Neither the 7 train thundering overhead nor the rising bourgie Brooklyn overflow into Sunnyside and Woodside have robbed these bordering neighborhoods of their charm. This may be the most diverse corner of the city’s most diverse borough, and the area’s annual St. Pat’s for All Parade — which, unlike Manhattan’s version, embraces LGBT participants — is emblematic of its inclusiveness. Restaurant-wise, your options span the globe, from Irish pubs to taquerias to Filipino fast food, and almost all are uniformly affordable. Here are the 10 best in the neighborhood.
10. I Love Paraguay (43-16 Greenpoint Avenue, 718-786-5534)
This cozy and colorful shop is one of the only Paraguayan spots in the city, so you’ll be forgiven if you’re not more familiar with the South American nation’s cuisine. Staff here are happy to explain the menu to you, which includes some of the best empanadas we’ve had: crispy and grease-free, encasing fillings like oozy ham and cheese and yucca. Try a few of the traditional Paraguayan dishes, like chipa guazu, which tastes like a cross between a soufflé and cornbread, with a rich fluffiness that likely comes from a generous amount of lard. Vori vori de pollo is another Paraguayan mainstay, a chicken soup with little balls bound together with corn flour and cheese, and a generous amount of cilantro — it would be especially comforting in winter.
9. Papa’s Kitchen (65-40 Woodside Avenue, 347-724-9586)
Woodside’s Little Manila enclave comprises a number of Filipino restaurants, shops, and groceries, but Papa’s Kitchen is the only place where you can belt out your best rendition of “Purple Rain” while waiting for your meal. Karaoke is taken seriously in the Philippines, but the mood is relaxed in this teeny, family-owned spot. Filipino cuisine’s roots come from culinary traditions of Southeast Asia, Spain, and the U.S., and that makes for bold and complex flavors, evident in the items here. Laing reminds a bit of Indian saag in appearance, but is in fact made with taro leaves, coconut milk, and crab. Dynamite lumpia are spring rolls filled with pork and jalapeño, and chicken adobo, likely the best-known Filipino food, is braised in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic — its resulting sauce is a singularly delicious byproduct.
8. Mangal Kabob (46-20 Queens Boulevard, 718-706-0605)
This Turkish halal spot is popular with cabbies, often a good indicator of affordability and authenticity. The eggplant salad, with its strong smoky flavor, makes for a sumptuous start, and the cheese pide, though simple, is also compulsively edible. Falafel have a pleasing crunch and taste fresh and green from the parsley on the inside. On the carnivorous end of things, there’s the usual round up of kebabs, with the charcoal-grilled lamb adana as a standout; a chicken gyro also stands up well to the spit, retaining its juiciness along with a nice char.
7. Natural Tofu (40-06 Queens Boulevard, 718-706-0899)
You could get your Korean fix in K-Town, but then you’re dealing with streets mobbed with folks commuting from Penn Station or the PATH train. So instead consider Natural Tofu, which offers soondubu, spicy Korean stews bubbling over in cast iron pots in the heart of Sunnyside. Tofu is fresh and silky, soaking up the burn of kimchi or the brine of shellfish. (If you’re feel feeling a bit edgy, go for the beef intestine stew.) The seafood pajeon unites green onions with shrimp and squid in a pancake that’s crisp outside and chewy inside, and goes perfectly with a bottle of soju.
6. Venturo Osteria & Wine Bar (44-07 Queens Boulevard, 718-406-9363)
A recent addition to Sunnyside, Venturo comes from the team behind Astoria heavyweights Pachanga Patterson and Vesta. The small menu hinges on seasonal ingredients, as in a summery, vegan white gazpacho soup, made with almonds, grapes, and lovage and thickened with bread for a little heft. On the richer end, caciocavallo cheese comes fried to a golden brown and served with speck and arugula; the house white wine is a good counterpoint to the dish’s lushness. Green and black lasagna, made with eggplant, béchamel, and kale, is a comforting variation on eggplant parmesan. Pizzas also incorporate fresh greenery — try the one with gorgonzola, spring onion, and a peppery pile of arugula atop a thin crust. And fans of Vesta will be happy to see that restaurant’s “baby Jesus cake” dessert makes an appearance here, as well.
