Editor's note: We write about restaurants all over the city. But sometimes, you don't want to travel for food; you want the best eats right in your neighborhood. So we're having the Serious Eats staff share where they eat around their own 'hoods. Today? Spice Hunting and Scooped columnist Max Falkowitz and AHT/Slice founder Adam Kuban!
View SENY Neighborhood Guides: Astoria in a larger map
Tips and tricks for making the best sandwiches at home.
Astoria is a friendly, comfortable, and affordable place to live, but above all else, it's a place to eat. The fare probably isn't what you grew up with, but it doesn't take long to start eating like a true blue Greek/Italian/Egyptian/Serbian/Latin American/who knows what else. Seriously, the amount of ethnic food here is staggering. Go forth with a sense of adventure and you'll be richly rewarded with a polyglot dining scene growing in every direction at once.
Greek Taverna: Telly's Taverna
Astoria is first and foremost known as the destination for Greek food. While the neighborhood's demographics have been shifting toward a more varied range of cuisines, Greek chow is a good place to start. The crowd favorite may be seafood titan Taverna Kyclades (and we know, we can see the crowd from our windows), but my go-to is Telly's Taverna. They're also known for their seafood, but I can't get past the small plates. Because this is Queens, not a precious Manhattan tapas bar, appetizers stay at appetizer prices but are portioned with exceeding generosity. Don't miss the superb kafeterie (spicy feta dip), insanely good baked lima beans (actually gigantes; best not to fuss), and Greek-fried potatoes. A carafe of retsina, an extra-dry Greek wine, will have you shouting ohpa! into the night. Save from for dessert: loukmades (doughnuts blanketed with cinnamon and warm honey) come on the house every night but Saturday. —MF
Telly's Taverna: 28-13 23rd Avenue, Astoria, NY, 11105 (map) (718) 728-9056
Street Food: King of Falafel and Schwarma
We clearly love the King of Falafel and Schwarma (or Freddie, as he's known 'round these parts), so we couldn't resist another shout out. In a C-Town parking lot you'll find the best plate of chicken and lamb over rice in the city, with falafel that's burnished and crisp and well-spiced and just about perfect. Skip the pita and get a rice plate instead, with a generous helping of home-pickled turnips and some seriously bracing hot sauce. This is food to warm the soul. —MF
King of Falafel and Schwarma: 30th Street and Broadway, Astoria, NY, 11106 (map) (718) 838-8029
Southeast Asian Chow: Leng
Astoria doesn't have particularly amazing Asian food,* but it does have Leng, a substantial cut above your average neighborhood Thai place. Yes, the dishes are sweeter than they need to be, but they're backed up with real spice and quality, more-authentic-than-average ingredients. Red curry duck aspires to greatness, and is plenty spicy without asking to dial up the heat. The green tea ice cream is also excellent, as bitter as sweet, rich with tea instead of dairy. —MF
*Though it takes a mere half hour to arrive at Flushing's golden avenues, paved with Peking duck.
Leng: 33-09 Broadway, Astoria, NY, 11106 (map) (718) 956-7117
Import and Specialty Foods: Parrot Coffee Market
I visit Parrot Coffee Market at least once a week to stock up on Mediterranean and Balkan pantry goods, assorted olives, cheeses, and snacks. Stuffed grape leaves, roasted red pepper spread, and jarred eggplant salads are a must. If you don't know which of the six feta varieties you want, ask for a taste and they'll gladly oblige. Many items are made in-store; the Greek-style goat's milk yogurt is ridiculous, and the tahini is better than anything from a jar. They used to sell what may have been the best baklava in Astoria, till the guy who made it moved back home to Mexico (yeah, throws my mind, too). —MF
Parrot Coffee: 31-12 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria, NY, 11105 (map) (718) 545-7920
Neighborhood Watering Hole: Cronin & Phelan
Cronin & Phelan is my favorite neighborhood bar. These folks know how to pull a proper pint of Guinness, and they know how to charge for it too ($5). I'm also partial to their chicken wings, peppery burger, and apple pie. The food on its own won't blow you away, but it's homey, satisfying, and very generously portioned. The friendly staff and pull-up-a-chair! atmosphere make this the perfect place for a pint (or three) with friends. —MF
Cronin & Phelan: 38-14 Broadway, Astoria, NY, 11103 (map) (718) 545-8999
Grilled Cheese and Coffee: Queens Kickshaw
I've written before about the superb grilled cheese at Queens Kickshaw, but the food has gotten even better since my review, and has expanded to include mac and cheese, soup, desserts, and inspired cheese plates. Coffee is some of the best in the borough, and there's a staggering selection of beer, wine, hard cider, and mead (mead!) as well. Did I mention the great coffee? I did? And the mead, which I'd drink over Scotch? Well how about the pastries from Balthazar? And that they're open till 1 AM? Really, just go here now. —MF
The Queens Kickshaw: 40-17 Broadway, Astoria, NY, 11103 (map) (718) 777-0913
