Things do in Astoria: Queens
Queens’ northwest Astoria is a popular community that has maintained the happiness of its longtime residents while luring many new ones. It is close to Manhattan, urban but has open space and vegetation, and reasonable but rising real estate costs. It is now known as a gem of Queens thanks to the expansion of its dining and cultural offerings. Astoria, formerly only known as a center of Greek culture, is now home to immigrants from all over the world as well as young people who have fled expensive Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Landmarks and Museums
Astoria Park (19th St between Ditmars and Hoyt) is on the East River with superb Manhattan views and a great huge pool. ARROW Park (35-38 35th St) is a community garden. Athens Square Park (30th Ave and 30th St) is a hot spot.
Museum of the Moving Image is a real treasure for a visit or screening of classic films. Next door is Kaufman-Astoria Studios, once Paramount’s East Coast production facility, and now a stage for TV shows.
Socrates Sculpture Park is in Ravenswood, but close enough.
Astoria Main Streets and Shopping
Astoria’s main drags are 30th Avenue, Steinway, Ditmars, and Broadway. 30th Avenue and Ditmars are more Greek and Cypriot areas. Broadway has more Latin American flavor. Steinway just south of Astoria Blvd is a Little Egypt with lots of Middle Eastern cafes, markets, and shops. Steinway is the main shopping street.
It’s amazing how quickly the southern reaches of the neighborhood have changed since the late 1990s. Once barren, industrial streets are now home to restaurants and cafes.
Restaurants in Astoria
Astoria is a name often on the tongues of New Yorkers who love to eat. It’s more casual and cheaper than Manhattan, the ethnic foods are more traditional and less nouveau, and there’s a great neighborhood vibe.
Immigrants from across the globe, plus the many folks in their 20s and 30s who have moved in, have made Astoria famous for its varied cuisines. From many street corners, you can see the foods of five continents represented by nearby restaurants.
Here are a few of my favorite Astoria eateries.
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave) serves Czech meat and potato dishes ($8-$14) in a great setting. When the summer has come out in full bloom and the evenings are warm enough to lounge outside, I love to have dinner and relax in the beer garden at the Bohemian Hall. The garden is large and full of trees and picnic tables filled with folks sipping cold beer and tackling plates of hearty Czech cuisine.
Arham Thai Restaurant (32-05 36 Ave) is a very good choice for a casual Thai meal. Entrees are $6-$9 with fried fish dishes starting at $12. Some dishes aren’t printed on the menu. Ask for the country soup. Best of all for visitors, it’s a close walk to the American Museum of the Moving Image.
Jackson Hole Diner (69-35 Astoria Blvd) is an NYC chain that serves up a mighty fine breakfast at its vintage ’50s digs. Jackson Hole stands out for its fresh-squeezed juice, a sensation rarely tasted in Queens. The breakfast specials hit the spot and are a good value. The potatoes, french toast, and omelets must receive special mention. Wash it all down with a chocolate shake. It’s served with a metal cup holding enough excess for a refill. (Or check out their branch in Bayside at 35-01 Bell Blvd.) Jackson Hole has earned my praise as one of the best breakfast spots in Queens.
Mombar Egyptian Restaurant (also known as Mombassa; 2522 Steinway St) is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, I haven’t ventured inside yet, but have been blown away by the ornate facade (see my photo of Mombar’s entrance). The owner spent years creating the beautiful exterior and interior of his restaurant. It’s now a neighborhood landmark in Little Egypt on Steinway Street.
Cafes and Bakeries in Astoria
Thanks to Greek and Italian immigrants (and more recently the Colombian and Arabic too) the quality of pastries and desserts in Astoria can’t be beaten.
La Guli (2915 Ditmars, close to 31st St and the final stop of the N subway) is a stellar Italian bakery with the most delicious cannoli and other Italian pastries and cookies (including those pretty rainbow cookies that no one eats). Go to La Guli; you will not be disappointed.
Parisi Bros. Bakery (30-17 Broadway) is a simple but quality bakery at a great location: under the tracks at the corner of Broadway and 31st Street, very convenient on your way home from the subway. Go to the counter to pick up crusty Italian and French bread or some cookies to enjoy with coffee.
Omonia Cafe (32-20 Broadway) is a very nice Greek cafe. Sit and sip an espresso, munch on Greek and French pastries, and enjoy the neighborhood atmosphere.
Markets and Delis in Astoria
For home-cooking gourmet chefs or just those who love good cheese, veggies, and meats, Astoria has an enormous selection and quality at its many small, specialized delis and markets.
Mediterranean Foods (30-12 34th Street) is one of the best Greek markets in New York City. They offer all sorts of fresh, cured, and imported Greek foodstuffs, plus cooking utensils, like the small metal pots for brewing Greek coffee. Olives and cheese, especially feta and other Greek types, come in many varieties and are top quality. Also, try the market’s own sausages and meatballs. My favorite tidbits are the homemade yogurt (try some with honey for dessert) and tzatziki (wonderfully full of garlic).
