At one point, Jackson Heights was home to New York’s greatest Indian restaurants. But most of the neighborhood’s Indian families decamped a couple decades ago, leaving the neighborhood for communities such as Glen Oaks and New Hyde Park along the Nassau County border, as well as Jersey City, Edison, and Iselin, New Jersey. The quality of Jackson Heights’ Indian restaurants has suffered, though new waves of Pakistani and Bangladeshi cooks have carved out impressive niches of their own.
You can still get noteworthy Indian food in Queens if you know where to look. In the basement canteen of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, in Flushing, for instance, you’ll find stellar dosai and uttapams, and Southern Spice, out in the ‘burbs, continues to ace Chettinad cooking that bristles with heat.
Then there’s Adda, the newest restaurant on this list and also the most chic. Indi-pop reverbs off the narrow space's walls, one of which is papered with news clippings about Indian culture; the space projects a downtown party in a decidedly un-hip corner of Long Island City. Chef Chintan Pandya and owner Roni Mazumdar opened it last year to universal accolades for their upscale menu that refuses to water down Indian flavors—see the luxuriously slick bheja fry, a dish of pan-fried goat brains that's a difficult find even by Queens standards.
The spice rub on Pandya’s tandoori poussin will make you sweat. Homemade paneer tastes genuinely homemade, with the creamy give of barely warmed fresh mozz. And when you remove the dough-skin lid off your bowl of biryani (currently featuring goat), all you can do is surrender to the heady fragrance.
The only mistake you can make with a menu this strong is not ordering enough of it. It’s not that the portions are small—quite the opposite—but rather that you won’t want to stop eating.
Maybe I’m too biased now, but I still think Helen’s dumplings are the best in town, and you can choose from over 100 kinds at her flagship restaurant, Dumpling Galaxy. To start: The lamb and green-squash ones are deservingly popular, so juicy they’ll ruin your white shirt, and buzzed with the faintest tickle of Sichuan peppercorn. Definitely order the soup dumplings, fall-apart tender inside and wrapped in gossamer skins, and don’t sleep on the chicken wings, which are marinated in soy sauce and rice wine, then battered and fried to an immaculate crispness.
The palatial Dumpling Galaxy began as the humble Tianjin Dumpling House, a corner stall in the basement of Flushing’s famous Golden Shopping Mall. Long-rumored renovations have led several vendors in the mall to close up shop. Tianjin is still there for now, with a scant dozen types of dumplings and some commendable cold vegetable dishes; in line with the setting, it’s a much cheaper meal than what you'll find at Dumpling Galaxy.
Visit the mall while you can to pay respects to a Flushing food OG; when Tianjin eventually closes, both the main Dumpling Galaxy and a satellite stall in the new Hong Kong Food Court will keep the dumplings boiling.
Eddie's Sweet Shop
At around 100 years old, Eddie’s is the oldest ice cream parlor in New York, and not much has changed at the charming Forest Hills scoop shop since the roaring ‘20s. That includes the well-preserved marble counter, and swivel stools varnished with a century’s worth of butts in search of egg creams, malts, and sundaes overflowing with hot fudge. Everything here is made in-house, down to whipped cream so thick you could rest your spoon on it. Eddie’s was my go-to ice cream parlor growing up, and it deserves to be yours as well.
In terms of raw quality, the ice cream at Eddie’s is fine. Coffee chip and butter pecan are my picks of the lot for their dense creaminess and intensity of flavor, but any of the flavors will work wonders when used in a milkshake or sundae.
The default shakes are just about perfect, thick enough to gently resist suction through a straw; you can also add an extra scoop for a "thick shake," if that’s your thing. The sundaes, on the other hand, are perfect. You’ll want to triple down with tacky hot fudge, marshmallow sauce, and butterscotch, which form a drizzly, sticky mess on a pewter dish below the bowl. Navigating this sugary avalanche (don’t forget that cap of whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles, natch) is more an event than a dessert—you order an Eddie’s sundae with friends as an act of bonding.
