As a kid, riding the monorail at Walt Disney World was nearly as exciting to me as boarding a boat in Pirates of the Caribbean. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the park as we chugged around Epcot’s Spaceship Earth and through the Contemporary Resort was all I needed to let my imagination go wild. As an adult, I feel the same way about the New York subway as it rises onto elevated tracks in the outer boroughs, ditching the subterranean darkness for an always-changing panorama of storefronts and signs.
If you’re ever inspired to spontaneously hop off the subway and explore, as I am, Andrea Lynn’s book Queens: A Culinary Passport: Exploring Ethnic Cuisine in New York City’s Most Diverse Borough is a book you’ll want to keep in your pocket.
Andrea, a good friend and a Good. Food. Stories. contributor, found herself charmed by Queens when she moved from Manhattan to Astoria a few years ago. As such, Queens: A Culinary Passport is a guidebook, shopping resource, and cookbook all in one, with an adorable subway tile-inspired design that virtually whisks you from neighborhood to neighborhood even if you’re not in New York proper.
From Forest Hills to Flushing, each section of Queens gets its due, as Andrea shines a loving spotlight on the many cuisines that abut one another within neighborhood boundaries. She gives equal time to critically-acclaimed upstarts like Long Island City’s M. Wells Dinette and Sunnyside’s Salt & Fat that are bringing new faces to the borough, as well as to classic kosher delis and soda shops, formerly ubiquitous sights that are now endangered species of the New York dining scene.
You could easily spend a week in Queens alone, eating and drinking your way through a different neighborhood each day—and each chapter features a mapped walking tour to help you do just that. From the diversity of restaurants and dishes profiled in Queens: A Culinary Passport, it also seems like you could pull nationalities out of a hat and discover their signature foods somewhere within the borough. Laghman noodles smothered in honey? Get those at Cheburechnaya, an Asian-influenced kosher Russian spot in Rego Park. Filipino pimiento cheese, which takes the Southern snack to new heights with just a dash of pineapple juice and condensed milk? Grab a tub at Phil-Am Food Mart in Woodside.
Even if you can’t make it to Phil-Am, you could do the next best thing and try your hand at one of the many recipes from the restaurants featured in the book. Anyone who’s tried to crack the code on the supremely addictive and garlicky green sauce that comes with the Peruvian roast chicken at Pio Pio can be grateful to Andrea for her version of both.
A whole bird marinated in citrus and paprika for 24 hours comes out of the oven moist and crisp-skinned, ready for slathering with the spicy, tangy sauce. You may never crave gravy again. And the best part about making this food at home is the ability to mix and match culinary specialties from throughout the borough, as I did when pairing the Pio Pio chicken and green sauce with Andrea’s favorite dish, the lemon-roasted potatoes from Taverna Kyclades in Astoria.
Queens: A Culinary Passport is a knowledgeable and enticing showcase of the diversity—and density—of the borough’s food scene. As Max Falkowitz, one of the many Queens food experts profiled throughout the book, explains: “New York is changing, and a lot of people are getting worried about whether its most precious elements—its neurotic strangeness, its endless diversity, the rush of immigrants and dreamers working to find a place for themselves—are getting priced out of town. I don’t know how bad the problem is. But I do believe that Queens is a vanguard of everything we hold dear about this city.”