O, Astoria!

In the light of Lonely Planet’s recent pick for #1 destination to travel within the US, I shall talk about how much I loved Queens – specifically Astoria, home to the Ranch – when I lived in New York.

photo courtesy of New York Times

photo courtesy of New York Times

Let the hipsters in Brooklyn condescend Queens and let Manhattanites act like the civilization ends with the Queensboro Bridge and you need to commute with donkeys after. I’m a proud former Astorian.

Yes, Brooklyn may have the hippest, coolest places, can it compare to the niceness of Queens people? And the commute… The places you can actually afford now in Brooklyn are so far that it’s really difficult for people who work in the city. Don’t even get me started on the L or the G train… I love the N train! Commute is so convenient to the city if you live on the N line that you start planning your social life based on whether or not where you’re going is close to N,Q line. Both Central Park and Prospect Park are on the N or Q line, I worked in Midtown, and Herald Sq Stop was 20 min. away, Union Sq, East Village, Soho, Chinatown… And it’s on the major transfer hubs, so if you do need to transfer, it’s not difficult.

When I lived at the Ranch, it was at the last stop (Ditmars) of the N/Q trains, so if and when I fall asleep on the train, kind strangers would gently wake me up so I wouldn’t find myself going back and forth and finally at a strange & bad neighborhood (I’m not saying it didn’t happen anyway at 4 AM one night, but it happened much less than any other places).

30th Ave after Greece's win of a game in the FIFA '14

30th Ave after Greece’s win of a game in the FIFA ’14

Astoria has the nicest, friendliest people. There is this shared feeling of ‘I know I live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s hard for other people to understand’. The local bodegas, laundromat people, coffee shops, waiters and bartenders are always so friendly and give you some slack if you are short on money by dimes or nickles.

And Astoria Park? Just pretty!

Don’t even get me started on the food! Ah, the food. So so delicious. I may be partial to the food because I’m Turkish, and it’s a Greek neighborhood, which is basically the same food (sorry Turks and Greeks, we gotta just admit we eat the same stuff and get on with our lives without caring who came up with what).

Not just the Greek food, almost everything is more delicious there. So here are some of my humble recommendations if you go to Astoria (and you should).

 

Best Brunch Place: Queens Comfort (4009 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11103)

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Ahh, Queens Comfort… I’ve found you too late. We could have so much more time together. But alas… Ehem… Where can I start? Amazingly delicious food or the uniquely fun atmosphere? There is always a line on the weekends (like most of the great brunch places), so prepare to wait, but it’s even fun to wait there! There is this guy who doesn’t take down your name but the name of your favorite sandwich. And then a little time later he calls that sandwich, you go, and he tells you to choose ‘dirty or regular’. And then he tells you a dirty or family friendly joke depending on what you choose. I mean it’s not just that, hearing him yell ‘BLT! Where’s my BLT?!’ in the middle of the street is just funny.

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The food is to die for, I’ve tried the South by Southwest Benedict (pictured) and my mouth still waters when I think about it. And the atmosphere? There are tiny toys, weird ceiling fixtures, fun tables everywhere and they show Japanese Animes.

Aaaaand it’s BYOB! Bring whatever booze you want and go to town!

Best Panini Place: Il Bambino (34-08 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106)

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My Il Bambino… My second home. I would take every single person who crashed at my place after a night out to breakfast there, Kristin – my lovely roommate – would text me on the way home from work with just ‘Il Bambino?’ and we would get our favorite paninis with our favorite Allagash beers and chat our problems away. In the summer, the back patio is beautiful for both morning and evening. Not just paninis, their crostinis and meat plates are equally delicious. The ONLY downside is they close at like 10 PM, so you can’t go out for a midnight panini run, but otherwise Il Bambino is perfection.

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Best Pub: Sweet Afton (30-09 34th Street, Astoria, NY 11103)

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Great beer selection, great hot spiced cider, great atmosphere, great people. And it’s a gastropub, so check out their food, too. Their fries is delicious, but especially, try the mac & cheese with bacon bits. Ah-ma-zing! It was our go-to bar, I can’t tell you how many times we were gently kicked out because we fell asleep on the bar.

Best Take-Out Food: Zorba’s (29-05 23rd Avenue, Astoria, NY 11105)

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Yes, you can technically go and eat there as well (which we did on several occasions) but mostly, Zorba’s was our go-to Seamless restaurant. Sometimes, without knowing, all three of us would order from Zorba’s separately and laugh at each other when the delivery guy shows up three times in a row in a couple of hours (and this happened most Sundays when we usually hide in our rooms and hibernate). I mean, I had a special relationship with everybody at Zorba’s.

Their food is all oh-so delicious, but my favorite is their chicken fingers plate with lemon potatoes.

Honorable Mention: Mosaic Cafe & Lounge (25-19 24th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11102)

Mosaic-2

This was a bar right on our block when we were at the Ranch and it housed many roommates night. They have a ridiculous amount of beer selection, the best playlists and the friendliest staff. The interior is intimate with comfy couches and mosaic tables so it’s a great place to just chill and hang out. It’s a special place for Jolyn and I.

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A sample of the roommate night @ the Mosaic

 

Other Contenders: New York City Bagel Coffee House (delicious bagels and coffee), Kyclades (seafood goodness), Astoria Fish Market (it’s literally a fish market, but if you want, they cook it for you right there with unlimited delicious bread and Greek Salad. BYOB, cheap as hell), Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (duh-doy), Sugar Freak (delicious southern food and great decoration) and many many others.

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