Over in Elmhurst, a cluster of restaurants and markets makes up Queens’ unofficial Thai Town, which serves a diverse mix of Thai, Chinese, Filipino, Malaysian, and Indonesian locals. Many restaurants are family affairs, where the older, more experienced generation runs the kitchen while their kids manage the dining room. The result is uncompromising Thai food cooked for Thai palates, served in chic spaces built around the aesthetics of Thai youth culture. Meanwhile, at markets like Pata and Thai Thai Grocery, you can score everything from frozen pandan leaves to fresh air-shipped durian, along with all kinds of hand-imported Thai ingredients that are almost impossible to find in the US.
Each of Thai Town’s restaurants has its own specialty, and my favorite spot changes weekly. This week, that’s Khao Kang, a cutely decorated steam-table operation dedicated to southern Thai specialties like twangy fermented-bamboo curry and a searing dish called kua kling: loose ground pork dressed in curry paste, suggesting a Bangkok-style sloppy joe.
I love nearby Ayada for seafood and Chao Thai for fresh salads, but Khao Kang’s saucy home-style cooking is the kind of food I could eat every day. Twelve bucks gets you your choice of three dishes over an ample helping of rice; even by Queens standards, it’s a hell of a deal.
King of Falafel and Shawarma
Fares Zedeia—"Freddy" to his regulars, whom he greets with a mile-wide grin and a fresh-from-the-fryer falafel ball—is a hero in Astoria, where he’s been the undisputed king since 2002. Before that, he drove a cab, but when he realized that New York was lacking in the soulful street food of his Ramallah youth, he decided to open a cart. Over the years, that one cart has become a sit-down restaurant, a giant lime-green truck that parks on Ditmars Boulevard, and a separate cart in Midtown. For a while, he even sold frozen falafel mix to fry at home.
Freddy’s Palestinian-style falafel is oblong, not spherical, and, thanks to his order volume, it’s always served warm. Instead of a pita-wrapped sandwich, opt for a falafel plate over basmati rice, with a generous helping of cucumber and purple-turnip pickles, tahini, and a fiery hot sauce. To really do things right, add some of the chicken or beef-and-lamb shawarma to your meal; on top of his standout falafel, Freddy makes the best plate of halal cart–style street meat in the city.
The Lemon Ice King of Corona
It’s hard to find a decent Italian ice these days, but the 75-year-old Lemon Ice King will show you what a transcendent one tastes like. The shop sits across the street from Spaghetti Park, a sliver of green space that at night transforms into an all-star bocce tournament between the neighborhood’s Italian and Latin American residents. These two things together make as happy a summer night as you could hope for. We have footage to show what I mean.
What is an Italian ice? Basically, a leaner, lighter sorbet, and a descendent of the shaved-ice granitas that southern Italian immigrants brought with them to New York during the 1800s. Since there’s so little sugar in it, Italian ice freezes hard; the secret to plush, scoopable ice is to eat it within a few hours of mixing. Despite dozens of flavors on the menu, there’s enough turnover at the King to ensure you’ll always get a fresh, soft scoop, made without any of the gums and stabilizers that plague lesser versions.
The lemon, studded with tart bits of lemon pulp, is classic, naturally. On my second round, I usually go for the tangerine, and on round three, a delicious dark horse: peanut butter.
Nepali Bhanchha Ghar
The last 20 years have seen a boom of immigration to the US from Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, and many people from these places have settled in Jackson Heights. Immigration plus 10 years in America usually translates into restaurants, and the neighborhood is now chock-full of Himalayan sit-down spots and carts.
My current favorite is the relatively new Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, though I’m also a fan of longtime fixtures like Phayul, Woodside Cafe, and Amdo Kitchen. However, they don’t make sweet-rice doughnuts. Bhanchha Ghar does. This alone makes it worth a visit.
That doughnut’s proper name is sel roti, and it’s a lightly sweetened ring of glutinous rice that, when fried, achieves a chewy-sweet-savory character that no cake or yeast doughnut ever could. It’s served with a tomato relish that tastes oddly like pico de gallo, but it works—as does Bhanchha Ghar’s jhol momo, a delicately seasoned tomato and sesame seed broth full of juicy dumplings folded just minutes before cooking.