Greek Pastries: Artopolis
Artopolis is almost certainly the best bakery in the neighborhood, and I'd call it one of the best in the city. Baklava and galaktoboureko (sweet custard layered with homemade phyllo; pictured above top right) are must-orders, but their breads, not-too-sweet Greek cookies, and classic Western pastries are all spot-on. Have your pastry to stay and enjoy it with a cup of bracing Greek coffee in the bright French salon-style space. —MF
Artopolis: 23-18 31st Street, # 7, Astoria, NY, 11105 (map) (718) 728-8484
More Small Plates Done Right: Il Bambino
At times Astoria feels more like a cozy town in Europe than a neighborhood in New York. This never feels more the case than at Il Bambino, a self-described paninoteca that serves salads, crostini, and panini. I've heard tale of New Yorkers cabbing in on their way home from LaGuardia, and with good reason. Grilled baby artichokes with roasted red pepper, Murray's goat cheese, and tapenade encourages impulsive decisions, like taxi diversions or proposals of marriage. A porchetta panino tastes like Italian carnitas, moan-worthy if you ask for some chili oil on the side. Beer and wine come affordable and well-curated, and if the weather's nice the garden seating is some of the best in the neighborhood. —MF
Il Bambino: 34-08 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY, 11106 (map) (718) 626-0087
Light Food That Doesn't Compromise: Mundo
I hate the idea of "light" eating, but Mundo has thoughtful and delicious Argentinian and Turkish-ish fare that won't weigh you down. The vegetarian-friendly menu (though meat and fish make appearances) reads a little hippy dippy, but have courage and you'll find some seriously delicious food with kind, attentive service to match. Be sure to order the red sonjas: bulgar and lentil patties sparked with spice, wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves, and served with lemon. Yogurt dips and braised artichokes with potatoes and fava beans are winners, too. —MF
Mundo: #E (on 32nd St.), 31-18 Broadway, Astoria, NY, 11106 (map) (718) 777-2829
Best Italian Combo Sandwich: Rosario's Deli
I never hesitate turning people onto the "secret" pizza at Rosario's Deli as some of the best pizza in Astoria, but there's something else there that I think may trump it: the Italian combo sandwich. It varies a bit depending on which counter guy makes it but almost always includes mortadella, soppressata, cappicola, roasted red peppers, oil and vinegar, and some sort of cheese (usually provolone but sometimes fresh mozzarella). The balance among the ingredients is right on, each discernible, each complementing one another, the whole never straying into overloaded-sandwich territory. And the bread. Crisp exterior, chewy crumb. Great hero rolls. A sandwich is $7 to $7.50 (again, depending on what the guy throws on it) and could easily do you for two meals. Sure, Sal, Chris & Charlie's mega sandwiches nearby get a lot of local praise, but the Rosario's combo is more nuanced for its restraint (and still pretty damn filling). —AK
Rosario's Deli: 2255 31st Street, Astoria NY 11105 (23rd Ave/Ditmars; map); 718-728-2920
Best Bakery Pizza: Rose & Joe's Italian Bakery
I am in a showdown for Foursquare mayor of Rose & Joe's with some dude named Anthony S., who I am convinced is cheating — A) because I've seen him check in before the place has opened for the day, and B) because NOBODY could be visiting Rose & Joe's more than I. Why? Well, the bakery Sicilian slice there is the perfect snack. Get a corner slice — on a plate for eating right away. Don't bother getting a reheat. It's much better cold, trust me. Don't tell my wife, but I often grab one on the way home from work. It's just filling enough to tide a person over but not gut-busting enough to spoil dinner (I swear, honey!). —AK
Rose & Joe's Italian Bakery: 22-40 31st Street, Astoria NY 11105 (near Ditmars Boulevard; map); 718-721-9422
Best Gyro Sandwich in
AstoriaNew York City: BZ Grill
Queens has this sort of perennial underdog status, which for the most part, I'm fine with. It keeps the crowds away from even the few best in city–class restaurants we have in Astoria. Like BZ Grill. This is easily the best gyro in NYC. BZ's pork gyros are made from actual cuts of marinated pork—not one of those rotating logs of mystery meat. The cuts are placed overnight in a mixture of Greek spices before being stacked on a spit in the morning and loaded into the gyro cooker for their slow-motion merry-go-round ride. What you get is a warm funnel of pita bread wrapped around a hearty amount of flavorful pork, crisp in some places, juicy in others. Pair it with Greek fries (a SENY Fry-Day alum) and then call me when you wake from your food coma. —AK
Best Burger: Astor Bake Shop
This is my favorite burger in Astoria. A caveat: It's best medium-rare. I learned that the hard way. The coarsely ground patty is griddle-cooked, coming off the heat with a salty, seared surface that's crunchy and chewy in parts. When cooked medium-rare, that surface gives way to a beefy, juicy-enough interior. Anything north of that, and it's a bit dry, although still flavorful. Fries aren't included, but you should get them. They're amazing.
