their warm cheese pastry dessert, and even homemade hot sauce.
When it's steak night, point your knives in the direction of this Argentine locale. With servers dressed up in handkerchiefs at the neck and fancy belts that conjure thoughts of gauchos, you'll find your mark by either ordering the mixed grill - pork sausage, blood sausage, shirt steak, short ribs are all thrown in - or just the shirt steak.
Make a reservation for a booth as bar space is small but the crowds are not, and arrive a little early as you might walk right past this speakeasy with only a simple neon "BAR" sign as signage.
Not too many Manhattanites would trek to Woodside on the 7 train for a burn-your-face-off, please-extinguish-the-flames-in-my-esophagus spicy culinary experience, but that’s just the type of “Thai hot” you’re going to get at SriPraPhai. This cash-only joint is decorated sparingly but tastefully; the lime green walls are reminiscent of the curry you’ll order, and are a welcome addition to an otherwise ascetic dining room. The 130-plus item menu is dizzying, but the good news is you can’t go wrong with any of SriPraPhai’s traditional hot and spicy dishes. Follow your papaya salad appetizer with drunken noodles and Massaman curry, and when you can’t handle the heat anymore, give in and cool your insides with green tea ice cream, you masochist.
Small storefront, big taste when you ask for the "crispy pork upgrade" that you can request on any dish. Yes, crispy pieces of pork on any dish that just add on to the already sensory punching plates. N worries if it's too hot - which it will likely be; - there's coconut water to go around.
Between their crispy pork and their fresh, succulent papaya salad, Ploy Thai is known for being one of the freshest, most vibrant spots in Queens.
Chao Thai Too is the place to head if you're craving super authentic fish balls, soft shell crab, and sweet chili fried rice. Customize as many orders as you want, and leave feeling super fulfilled.
This Mexican food stand right by the water is undeniably as authentic as you're gonna get by the beach. Sidle up with some fresh pineapple mint juice, fresh plantains, and delectable tacos.
In Far Rockway stands Sayra's, a wine bar that's readily serving up pungent cheese platters, succulent olives, and a great assortment of vino.
Uma's is a hardcore Russian eatery that's got a great BYOB option, as well as a seriously juicy leg of lamb.
Singlecut's a brewery that runs at ~30 barrels of beer/day, meaning there's lots of good beer to go around. The tasting room is outfitted with a stage for impromptu jam sessions and various small bites are available for you to get your nosh on.
Neir's Tavern is a great stop in Woodhaven with live, local music, hearty pub food, and a list of house cocktails to back up their beer selection. Johnny Cash rules the jukebox, Mae West's visage looks out at the bar where she once performed, and they filmed part of Goodfellas inside.
Stray Vintage has everything from musical instruments to clothing to wall hangings and furniture, plus an impressive collection of vinyl (records, not furniture).
Standing proudly in the old Pathmark spot, the Food Bazaar is conveniently open 24hrs to offer you ethnic delicacies like Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper hot sauce and Ecuadorian sardines.
This pizza spot has been around since slices were going at 25 cents a pice (1963 to be exact). There's a larger Italian restaurant connected next door, but this is the place to hit up when you're in desperate need of a quick, tasty, no-frills slice.