5. Donovan’s Pub (57-24 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-429-9339)
The first major wave of immigrants to Woodside hailed from Ireland, and inside Donovan’s, a Queens landmark open (and mostly unaltered) since 1966, it feels like old times. This Irish pub is utterly immune to fads, as it should be — why tamper with the homey vibe that the fireplaces, stained glass windows, and affable service deliver? Or change the thick, juicy burger with steak fries? Ownership recently changed hands, but the new management thus far has maintained Donovan’s familial warmth, not to mention its solid brunch deal — an Irish breakfast with unlimited mimosas for under $15.
4. Taqueria Santa Fe (47-08 47th Avenue, 718-269-9946)
Nachos, despite their seeming simplicity, can be destroyed in so many ways: made damp and soggy by misplaced beans, for instance, or rendered inedible by flirtations with oddball ingredients. Happily, Taqueria Santa Fe, a newish, mostly takeout spot (there’s also outdoor counter seating), serves outstanding vegetarian nachos that manage to maintain their crunch beneath fresh veggies, guacamole, and sour cream. Tacos, too, are the real deal: al pastor sees pork cooked on a spit and sweetened by a pineapple marinade, chorizo marries spicy and sweet for a few, rich bites, and chicken tinga is tender and savory, thanks to a house-made chipotle sauce.
3. La Flor Bakery and Cafe (53-02 Roosevelt Avenue, 718-426-8023)
A noisy corner beneath the 52nd Street station is not where you’d expect to encounter charm, but La Flor, with its mosaic-covered tables and sun-filled space, has tons. Owned by Puebla-born Viko Ortega, who got his start as a pastry chef, the café has an enticing display case of baked goods, which helps make it the best brunch in the area. The menu leans toward Mexican but also dabbles in European cuisines — as with a chickpea spinach salad with Manchego, for instance — and quesadillas are a highlight, made with fresh masa tortillas and topped with artful swirls of green and red salsa. Come at dinnertime for heftier fusion entrees like salmon with pico de gallo, guacamole, and Poblano pickles.
2. SriPraPhai (64-13 39th Avenue, 718-899-9599)
There’s been plenty of debate over whether SriPraPhai is, in fact, the best Thai in NYC — there are a number of worthy rivals in Queens alone — but the restaurant, which expanded from a hole-in-the-wall to a food world darling, remains a star of the neighborhood. Get lost in the 100+ item menu, with items like a crispy watercress salad, which embodies the blend of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy that quality Thai food is meant to deliver, with the added sensation of crunch. Curries, with ingredients like duck and bamboo shoots bobbing within, are well-balanced, though you may need to insist you can handle the heat if you want yours Thai spicy. Our favorite plates include the fried red snapper, served whole with a tart green mango sauce, and the sautéed Chinese broccoli, gussied up with bites of crispy fried pork belly.
1. Salt & Fat (41-16 Queens Boulevard, 718-433-3702)
Salt & Fat feels like a microcosm of a changing Queens, with a cross-cultural menu from first-generation American chef, Daniel Yi, who grew up in the neighborhood, and a minimalist interior that will pass muster with the yuppies. True to the restaurant’s name, dinner starts with complimentary popcorn cooked in bacon fat, followed by a succession of small plates that broach Manhattan-fancy, minus the pretensions. There are in-vogue ingredients, like uni, served here on brioche and uplifted with the citrus kick of yuzu; Long Island duck breast is paired with lychees for a natural meeting of the domestic and the distant. The menu can be playful, too, as with a dessert of Rice Krispies and house-made marshmallow ice cream, a dish that tastes like it was devised by a genius child.