Portions of this article have been updated.
Rego Park may not have much in the way of nightlife variety—unless silicone and fistfuls of singles are your thing—but what it lacks in party and hangout space, it more than makes up for in the variety of ethnic restaurants and food shops that line its main thoroughfares—Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive. Once dominated by its huge Russian and eastern European Jewish populations, the neighborhood, like the rest of Queens, has undergone a marked diversification in the past couple of decades, and those stately apartment buildings and cookie-cutter A-frame homes are now more likely to be filled with Russian-speaking Bukharans, Indonesian U.N. employees, or Korean deli owners. That mix of ethnicities—the 11373 zip code in Elmhurst next door is the most diverse in the country—makes for a great assortment of ethnic markets and restaurants catering to a mostly immigrant neighborhood that likes things the way they’re done in the old country, which means authenticity rules the day. Not much pretentious nouveau-fusion nothing here. Appropriately, this middle- and lower-middle-class community’s biggest claim to fame is that Art Spiegelman’s Maus-inspiring parents lived here. There may be very little park in Rego, (good for fostering Pulitzer-winning cartoonists, bad for Wiffle ball) but with Forest Park to the south and Flushing Meadows–Corona Park to the north, there’s more than enough green space nearby to make up for the local lack of swings and grass.
Boundaries: The Long Island Expressway to the north, approximately one block past Woodhaven Boulevard to the west, 67th Road to the east, and Yellowstone Boulevard to the southeast.
Transportation: Take the R or the V to Woodhaven Boulevard or 63rd Drive, or the Q11, Q29, Q38, Q53, and Q59 buses from approximately everywhere else to their convergence point at the intersection of Queens and Woodhaven boulevards. About 50 minutes from Union Square.
Main Drags: Queens Boulevard is where locals do most of their shopping, strolling, and car-dodging, as chain stores from P.C. Richard to Sears line the high-traffic shopping zone that extends westward into Elmhurst. Sixty-third Drive is also perpetually car- and foot-clogged during business hours.
Average Price to Rent: Studios generally rent for $800 to $900; one-bedrooms go for between $1,000 to 1,200; two-bedrooms range between $1,400 and $1,700; and three-bedrooms, when they can be found, rent for between $1,700 and $2,000.
Average Price to Buy: According to E-Z Sell Realty’s Igor Rafailov, studio apartments sell for $70,000 and up; one-bedrooms go for between $100,000 and $180,000; two-bedrooms cost anywhere between $180,000 and $300,000; and three-bedrooms will run you anywhere from $240,000 to $350,000. The prices range so widely because of the neighborhood’s mix of private homes and high-end apartments, and real estate gets more expensive the closer you get to dressed-up Forest Hills.
Landmarks: Not a one, unless you are an unrepentant geek wad like I am and get off on knowing that Vladek and Anna Spiegelman lived three blocks away, on 63rd Avenue and Carlton Street—and even then, it’s really not at all impressive.
Community Hangouts: There is limited playground and park space, but as the skateboarders who have been known to brave the blacktopped slope that wraps around the Queens Boulevard–westbound L.I.E. entrance ramp can attest, there is a need for more appropriate, less death-defying recreation space. The Parks Department’s Lost Battalion Hall on Queens Boulevard fitness center trades aging workout equipment for local outdoor amenities.
Best Restaurants: London Lennie’s (63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard, 718-894-8084) never disappoints, with its wide variety of high-quality seafood and Italian food options. The cioppino intimidates with piles of mussels, clams, shrimp, and lobster in an herb tomato sauce on a bed of linguine ($21.80). But my money usually goes to the unassuming Rego Park Café (94-14 63rd Drive, 718-459-2233), where the Yenta banter provides a homey backdrop to a nice bowl of matzoh ball soup ($1.85), or a hot open pastrami sandwich ($8.75); either is best washed down with an old-school, fountain-style cherry-lime rickey ($1.50).
Best Stores: While Queens Boulevard has a wide array of national chain stores (Bed, Bath & Beyond; Marshalls) and 63rd Drive has its share of small shops to buy what must be some of the chintziest bric-a-brac this side of Flushing’s Main Street, the real retail action is going on right across the neighborhood border at the Queens Center Mall, which has recently expanded to include dozens of new stores, including Hot Topic, Rave Girl, Urban Outfitters, a Sanrio store, the area’s first Starbucks, and its second Applebee’s (within three blocks of each other). Eatin’ extra good in the neighborhood.
Politicians: City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (Democrat), State Assemblyman Michael Cohen (Democrat), State Senator Serphin Maltese (Republican), and Congressman Anthony Weiner (Democrat).
Crime Stats: True to its quiet, residential appearance, Rego Park is a safe neighborhood. As of November 22, 2005, the 112th Precinct, which covers both Rego Park and neighboring Forest Hills, reported 1 murder, 9 rapes, 61 robberies, 200 felony assaults, and 664 burglaries. (As of July 27, the 112th Precinct, which covers both Rego Park and neighboring Forest Hills, reported no murders for the past year, according to community affairs officer Dave Valovage. The other reported major crimes during the same period: one rape, 115 robberies, 37 assaults, 178 burglaries, 356 larcenies, and 175 stolen cars. Even the so-called “Boulevard of Death,” whose busiest intersections lie in the Rego Park–Forest Hills areas, have seen a marked improvement lately—zero deaths in the past year, which Valovage attributes to a new aggressive education and safety campaign.)