The Astoria restaurant scene is booming: New spots open every week, which makes it difficult to keep up in this once-sleepy neighborhood. We checked out a few of the most intriguing newcomers, which range from a gastropub to a Venezuelan-Chinese mash-up.
Bowery Bay, 19-33 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, 718-721-1933
The former Bistro 33 space has been reimagined into Bowery Bay, a gastropub with an expanded bar and open storefront that looks onto a picturesque stretch of Ditmars Avenue. The globally-influenced food, courtesy of executive chef Gary Anza and chef de duisine Evan Orlic, comes in small, medium, and large plates, with flavors that range from French-Canadian to Anglo-Indian. The Sloppy Goat elevates American cafeteria food to a more sophisticated international sandwich, with a rich sauce incorporating curried peas and saag paneer. Moo shu tacos, wrapped in scallion pancakes, balance velvety foie gras with chard, cabbage, and spiced yogurt. Green garlic mashed wontons are reminiscent of samosas, but they get a southern twist with a bright pink pickled rhubarb sauce. The rich, pleasingly complex dishes pair well with cocktails like a crisp ginger beer margarita, or a martini made with cucumber lime vodka, St. Germaine, and rhubarb bitters. There’s also a solid selection of wine and bottled and draft beer, including a Game of Thrones black stout — the restaurant shows the series every Sunday night on its big screen.
Astoria Bier and Cheese, 35-11 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, 718-255-6982
This specialty liquor store-cheesemonger-panini purveyor recently expanded northward from its original Broadway location to Ditmars Avenue. The new shop has cider and beer on tap, as well as a massive bottled beer selection, from which you can pick and choose for a build-your-own six pack. Decadent grilled cheeses like a bacon, bleu cheese, and maple syrup combo, along with snacks like a giant soft pretzel with bier cheese, round out the food menu. Pairings bring a flight of four mini beers and four cheeses, presented appealingly on a slate with descriptions written in chalk. On a recent visit, the standout was an intense smoked gouda balanced with a wheat beer. And there’s good news for the summer months: Staff says they plan to open a backyard garden.
The Bao Shoppe, 3066 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718-777-1883
Chinese steamed buns are crossed with quirky fillings at this fast food-ish new spot on Steinway Street. The snack-sized baos, which you can easily polish off in a few bites, come in classic form like the O.G. — made with pork belly — or as nods to American comfort food, like the Colonel Bao, made with fried chicken. Vegetarians are welcome, too, with options like scallion pancakes and the Hungry Buddhist, which combines crispy tofu, shredded daikon radish, and kimchi. The Korean condiment makes another appearance piled atop French fries with spicy mayo; adding your choice of meat makes a mean munchies-killing feast. Look, too, for a range of drinks, including bubble teas, and a gallery to check out while you wait, curated by Brooklyn-based artist Peter Yip.
Pao & Cha Cha, 2303 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria, 646-494-6770
Fusion food may be considered passé, but this tiny, friendly spot blends Venezuelan and Chinese flavors rather seamlessly; both cuisines are allowed to shine. The menu spans ceviche to skirt steak, with some pan-Asian detours like chicken teriyaki, pork chops with adobo sauce, and Vietnamese coffee. Empanadas paired with a bright cilantro salsa and playeros — fried plantains topped with cheese and more of the cilantro sauce — make satisfying, surprisingly un-greasy bites. There are also freshly made Venezuelan juices in flavors like passionfruit, soursop, and mango. Best of all, Pao & Cha Cha’s husband-and-wife owners are committed to the community, delivering lunch boxes to locals and offering evening classes on how to cook dishes like dumplings and ceviche.