Top Tomato (33-15 Ditmars Blvd) has an excellent selection of fresh vegetables and fruits. The prices are hard to beat.
Top 7 Reasons To Live in Astoria, Queens
Astoria is one of the best neighborhoods in Queens. Many young professionals and hipsters have discovered the neighborhoods in recent years, but unlike certain areas of Brooklyn, they aren’t truly gentrifying the area; rather, they are simply increasing the demand for homes. With many families residing there for multiple generations, Astoria has long been a favored area. Here are just a handful of the many benefits of moving to Astoria.
1) Close and Quick to Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan can be reached from Astoria in under 15 minutes. Above 31st Street, the N and W subway lines pass through the center of the area. The Triborough Bridge is also only a short drive away from the Bronx and Harlem. Why spend time traveling during your free time?
2) Real Estate Prices Much Less Than $1 Million for Average One-Bedroom Apartment
Astoria has experienced a real estate boom, but it is nothing compared to Manhattan. A studio costs $800, and a one-bedroom costs $1000. Naturally, Astoria’s more desirable neighborhoods fetch higher rents: a one-bedroom for $1400 is not unheard of. But it’s most likely to be in a modest structure on a peaceful street, just a few doors down from a fantastic Greek cafe.
3) Astoria Park and Manhattan Views
What a wonderful location for a park! The Queensboro and Hellgate Bridges, as well as Upper Manhattan, can all be seen from Astoria Park, which is directly on the East River. On weeknights, return to your flat and have a stroll along the river in the evening (though always be careful at night alone). The best outdoor city pool is Robert Moses’ Astoria Pool.
Since it is the Greek center of New York City, Astoria has long been recognized for its Greek cuisine, but more recently, it has developed a reputation for excellent dining and creative cooking. New stars like as 718 have emerged thanks to Manhattan transplants.
5) Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden
Bohemian Hall is fantastic since it’s the only large, traditional beer garden left in New York City. With its leafy trees, picnic tables, pitchers of ice beer, and platters of hearty Czech food and barbeque, this enormous beer garden is the perfect place to get away from the bustling urban 31st Street and the subway overhead. With stein-thumping live folk music on many afternoons, it’s a must throughout the summer weekends. Families, tourists, and a cast of regulars from the area frequent Bohemia Beer Garden, a true urban retreat.
6) Museum of the Moving Image
Astoria is becoming more active in the arts. The forward-thinking American Museum of the Moving Image is in charge of local culture. It is among the best museums in New York City for both adults and children, as well as undeniably cinema buffs.
7) The Cannoli at La Guli Bakery
Yes, freshly made cannoli are reason enough for me to think of moving. Some of the tastiest cannoli in NYC can be found at the Italian bakery La Guli. You won’t be sorry you visited La Guli. (2915 Ditmars, a short distance from 31st Street and the N subway’s terminus)
There’s no doubt that Astoria’s western border is the East River, but go inland and all bets are off. Real estate brokers like to draw the southern border just north of Queens Plaza, though the Post Office marks it along Broadway and 31st Avenue. North/northeast is the Con Ed plant and the East River again. North of 24th Avenue and west of Steinway Street is known as Ditmars. Or go east and it’s Steinway, another sub-neighborhood. The eastern border with Woodside is 50th Street.
Astoria is a 20-minute commute on the N or W subways to midtown Manhattan. The subway runs above ground along 31st Street.
Buses 18, 19, 19A, 101, 102, 103, and 104 criss-cross Astoria.
The Grand Central Parkway cuts through Astoria on its way to the Triborough Bridge.
LaGuardia Airport is a hop, skip, and jump via the Grand Central.
Crime and Safety in Astoria
Astoria is a safe neighborhood. Street crime is seldom experienced in busy sections, but gambling and prostitution are not uncommon. The more desolate areas, especially the waterfront parks, are best avoided at night.
The 114th Precinct (including north Corona and East Elmhurst) reported the following crimes for the year-to-date (6/5/05): 2 murders (3 in 2004), 9 rapes (16 in 2004), 152 robberies (188 in 2004), 96 felonious assaults (128 in 2004), and 232 burglaries (235 in 2004).
Astoria dates to the colonial 1650s when William Hallett Sr. received a land grant for what would become known as Astoria and Hallet’s Cove. Stephen Halsey founded the village in 1839, naming Astoria after John Jacob Astor. In the 1870s William Steinway built Steinway Village for workers at Steinway & Sons Piano Factory.
Waves of immigrants have made Astoria home, from Czechs in the 1890s to Brazilians in the 1990s. Though famous for Greeks, Italians were more numerous until recently.