Living in reasonable proximity to my hometown has always been a comfort to me. Even when life and kids and work meant the occasional long stretches between visits, I knew I could hop on a train or jump in my car and be in New York in a few short hours. It’s strange for me to feel even the slightest worry or hesitation in going home to a place that’s as familiar as breathing. But due to Covid travel restrictions and the need to keep things safe (and simple), I haven’t been been back in many months.
I know it won’t last forever.
Until then, here are some spots in Queens I can’t wait to get back to soon.
Eddie’s Sweet Shop
It’s New York City’s oldest ice cream shop. My dad used to take us for Root Beer Floats after Pop-Warner football games. The facade, interior, and menu is so miraculously unchanged at Eddie’s that every return trip feels like time-travel to me.
Claimed by the each of the neighborhoods nestled around it (Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills), this park was always my family’s favorite picnic spot and a place to toss a ball around or read a book on a blanket. The terrain is hilly. (I called them fairy hills.) It’s perhaps the lesser-known of the famous NYC parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted but no less picturesque. There’s also a carousel and a golf course.
The Queens Museum and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
I visited the Queens Museum for an event several years ago and it was the first time I’d been back in years. The museum underwent a massive renovation in the early 2000’s. One old friend who came to the event commented, “Remember when all this was a roller rink?” I did. Some other friends at the event who had recently moved to Astoria didn’t believe us. “The Queens Museum has always been here,” they said. It had. But the renovations had transformed it into a world class exhibit space.
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which was the historic site for two World’s Fairs, is a must-see when in Queens. A walking tour will take you past the impressive New York State Pavilion and iconic Unisphere, as well as the Tennis Pavilion (current home of the U.S. Open). As a kid, I visited the park for roller skating, ice skating, occasional family reunions, and of course, Mets’ games in the team’s former home, Shea Stadium. Today, there’s even more to visit and enjoy: the Queens Zoo, Queens Theater, a golf course, and Citi Field. (Let’s go Mets!)
On your way out of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, drop by Amore Pizzeria for a slice. This place wasn’t around when I was growing up. My go-to was Mike’s Pizzeria, two blocks from my apartment (the pizza by which all other pizza shall be judged). But on a trip home recently, an elementary school friend brought me to Amore. I should tell you, I am picky about about my NY-style pizza. The crust, the sauce, the cheese has to be just right. There are tons of pizzerias (even in New York) that say they serve NY-style but to my mind (and taste buds) don’t. Amore does. I’m pretty sure this shop, located in an unremarkable strip-mall near the entrance to the Van Wyck Expressway, isn’t on any fancy “Best of New York Pizza” lists. And that’s pre-slicely why I love it.
Since I moved out of New York, I rely on friends to tell me what’s up. And Terraza 7—a tiny Latin Jazz club in Elmhurst—is what’s up. At Terraza, you can hear some of the best live Latin music from New York and all over the world while you chat, have a drink, and soak in the vibe. The performance stage is suspended above the bar and the club’s location, off Roosevelt Avenue, is near the 7 train. Hence the name, Terraza (Terrace) 7. Everything about this place is New York to me.
The Freakin Rican
Another after-my-time establishment is The Freakin Rican restaurant in Astoria. I have not been there in person but have tried their sazon y sofrito. Owner Derick Lopez has been a rising star of NYC’s food scene for awhile now, but recently, when Lopez plugged the Freakin Rican brand and products as an alternative to Goya Foods (all the sabor with none of the racism) on social media, things really blew up for him and his business partner, Victor Vargas. Their website temporarily went down when the site was flooded with orders. I’m told the restaurant, which promises “indigenous meals made from scratch, with plenty of love” lives up to the hype. Es primero on my list when I go home again.
Lemon Ice King of Corona
Another no-frills institution. It’s like Del’s here in Rhode Island, only without the trucks and the franchising. And in my opinion (Rhody-forgive-me), the iced treats at Lemon Ice King are tastier. I grew up on authentic Italian Ice. This is the best anywhere. It’s cold creamy perfection served in a petite white paper cup. To me, it’s quintessentially summer. And quintessentially Queens. It’s hard to articulate why to those who didn’t grow up there. It just is. And if you know, you know.
Located in Long Island City, this annex of MOMA is a home for temporary exhibitions, performances, concerts, special events, lectures, workshops, and youth artist programs. At PS1, you’re going to see experimental installations and performance art by emerging artists—all housed in a very cool space that was once a school building. And there’s a restaurant. And a book shop.
So Austin Street makes the list partly on nostalgia. The Austin Street of my youth looked different than it does now. It was mostly mom-and-pop shops with a few neighborhood restaurants sprinkled in. Today, it’s more like a mini Manhattan — with swanky bakeries, high-end boutiques, and dozens of (really great) restaurants lining its blocks. As a Queens-kid in the 80s, it was where we often went to meet up with friends. It had two movie theaters and access to the E, F, G, M, and R trains into Manhattan or out to Jamaica from the 71st Avenue Station. Sometimes you had to cross the “boulevard of death” (a.k.a Queens Boulevard) to get where you needed to go—but it was worth it. Austin Street is also home to the Forest Hills Stadium, an historic tennis-turned-concert venue.
This is another one where if you know, you know. The Rockaway Beach of my memories is white sand and Boardwalk dreams. It’s salt air and cheese fries with gravy. It’s bonfires and parties your parents (maybe) didn’t know you went to. As one of the only surfer’s beaches in the area, the waves never seemed to disappoint. This truly stunning bit of coastline is just a short drive or train ride out of the city. (And now you know.)
These are just a handful of my favorite and most nostalgic spots in Queens—but there are many more. You can check some of them out here.