More Astoria Burgerage
In anticipation of "but what about [blank]?" comments, let me try to pre-empt you:
- Sweet Afton (pictured): A very good pub burger (but on the smaller end of the scale as far as pub burgers go) made from La Frieda beef. Tasty meat, good sear on the patty, but the bun leaves a tiny bit to be desired. It's not a dealbreaker, though
- Petey's Burger: This place is a neighborhood favorite, and it's pretty good — particularly the patty melt — but I wish Petey would season the burgers a little more. A generous pre-griddle salting would really help this In-N-Out–ish burger
- Bareburger: I've had it a few times now, and it's been good to great, but mostly just good. It's more a sit-down burger joint, FYI, requiring a bit more time and investment than I think burgers merit. The original is on 31st Avenue, with a new location on 31st Street and 23rd Avenue
Only in Astoria Shopping Experience: Titan Foods
Do you like Greek food? Do you like cooking it? Then Titan Foods is for you. Consider this: It's routine to see buses dropping off Greek-Americans from outside the neighborhood for bulk-shopping trips at Titan (pronounced TEE-tan). Olives, olive oil, cheeses, honey, more — much, much more. If it comes from Greece or Cyprus and you can't find it elsewhere, you're likely to find it here.
As the founder of Slice, I feel compelled to give you a quick rundown on my favorite Astoria pizza joints. Besides the aforementioned Rosario's and Rose & Joe's, here's where I go:
- Rizzo's (pictured): Known for its thin-crust Sicilian slice and on many best-of-NYC lists. Can be a bit salty for some folks, but hits the spot for me. You have to try it in-house, as it does not stand up to delivery very well
- Sac's Place: One of the handful of coal-oven pizzerias in the city. Great flavor, can be a bit heavy on cheese and sauce, but still one of my favorites in the 'hood
- Forno Italia: With the wood-oven-pizza game getting seriously serious these days, Forno Italia might not stand up anymore to some of the city's best, but it's damn fine for the Ditmars area. So much so that it's where I go for a sit-down pizza dinner. The house-made mozzarella is a stand-out
- Michael Angelo's II: Make sure to order the "thin crust" pizza; there's also a regular crust pizza, but the thin is the thing to get. It's cheesed a little too heavy, but there's adequate sauce to balance that out. Still, the crisp-chewy crust stands up well to the abuse
Astoria Blogs and Twitter
When you're checking out a neighborhood, it's good to take a spin through the ultra-local blogs and Twitter feeds to get up-to-the-minute intel on new restaurants, deals, etc. Here are the resources I monitor.
- We Heart Astoria: An overall Astoria-centric blog with local events, all sorts of shopping news, and of course restaurant openings, closings, and reviews. Twitter: @weheartastoria
- Amuse*Bouche: Bradley Hawks's food blog covers food throughout NYC but focuses mostly on Astoria, where he lives. Twitter: @bradleyhawks
- Why Leave Astoria? is mostly neighborhood news and gossip across a number of active forums but there's a lot of chatter about restaurants in there. Twitter: @whyleaveastoria
- Fooditka: A little bit of cooking, a little bit of news on Astoria restaurants
- Astorians: Strictly a bulletin board format, again more neighborhood goings-on, but with a good restaurant and food subsection
- @tastoriaqueens: Very active Twitter feed detailling the Astoria restaurant scene. (Recently started a blog, too.)
- @akuban's Astoria Twitter list: I have a nascent Twitter list that I add Astoria restaurants, tweeters, and chefs to as I discover them. Check it out, follow folks, and/or @message me to suggest more listees
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