See if this sounds familiar: You love seafood, but you don’t love to cook, and you especially don’t love to deep-fry. So you’ve accepted the fact that you’ll eat seafood only in restaurants. But good restaurant seafood tends to be pricey. As a result, except for the occasional splurge, your seafood intake pretty much begins and ends with fish ‘n’ chips at the local pub.
The solution: Astoria Seafood (37-10 33rd Street, Long Island City, Queens, 718-392-2680). Owned for three generations by a Greek-American family — which moved the operation from its namesake Astoria to its current location in Long Island City a few years ago — this popular Queens destination is a top-notch fishmonger selling all the usual fare, but with a twist: After you pick out your shrimp, red snapper, scallops, or other selection, they’ll either grill or fry it and then bring it to you at a table in their chaotic but festive seating area, at no extra charge. So you get a cooked seafood meal — plus optional side dishes — with market-fresh fish, at fishmonger prices. (If you want to cook your seafood yourself, they’ll happily wrap it for you and send you on your way, but eat-ins tend to outnumber take-outs.)
Admittedly, this system is not without its hassles. The place is usually jam-packed, so expect some jostling while you pick out your fish. And you’ll be the one picking it out — the staff is generally too harried to offer much assistance, so be prepared to grab a plastic bag and help yourself to that grouper fillet or swordfish steak. After your seafood has been weighed, priced, and sent to the kitchen, the wait for your table may take the better part of an hour, and you may be spending it out on the sidewalk. (Pro tip: The 7-Eleven across from the nearby 36th Street subway stop will paper-bag you a 24-ounce Narragansett for two bucks.)
Astoria Seafood’s eccentric spirit is personified by Helen Faroupos, who does triple duty as hostess, waitress, and all-purpose New York character. Get on her good side and you’re golden; get on her bad side (or just catch her on a bad day) and she’ll go from zero to cranky in no time flat. Either way, she practically qualifies as entertainment. One minute she’s arguing with the fry cooks about someone’s order; the next she’s responding to a request for lemon wedges by wordlessly depositing a plate of them on your table as she walks by; then she’s muttering, “I need a break” and heading out to the sidewalk for a cigarette. Only in New York, kids.
In any event, you can’t beat the prices: During a recent visit, swordfish was $13.99 a pound, sea bass was $7.99 a pound, whole porgy was $4.99 a pound, and dinner for four — including a big Greek salad — clocked in at an insane $72. BYOB, too! Just don’t forget to tip generously, or you’ll be in Faroupos’s doghouse on your next visit.