Bhanchha Ghar also offers a rare chance to try Nepali barbecue, such as flame-licked cubes of goat sekuwa jumbled with pungent spices, or a cold dish of chicken choila, made of grilled chunks of chicken that are then marinated with mustard oil and seasonings, which deeply penetrate the meat post-cook. Whether you eat in the tight ground-floor seating area or the spacious basement dining room, outfitted with the finest comfy office chairs at the tables, take note: The service here is well-meaning but fairly slow. It is certainly worth the wait.
Many of Queens’ best eats are found in markets, not restaurants, and Parrot Coffee is Exhibit A. Based in Ridgewood, with outlets in Astoria and Sunnyside, Parrot is a cornucopia of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Balkan specialty foods. When I lived near the Astoria location, I’d drop by two or three times a week, sometimes just to sniff around the olive bar, cheese case, and honey aisle. (Yes, aisle.) Now, whenever one of my Jackson Heights neighbor friends stops by its Sunnyside store, they know I have a standing request for them to pick me up a pint of homemade goat’s-milk yogurt, as thick as cream cheese and twice as tangy.
Beyond that exceptional yogurt, Parrot features an international tour of feta cheeses, each with its own fan base, from half a dozen Mediterranean countries. (Don’t be shy; ask for tastes!) There’s also a wide range of cured and smoked meats, fish, and roe, perfect for a brunch spread, plus all kinds of nostalgic packaged foods and pickles worth picking up for your pantry. And, while a store’s choices in music are hardly reason enough to hop on the subway, I can’t help but dance around a little to the Eurovision bops.
A patacon is a sandwich with fried, flattened green plantains taking the place of bread. Patacon Pisao is the city’s leading specialist in this stroke of Venezuelan genius, and my drunk-food destination of choice. Between those slabs of plantain come fillings like shredded beef with black beans, caramelized sweet plantain, and shreds of chewy, salty cheese, awaiting dabs of hot sauce and crema and squiggles of a can’t-stop-eating-it mayo-based green sauce. A vegetarian version with a brick of fried queso blanco also hits the spot.
Patacon Pisao began as a late-night cart in Washington Heights in 2005. In 2009, the Hernandez family, who own the business, opened their Elmhurst location as a sit-down restaurant. A Lower East Side incarnation, opened in 2015, is now the flagship, but the Queens spot is the one that calls to me.
Beyond its namesake sandwiches, Patacon Pisao does equally audacious versions of Venezuelan street snacks, like arepas and cachapas, the latter distinctly sweet from a fresh-corn batter. All three dishes are gluten-free, because I care about your health.
On a sunny day, Astoria feels as much like a quaint Mediterranean town as a neighborhood of New York City. I don’t think any other group of people loves to eat outdoors as much as Astorians do, particularly the Greek community, which has withstood rapid gentrification in recent years.
The neighborhood’s many tavernas—and their sidewalk seating—represent an important part of its Greek soul. They are also exactly where you should be eating (that is, when you’re not inhaling a magisterial gyro from BZ Grill, or buying heavenly pastries at Artopolis Bakery).
The most famous taverna in the area is Kyclades, which is a social scene as much as a restaurant, and one with a guaranteed wait. Frankly, I never quite got the appeal, though the fish there is done well. I prefer the slightly less grandiose Telly’s, which keeps the backyard-party vibe but features a more engaging menu.
You could make a whole meal from the appetizer section, and I often do. The fat gigante beans swimming in tomato, olive oil, and herbs are one of those dishes I think about longingly now that I don’t live nearby. Thin slices of zucchini fried up in tempura batter are another, especially when you factor in the garlic-loaded skordalia they’re served with. Order these, plus some Greek salad and spicy feta dip, and, while you wait, soak in the scene. If it’s a Friday night, there’s probably a birthday dinner happening somewhere in the dining room.
Take a moment to relish how lucky you are to be here. Then eat up.
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