Despite what you might hear from the other boroughs, Queens has taste, particularly the Astoria neighborhood, where the restaurant scene flourishes all the more for the lack of spotlight. Rather than matching Manhattan’s flimflam and Brooklyn’s attitude, restaurants in Astoria aim for authenticity, focusing firmly on what’s best for the food, not the reputation—and at half the cost.
Once called “the devil with roots” by early ranchers in the Southwest and Mexico, the spiny, water-sucking mesquite trees perhaps provide better service in restaurants, where it infuses its sweet, smoky flavor into whatever is cooking on it. So it goes with the dishes at this Mexican-Peruvian restaurant on the eastern fringes of Astoria, with rotisserie chicken, skirt steaks, enchiladas, and empanadas you’re almost willing to leap in the oven for.
45-06 30th Ave.
Rooted in Abruzzo, but born and raised in Astoria, Anthony and Domenico Sacramone helm this modest home-style, glassed-in, Italian restaurant. Using Nonna’s “secret” recipes from the homeland, and a coal-fired brick oven, the brothers turn out the classics of pasta—roasted pepper and smoked mozzarella ravioli, linguini with clams, penne a la vodka—and pizzas with more vigor and quality than most, not to mention a spicy marinara sauce so good you’ll want to bathe in it.
Those in line outside Astoria’s most famous restaurant don’t seem to mind the sometimes long waits, be they celebrities like George Clooney and Bill Murray or regular folk. They know what awaits on the other side: exceptionally fresh fish and seafood of the Greek persuasion. Each morning, while customers sleep, the chef hits the local markets for the best swordfish, red snapper, octopus, and squid, before cooking them simply on the grill or stovetop with minimal adornments. Although new challengers continually appear to vie for the Greek crown, Taverna remains on top.
King of Falafel
Yes, there are some grumblings since this once simple food cart grew into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but it still serves perhaps the best falafel in the entire city, thanks to “mom’s secret spices.” The platter comes with heaps of rice but the oh-ma-ga combination is in the pita form, which is filled out with lettuce, tomato, onion, green pickles, pickled turnips, and heavy squirts of house-made white, tahini, and hot sauce. It may be the best $7 you’ll spend in the city.
3015 Broadway; truck at 31st & Ditmars
33-07 Ditmars Blvd.
Pye Boat Noodle
The best culinary finds in Thailand usually aren’t in the restaurants but in the carts, stalls, and baskets of the “street hawkers.” The country’s famous floating versions provide the inspiration (and recipes) for this Thai noodle house that charms as much with dishes like Tom Yum “Bolarn” noodle (spicy chicken broth, lime juice, and fish and shrimp meatballs) and boat noodle with beef (soy, anise, beef meatballs, and dry pork skin) as it does with its vintage aluminum siding, distressed wood, and garden with lotus pond out back.
No, koala’s not actually on the menu of this Australian restaurant just around the corner from the Astoria-Ditmars subway station, but kangaroo is, along with lots of 100% grass-fed Australian beef and lamb. Take them as burgers or sandwiches with regional condiments like a Tasmanian pepper berry demi glaze, akudjura remoullade, and grilled pineapple or in steaks, filets, or even “lollies”. The firmly eco-conscious philosophy keeps all the ingredients local, organic, humanely raised, and hormone- and antibiotic-free and the taste wonderfully fresh.
35-12 Ditmars Blvd.
There’s as much to look at on the walls and shelves of this kitchy, downhome repository of comfort food as there is on the menu. Retro toys (think He Man action figures and Evil Knievel mask), comic books, disco ball, the owner’s family pictures, are designed to send you into a time warp of nostalgia. The same twist goes into dishes like the Lil Dizzy Po’boy blending Captain Crunch-coated chicken with remoulade sauce, green goddess slaw, and pickles and onions. Life may not be taken seriously here, but the food is, particularly at brunch when tables can be hard to come by.
4009 30th Ave.