Discover Queens and Support Asian-Owned Businesses (and More) When You Visit NYC
We tapped a local Korean-American artist for her take on what the many thriving Asian communities of Queens have to offer. Check out these recommendations for the borough’s energetic, bustling hubs for eating, drinking, shopping, and nightlife.
Korean-American ceramicist Michelle Im, who lives and works in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens, is proof positive that some of New York’s most worthy destinations are in the outer boroughs. In Ridgewood, artists have spilled across borough lines from Brooklyn, following the age-old siren call of more economical rents and larger spaces. With that art boom has come lively bars and restaurants, paired with a rich heritage dating to the turn of the century and influences from the diverse Asian Americans who’ve made Queens their home.
“I like Ridgewood a lot, because it’s more unique and not as nearly as commercialized as some other neighborhoods in Brooklyn,” Im says. “Because I’m closer to Bushwick, there are a lot of creative people, and I just feel like this is the right place for me. It’s super diverse, with a family-oriented atmosphere you can see in the stores.”
Here are Im’s recommendations of Asian-American-owned businesses, along with some from AFAR, to inspire your next trip to New York—and help support the communities who make the city so great when you do.
When local hotspot Rolo’s opened in January 2021, it cemented the area as the next neighborhood to watch while also inspiring a fanbase for its wood-fired polenta bread and double cheeseburger. The district’s historically German and central European influence already mixes with Puerto Rican and Latinx communities and now, the influx of new businesses, including a hub where you’ll find cocktail bar Sundown (with a new basement level), pizzeria Panina, and natural wine shop Forêt Wines.
A vibrant Latin American scene still thrives, however, including Cachapas y Mas, King’s Juice Bar, Pupusas Ridgewood, and Las Chilangas. And you can start the day at Nhà Mình, a Vietnamese cafe owned by Fred Hua, who curates art, poetry, and music for his customers to enjoy over his spin on an NYC deli classic, an egg-and-cheese bành mí, and gluten-free breakfast bánh xèo crepes with cured pork belly and eggs.
Before or after eating your way through the neighborhood, Im recommends checking out the plants and home goods at the light-filled shop Saint Seneca, owned by a local Asian woman, and seeing art at Lorimoto, an Asian-owned contemporary gallery featuring everything from paintings to zines and comics.
Begin a home-run eating day with what may arguably be Queens’ best almond croissants at Cannelle, a partnership between a local chef who hails from Sri Lanka and the Waldorf-Astoria’s French former pastry chef. If your timing is right, you can munch on one while walking over to the massive Sunday Jackson Heights Greenmarket, which peddles a mind-boggling amount of produce, including specialty Mexican veggies.
The palak paneer, uttapam, and dal at Samudra Vegetarian Restaurant are divine, but there are few things as impressive as when a giant paper dosa hovers in a server’s hand over your table, waiting to be placed in front of you. The beloved local restaurant is a classic bare-bones space that feels like a long corridor, but the warmth of its family-run atmosphere imbues dishes like gobi Manchurian (cauliflower, Chinese-style as interpreted through an Indian lens) and Mumbai pav bhaji (a kind of veggie sloppy joe on an Indian burger bun). Plus, it sees its share of celebrities visiting, from Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to Jake Gyllenhaal.
Jackson Heights, of course, is renowned for its Indian food of various regions, but there’s even more to explore here, including craft beer and organic Korean fried chicken at UFC, or Unidentified Flying Chickens, and mentaiko onigiri and corn croquettes at 969 NYC Coffee, which a Tokyo transplant named Oda runs. Diversity Plaza hosts dance performances and holiday gatherings. After you’ve pre-gamed with a glass of Cab at Espresso 77, owned by Bagladeshi immigrant Afzal Hossein and his wife, head to Terraza 7 to dance the night away with tango, Afro-Cuban jazz, mambo, and salsa.
Forest Hills, a charmingly green, cloistered neighborhood on the eastern side of Queens and bordering Flushing Meadows Park and Forest Park, has sights aplenty, but some of them are quite spread out. Breakfast is dim sum at Memories of Shanghai, where xiao long bao consumption is basically a competitive sport amongst your tablemates. Shop for daifuku mochi and onigiri at Sakura Ya, the local Japanese grocery store. Browse the Tudor homes in Station Square, then walk or ride a horse on the Bridle Path in Forest Park, an actual forest featuring 165 acres of trees in the middle of NYC.
The rumble of the N train on the tracks above your head and the plentiful greengrocers below are trademarks of Astoria, a historically Greek and Central European neighborhood. Take a walk in Astoria Park for sweeping views of the East River and one of the largest outdoor public pools in greater New York. If you’re an early bird, drop by the free outdoor Socrates Sculpture Park, where you can participate in sunset meditations, yoga, adventurous installations, and immersive sculptures.
The Museum of the Moving Image is a great place to continue your lazy late afternoon explorations of Astoria, where excellent Japanese films are the norm and a James Wong Howe retrospective is currently in rotation until June 26. The museum itself offers expansive displays on the history of cinema that are worth a visit even without a film to watch.
Afterwards, wander two minutes away to browse the Asian-owned boutique Side B boutique’s sustainable duds, and sit down for any number of delicious eats that have their origins in Asia, incluidng Schezuan pepper soft shell crab and dry pot at Ma La La, yukgaejang and a bulgogi beef sandwich at Mokja, tteokbokki (spicy and chewy rice cakes) and kimchi fried rice at KAL, or ramen at Hinomaru.
Proudly Asian American to its core, Flushing is a world of marvels. Main Street alone is a universe of restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and boutiques you could spend hours, or days, exploring. Beyond Citi Field and the U.S. Open, don’t neglect the Queens Botanical Garden, where star magnolias, tea roses and lavender waft their perfumes across your path.
Not that food should be the prime reason for picking a relaxation spot, but New York Spa & Sauna is the spot when you both want to schvitz in a traditional Korean spa (complete with ice room) and eat traditional Korean food. After sauna-ing your way through the space, a body scrub that will leave you pink as a baby and with the best skin of your life is in order.
If you didn’t eat at the spa, hoof the 20 minute walk to White Bear for two plates of the spicy wontons with hot sauce, plus dan dan noodles. Queens Museum is a worthy visit for the 9,000-square-foot miniature diorama of New York alone. “That’s where we’re staying,” you’ll want to point out, and deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim’s Time Owes Me Rest Again , on display until 2023, is a bonus. The 40 by 100 foot mural invokes the physical elements of American Sign Language. If you can handle the 10-minute car ride, Beat Mazesoba is a satisfying end to the day, with yuzu shio mazemen, tempura fish tacos, banh mi fries, and kara-age bao with crispy slaw and house pickles.