Not Brooklyn: Your Guide to NYC’s Coolest Borough
When Lonely Planet crowned Queens the top destination for tourists in the United States for 2015, I was, admittedly, a little surprised. Jackson Hole is a wonder. Miami is a sun-soaked paradise. Brooklyn—know it, love it. Queens, I had assumed after two decades in New York City, was a thoroughfare, a destination for airport-bound travelers alone.
How wrong I was. Prompted by the idea that seeing is believing, I started to explore the borough regularly, wandering through neighborhoods in Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing, where diverse communities blend with a growing population of shrewd hipsters. Queens has become the home of ramen connoisseurs, coffee geeks, and MoMA PS1—where modern art has found its creative playground on the waterfront. To get the most out of the borough, we bypassed Yelp and quizzed natives on the local spots that they give five stars.
The Local Expert: Sarah Obraitis, co-owner, M. Wells
Sarah Obraitis and her husband and co-conspirator, Hugue Dufour, have opened M. Wells Steakhouse and M. Wells Dinette at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City. When they opened the original M. Wells Diner, critics gasped. Sam Sifton wrote in his two-star review for the New York Times of a meatloaf that “blew everyone’s minds.” That it was in Long Island City was a revelation. Often credited as a godmother to Queens fine-dining fare, Obraitis introduced us to some of her favorite destinations.
Photo by Jesse Winter | Sarah Obraitis and Hugue Dufour own M. Wells Dinette and M. Wells Steakhouse in Long Island City.
Where to go grocery shopping…. Food Bazaar Supermarket, Long Island City
A 75,000 square-foot international food market, Food Bazaar Supermarket is stocked with everything from Inca-Kola to Indian corn. Even in New York, there are few places where Korean food lovers can purchase tubs of gochujang pepper paste at all hours. “Food Bazaar Supermarket is an unusually large and diverse supermarket,” says Obraitis. “It’s loads of fun. If you’re like us, you should plan on spending a lot of time here. The market stocks raw ingredients and brands from all over the world. We go [to shop for our] home and only for M. Wells when we’re in a pinch, but it works out nicely because they provide things in bulk and for a discount, and they have so so much to offer. The supermarket is oddly on the cutting edge of products and availability. We find weird and wonderful things there regularly.”
Where to go on the waterfront…. The Ferry at the LIC Landing, Long Island City
The views at LIC Landing alone could draw visitors. Set against the Manhattan skyline, LIC Landing boasts some of the best outlook points in the area. But even without the Manhattan scene, the outdoor public space has plenty to offer. Amble through the 2,000 square-foot venue and take in the brand-new park at Hunters Point South. “Hop on at LIC Landing and then head south on the ferry for cool views into the slips of Brooklyn,” says Obraitis.
Courtesy LIC Landing
The best meal with a view is…. Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill, Long Island City
Another waterside spot Obraitis loves is Anable Basin Sailing Bar & Grill . “Behind a chain-link fence at the end of 44th Drive, there’s this long, wide industrial patch in Long Island City to relax with a short but good, and different, food menu,” says Obraitis. “We very much like the chevapi—a bunch of Eastern European sausages with a red pepper sauce on a pita. It’s a refreshing and unlikely offering at the riverside setting.”
The best street for a food crawl is…. 74th Street, Jackson Heights
For a meal beyond Long Island City, Obraitis recommends a short subway ride to Jackson Heights. “Take the 7 train and get out at 74th Street,” she says. “Walk down 37th Avenue to 82nd Street, hang a left and then another left at 35th Avenue toward the 74th Street station. This route is full of incredible and diverse food options, grocers, and tons of little eclectic shops. It’s heavy on the Colombian bakeries and sari boutiques, both of which are amazing.”
The Local Expert: Nai Vasha, co-founder, UNDO-Ordinary
Nai Vasha is not about to be “good enough.” The artist-creative director-stylist-marathon runner created UNDO-Ordinary—a magazine that blurs the lines between fitness and existence. She has lived in Queens since April and “every day is new.”
The micro-neighborhood worth visiting…. Little Puebla, Jackson Heights
“I discovered this stretch of Roosevelt Avenue recently and it blew my mind,” says Vasha. “Especially since I had just passed through these Irish, Filipino, and Indian neighborhoods on the 10-minute trip over. Melting-pot, indeed.”
Where to take carnivorous friends for lunch…. Salt & Fat, Sunnyside
Though she’s mostly vegetarian, Vasha satisfies a craving for meat at Salt & Fat . “Sometimes I chew bacon and spit it out,” she admits. “It’s the flavor that makes me weak. When I’m trying to make a few carnivores friends happy, I take them to this Sunnyside treasure.” On her list of musts? “The popcorn, popped in pig fat.”
Enjoy hidden art and the great outdoors at…. Socrates Park, Long Island City
Open 365 days a year, Socrates Sculpture Park treats locals to unique large-scale sculpture installations. Founded in 1986, it is the only site in the New York metropolitan area designed to give artists the chance to create public works outdoors. It’s also, according to Vasha, one of the great secret spots in the city. It’s a hidden treasure,” she says. “I’m a runner always looking for the scenic route. I love the waterfront in Long Island City, but it’s a mild one mile from the tip of Pulaski [Bridge] to the ditch at the end. Just beyond that bend is the road to Roosevelt Island and Socrates Park. Caught in a small pocket behind Costco lives a family of sculptures mixed with romantic scenic views. Running is the perfect first date. I love to test my potential someone’s fortitude.”