This itinerary is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips and inspired itineraries on the Travel Tales home page. Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
Queens—the New York City borough in between Manhattan and Long Island—has quickly become one the most diverse places in America. It’s here, within just a couple square miles, that global cultures meld into a vast array of delicious dishes, religious ceremonies, colorful festivals, and beautiful languages. Here’s how to taste your way around.
Begin your journey in another neighborhood shaped by immigrants—the East Village of Manhattan—and check in at the Moxy NYC East Village. Just outside, the expats who lived here witnessed and helped create the music, art, and activism that resulted in American counterculture. History comes alive inside the hotel as well, where you’ll find 286 design-driven rooms on floors that channel various eras of this vibrant neighborhood—from the earliest settlers to the punk era and today.
Then head to Queens; come ready to eat! Grab a pork belly or lemongrass chicken báhn mì and a Vietnamese coffee at Addictive Bánh Mì. Or opt for the flavors of a different culture: empanadas and dulce de leche pastries from the festive La Gran Uruguaya, just a couple blocks away. With choices set so close to each other, you won’t have to decide until you get there.
Weekends bring new options. Some Mexican grocery stores—like Cinco de Mayo Food Market—set up amazing (and semi-clandestine) taco stands in the back. And if you’re here on a Saturday, look for delicious handmade Salvadoran corn cakes—pupusas—in front of Iglesia La Luz del Mundo. (On other days, enjoy great pupusas at Mi Pequeño El Salvador.)
Move on to Little India, where an influx of Nepalese and Tibetans is helping the area also become known as Himalayan Heights. Wander the aisles of Butala Emporium to see their collection of Indian crafts, music, and books. Try spicy Nepalese chicken momos—steamed dumplings—at Nepali Bhancha Ghar, and compare them with the Tibetan version next door at Potala.
Day 2 Head back to Queens to check out New York’s main Thai Buddhist temple, Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram. The elaborate, golden-gabled roof looks like it came straight from Thailand, though it sits on top of a nondescript brick building.
Dig into Thai cuisine along Woodside Avenue, in Elmhurst, where the sidewalks practically come pre-scented with lemongrass and kaffir. For northeastern Thai-style dishes, try Hug Esan, which offers a delicious crispy fried fish larb, while Khao Kang serves up several curries. Finish off with a dessert of colorful shaved ice at the Tea Cup Café. And if you’re thinking of bringing ingredients home, check out the goods at Thai Thai Grocery.
But Thai isn’t your only option. To sample Malaysian, stop by Pulau Pinang for its char kway teow noodles or asam laksa soup. And look for the New York Indonesian Food Bazaar, which happens one Saturday a month at St. James Episcopal Church. It’s all part of the ever-evolving and drool-worthy cultural scene in Queens.
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