Jackson Heights, situated in the heart of Queens, the nation’s most diverse county, is probably my favorite neighborhood in New York City. Roosevelt Avenue seethes with bustle and noise and humanity while, down any given side street, quiet families stroll past garden apartments and co-ops sitting staidly in the shade of tall, green trees. You’ll hear a dozen different languages in the space of a block; your head will turn at a hundred different aromas; and you can get the city’s best momos from a cart and, two minutes later, indulge in the tastiest arepas this side of Bogota.
With so much good food available, you could spend weeks eating exclusively in Jackson Heights and still not exhaust its culinary treasures: South Indian, North Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Tibetan, Korean, Mexican, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Uruguayan, and loads more—I’m sure I couldn’t list them all because there’s so much I haven’t yet eaten.
Systematically, I’m trying to change that, starting a couple of weeks ago with a progressive meal of Latin American delights. My friends Mu and John live in Jackson Heights, so I tapped into their local expertise about the tastiest spots. Initially, I was going to limit myself to tacos, but my resolve crumbled as soon as the empanadas came out.
Mu, originally from Argentina, got these empanadas from a local Uruguayan bakery, La Gran Uruguaya, which she says is about the same as Argentinean and, in this ‘hood, definitely the better offering. (Argentinean cuisine seems to be curiously absent in New York; this blogger posits that one-time immigrants eventually returned to Argentina, leaving a gap in the South American culinary spectrum of Queens.) Unable to verify authenticity myself, I can certainly vouch for their tastiness, especially the tuna and spinach varieties.
Palates sufficiently whetted, we headed to Coatzingo Restaurant (an expansion of Tacqueria Coatzingo a couple blocks down the street). Oh, the glorious vertical spit of roasting pork al pastor! The tender steamed lengua! The homemade tamarindo! I gorged on tacos and a cemita filled with strata of meat, cheese, greens, and sauce and enclosed in an appropriately seedy bun–the kind of sandwich that years from now I will dream of and wake up hungry.
On our way to the next destination, Sunjay stopped for a quick oreja taco from Mi Mexico Lindo. This was my first experience with pig’s ear and it did not disappoint–chewy and soft at the same time, and deliciously well seasoned.
Next stop: Terraza 7. Without the guidance of two locals, I’d never have noticed this place. Other than the banner, it’s completely unremarkable from the outside, tucked away on a little side street. Inside, it’s smaller than it seems, shaped by the street into an odd triangle, although the wire loft (which usually houses a band) was surprisingly airy. Patrons can sit on kegs with custom-made cushions, sipping homemade sangria (with canned peaches!) and craft beer (including new Queens brewery Singlecut) and admiring the kitschy décor.
Our bellies full but still craving one last nosh, we stopped for arepas. Roosevelt Avenue’s famous Arepa Lady wasn’t yet out for the evening, so we had to make do with the second-best in Jackson Heights–which was still pretty flippin’ awesome.
If I’d had more room in my belly, I’d have liked to try a chorizo chuzo, which smelled amazing. The arepa, however, did me in for the night with its greasy, crunchy, cheesy fried goodness.
I don’t take a trip to any neighborhood without running through my mental list of nearby stores selling specialty foods I can’t find closer to home. In Jackson Heights, every outing ends with a spree at Patel Brothers. No matter how much I buy, I always walk out having spent way less than I feel I should have.
It’s the ultimate satisfaction: a belly full of great food and bags of more great food to take home. Till next time, Jackson Heights.