Forest Hills, the Queens neighborhood where I grew up, is rarely considered a food destination. And I get it; compared to its flashier neighbors, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Flushing for instance, Forest Hills looks plain sleepy. In those immigrant communities, food's constantly on the move, and there's always a new taco cart to check out or guy selling dumplings in a cell phone store to check out. Restaurants in Forest Hills seem trapped in amber.
And what's what I love about my home 'hood: its good restaurants and bakeries keep going—for decades. I'm always surprised to see just how many of my childhood favorites are still around these days, doing just as well as they used to, often with the same staff. There's plenty of mediocrity in the neighborhood too, but its gems are worth celebrating.
It seems that every few years, some newspaper or real estate blog "discovers" that Forest Hills, with its Shire-esque Tudor houses and easy subway access, is a pretty sweet place to live. Maybe a real estate hunt will take you there, or a journey to one of the city's last knisheries or Hungarian bakeries. Whatever your reason, I'd suggest you stick around and taste what the neighborhood has to offer. Here are my favorite restaurants and bakeries, both old and new.
Nick's Pizza: Nick's makes what I'd call the best pizza in the neighborhood, a New York-Neapolitan hybrid with a light, crisp crust and a restrained amount of fresh mozzarella. They use a gas oven, not wood or coal, but the pies get a nice char regardless.
Wafa's: Lebanese chef Wafa Chami is a treasure for anyone who cares about Middle Eastern cuisine in New York. She began with a teeny-tiny hole in the wall serving ready-to-eat salads and spreads to customers hunched over one of a couple stools. Now she has a hopping full-sized restaurant. She does wonderful things with meat (see: shawarma), but it's her vegetarian food—baby okra with tomato and dried mint, for instance—that I swoon over.
Knish Nosh: Only when I left Forest Hills for college did I realize that most people haven't eaten a knish, let alone a good one, let alone one that's baked with a thin, tender skin, not crusty and fried as you'll find at anonymous carts around Central Park. For devotees of the One True Knish, Knish Nosh is the holy grail. Potato and kasha fillings are my favorites, both with plenty of mustard and a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda, natch.
Eddie's Sweet Shop: Decades-old Eddie's is an ice cream O.G., and its soda fountain interior hasn't changed since, well, soda fountains were a thing. All the ice cream and toppings are made in-house, and though the ice cream itself isn't exquisite, the sundaes, flooded with dark hot fudge and oozing marshmallow sauce, are what pure joy is made of. For reasons I can't quite figure out, coffee chip is markedly better than the other ice creams, so try working that into your order. And a milkshake, too—Eddie's does them very well.
Ben's Best Deli: Ben's is technically in Rego Park, but the two neighborhoods are similar enough that you can stumble back and forth between them without ever realizing. You'll find great pastrami and matzo ball soup here, along with plenty of old school deli charm that, unlike Manhattan's deli museums popular with tourists, doesn't feel like an act.
Also Good in the Neighborhood
East Ocean Palace: I've been getting dim sum here since it was called Golden Pond, and I'll be frank: the place has gone through ups and downs. But on my last visit, the dim sum was just as good as any I've eaten in Flushing, at similar prices.
Pahal Zan: Though this kosher hole in the wall is popular for its shawarma, I'm more partial to the falafel with plenty of fixings. It won't change your life, but it's super crisp and pretty fresh-tasting.
Cheburechnaya: Head towards 108th Street and you start getting into the neighborhood's Uzbek territory. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but Cheburechnaya is mine. Go for meat-stuffed pastries and plov, the Uzbek rice pilaf flavored seasoned with onions and lamb fat.
Carmel: A Middle Eastern/Turkish coffee and import food store that's well worth a visit. They have good spices, tea, and dried fruit as well as a nice selection of homemade salads. Get the eggplant.
La Boulangerie: Forest Hills finally got good bread when La Boulangerie opened a few years ago. My favorite item is the bread pudding, which is saturated with eggy custard but not overly sweet.
Bonelle Pastry Shop: I'll also give a nod to decades-old Bonelle for its pastries. Most of the French and Italian sweets are nothing special, but there are some rich, chocolatey eclairs here and a very respectable carrot cake.
Jack and Nellie's: Forest Hills is short on good bars, so the broad wine and craft beer selection here is a nice addition to the neighborhood, and its modern vibe feels almost, dare I say, Brooklynesque.
El Changarro Taco Cart: Near the 71st Avenue subway station you'll find this nondescript taco cart selling the full line of tacos, tortas, and more. It's the best Mexican you'll find in the neighborhood, and crisp, fatty carnitas hit the spot nicely.
Marani: Another spot that's more Rego Park than Forest Hills, but the two neighborhoods can share this Georgian restaurant and bakery. An easy rule: go for the cheesy khachapuri breads, but skip the restaurant itself.
Andre's Hungarian Bakery: Andre's is one of the city's only Hungarian bakeries—or Hungarian food businesses of any kind, for that matter. It's made its name on flaky strudel pies, but your best bet is actually their take on chocolate babka, which is ridiculously buttery with plush, flaky layers—part croissant, part babka, with a restrained swirl of chocolate.
Aigner Chocolates: Aigner has been selling chocolate confections for over 80 years. When you strip away the old world charm, most of the truffles and candies are just alright, but they do sell something you won't see most places: honeycomb chocolate, like a Crunchie bar, but much better.