Epic Wait at Taverna Kyclades? Where to Eat Instead
If there's any restaurant that draws New Yorkers into Astoria's Greek restaurant universe, it's Taverna Kyclades on Ditmars Boulevard. If you're not sure which one that is, follow your nose—you'll smell octopus before you see the restaurant's aquamarine awning and crowds of chatty Greeks (and confused non-Greeks) waiting for their tables.
Kyclades is the easier-to-get-into Rao's of Astoria. You'll find some good grilled fish there, but the real draw is the clubby community that leads to two hour waits for a table on peak nights. Fortunately, if you're looking for good traditional Greek, Kyclades is far from your only option. A short walk away you'll find plenty of other restaurants full of just as much Greek clientele and food that's just as good—if not better—than the Ditmars giant.
Good Greek Nearby
Where should you go? It all comes down to what you're looking for. Every Greek restaurant has its own specialty that sets it apart from the rest.
For seafood: In some ways E Taverna is everything Kyclades isn't: a tiny space that looks designed to the point of fashionable, though like Kyclades it's still decidedly a neighborhood restaurant. It's also your best bet for excellent seafood in the area, particularly grilled octopus and steamed mussels. Get some salads and grilled sausage to round out your order, but focus on the fish.
For vegetables: Telly's knows its way around the fryer, from excellent saganaki to sliced zucchini or potatoes to the complementary doughnuts they serve for dessert every night but Saturday. Also of note are dips, salads, and bean dishes so good you don't need to bother looking at the fish or meat, which aren't the restaurant's strong suit. In other words: great for vegetarians.
For amazing hospitality: A meal at Gregory's is only slightly more formal than eating at someone's home. The dining room is cozy verging on cramped, and which leads to friendly exchanges with the warm service staff looking to refill everyone's beer or bottles of ouzo. The food's great too, particularly the octopus.
For meat: If you're in the mood for land critters instead of sea, the Cypriot restaurant Kopiaste is for you. The big draw is a $22 17-course mezze tasting menu that includes several grilled, skewered, and braised porky dishes that are the best bites of the meal.
Bars While You Wait
The Ditmars part of Astoria isn't known for great bars, but there are two solid options near Kyclades should you decide to wait out your table. One is right across the street at MP Taverna, the upscale Greek spot from Michael Psilakis. On hot nights, the wait for a table at MP can get long, but there's often a spot or two at the bar where you can camp out with a glass of craft beer or whiskey (MP offers plenty of both). Bar snacks like grilled sausages are definitely worth a nibble; to get a full taste of the good stuff MP has to offer, make a reservation.
Also down the street is the latest branch of Astoria Bier & Cheese, a place that's part beer and cheese shop, part bar with snacks. There's a constantly rotating selection of good craft beer here, and the staff is more than happy to talk you through a tasting of them all.