Neighborhood Guides

Locals' guides to New York neighborhoods.

Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim's Astoria


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Queens Kickshaw's famous grilled cheese [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Husband-and-wife team Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim have been Astorians for over four years, and have found the perfect way to give back to the neighborhood: with incredible coffee, grilled cheese, and beer. Their cafe, the Queens Kickshaw, opened in 2011, and is already a neighborhood destination in its own right, and has recently expanded its menu beyond the grilled cheese that made them their name. Their menu pays homage to the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, with sandwiches influenced by Greek, Latin, and Middle Eastern tastes, and ingredients procured from neighborhood markets. The duo walked us through their hood and proved that there's more to Astoria than just Greek gyros.

Jennifer and Ben's Picks

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Sac's Place [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Pizza by the slice: A slice from Sac's Place is our go-to, because the sauce is perfect. We like the plain slice with fresh mozz, but honestly just focaccia with sauce alone does the trick.

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Basil Brick Oven [Photograph: Adam Kuban]

Pizza pie: We go to Basil Brick Oven Pizza for authentic wood-fired Northern Italian individual pies. The Speciale pizza with smoked buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes is our mainstay. Their backyard is a basil plant monoculture!

Burger: The X Veggie burger at New York Pão de Queijo with corn and potato matchsticks is awesome. Wash it down with a strawberry shake, which can also be made with a number of other Brazilian fruits like cupuaçu, açaí, graviola, and cashew fruit. Don't forget to smother your sandwich with their creamy green sauce.

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Taleggio crostini at Il Bambino [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Sandwich: We are not immune to the charms of Il Bambino paninis. The Roast Mushroom with caramelized onions, truffle spread and fontina is earthy and a touch stinky.

Dive bar: We don't hang out much at dive bars, but a place close to us is Circulo Espanol. It's a Spanish community center with a restaurant and a bar on the main floor that's supposedly members-only, although anyone is welcome. You can get some seriously good and cheap Brandy de Jerez (Spanish brandies) and a couple of Spanish ciders there (you may have to wait while they chill them). Prepare to get drunk under florescent lights.

Nicer wine, beer, or cocktail bar: Crescent & Vine is super cozy with a beautiful selection of wines and rare craft beers. The selection is always changing, so it's good to go with an open mind.

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Paletas [Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Ice cream/gelato: The house-made paletas at Pachanga Patterson are inventive and refreshing. We really dug the avocado flavor which had a citrusy kick.

Baklava: Get one of everything at Al-Sham Sweets and Pastries. The baklava is a balanced amalgam of crunchy, crispy, flaky, syrupy, and chewy goodness. For something really special, try their sweet cheese kunafa: nuts and spices over melty cheese and honey.

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Mama's Empanadas [Photograph: Sara Markel-Gonzalez]

Takeout: Mama's Empanadas is cheap and delicious. Ben partook everyday for the better part of 6 months. It's damn near impossible to get sick of these puppies, especially the Mac 'n Cheese, and for dessert, Brevas, Arequipe y Queso (Figs, Caramel & Cheese).

Falafel: King of Falafel is freaking amazing, but Kabab Cafe's falafel platter is pretty special. The last time we had it, Chef Ali assembled it with hummus, baba ghanoush, fresh apples, and deep fried bok choy leaves.

Date night: Date night consists of going to Café Triskell to share a bottle of cider from Normandy in a bolée de cidreWe love the frisée salad, the mushroom crêpe, and the lemon & sugar crêpe for dessert. The last bite is worth fighting over.

Can't-miss neighborhood spot: The one restaurant everyone should know in Astoria is Vesta. They're committed to using great quality ingredients, and constantly changing their menu with a really high degree of success. We love going in to try whatever they happen to have cooked up, and ending, of course, with the almighty Torta di Piccolo Bambino Gesu Cristo (Baby Jesus).

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