Tour Jackson Heights Queens

A Tour of Jackson Heights, Queens NY

Tour Jackson Heights Queens

The great borough of Queens is known for its polyglot ethnic neighborhoods. Often it seems that every immigrant group in Queens has at least one representative on a single block. But one section of the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights is different. Seventy-fourth Street between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue and the surrounding blocks are the heart of a South Asian neighborhood. Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis call this area home and come here to shop and eat. It’s the place for some of the highest quality Indian food in New York City; South Asian jewelry, clothes, and music; Bollywood films; and plain old people-watching. This is a great neighborhood for strolling and taking it all in.

Directions to Jackson Heights

But first, you need to get there. The neighborhood is easily accessible by subway (N, R, G, E, F, 7) via the Roosevelt Avenue station. The E and F are express trains —- only three stops from midtown Manhattan —- but the 7 line has a most leisurely gait. A car isn’t the best means to breach the crowded streets of Jackson Heights. If you insist on driving, the BQE and Northern Boulevard are the nearest routes. Avoid navigating (a.k.a. “getting stuck”) on Roosevelt Avenue at all costs, and try 37th Avenue for parking.

The Jackson Diner

37-47 74th St. Jackson Heights, NY; 718-672-1232

The Jackson Diner has become a New York institution over the past ten years. But don’t let the name fool you. The Diner gained its incongruous name from its former location in what had been the neighborhood’s greasy spoon. Its current spacious digs have luckily not dampened the quality of the food.

The restaurant serves typical northern Indian dishes -— curries and tandooris -— that are filling yet relatively light, not floating in a sea of ghee, the clarified butter that is the base of much Indian cooking. I recommend whole heartily the chicken tikka and the aloe gobi. Scan the menu carefully. There are a few uncommon delights tucked away. The mustard greens, oh the mustard greens. They’re pungent and flavorful, and make me stand up at attention and then applaud.

The Jackson Diner only accepts cash, so come prepared. Dinner for two with appetizers and beer or mango lassis will run about $40, but you can spend much less and still walk out very pleased.

Shaheen Sweets & Cuisine

7209 Broadway, Jackson Heights, NY; 718-639-4791

Shaheen’s is another landmark in Jackson Heights, but one little known outside the immigrant community. It’s been in its present location since 1971. You can eat lunch or dinner here, but it is best known for its Indian sweets — or more accurately, its Pakistani sweets (Shaheen’s is a Pakistani restaurant).

Indian sweets look odd, but turn away at your loss! They are always made with a base of butter and sugar and may include milk, flour, nuts, or paneer (cottage cheese). Check this link for a rundown on Indian sweets, or visit this site for tasty pictures of common threats. Or better yet, walk into Shaheen’s and pick up what looks best. A small assortment of sweets costs less than five dollars.

If you stay for a meal, check the food on display at the counter and place your order there. Take a seat and the food will be brought to you. Prices are very reasonable.

Shaheen’s is very well known in the Pakistani community. On a weekday, its clientele is almost exclusively Pakistani men.

Bollywood in Queens

Jackson Heights is a great neighborhood for stocking up on Bollywood films and music. Bollywood is the name for the Indian film industry, and the many titles it produces annually. It is the second-largest motion picture industry in the world, and its masala-style films invariably include plenty of song and dance.

Palace Theater

73-7 37th Road, Jackson Heights, NY

Start out right by seeing the feature film at the Palace Theater on 37th Road. Formerly a blue venue, the shabby exterior hides a delightful local theater devoted to Bollywood films. Truly the big screen is the best place to see the whirling all-singing, all-dancing, over-the-top drama of the Hindi movie masalas.

Melody Stop

73-9 37th Road, Jackson Heights, NY; 718-429-2578

If the shows aren’t running during your visit, step right next door to the little retail shop Melody Stop, where the hits continue on video, DVD, and CD. Don’t let the crowded, too narrow shop deter you from a visit. The melodies are sweet and the prices sweeter. Expect to pay five dollars for truly marvelous features like Lagaan (a colonial piece), Kaante (Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects gone Bollywood), or the 1970s masterpiece Sholay (Bollywood’s greatest Western, or at least curry Western). The sales staff is friendly and will recommend titles of note to novices.

Raaga Super Store

37-26 74th St. Jackson Heights, NY

For a more leisurely browse, round the corner onto 74th Street and head up the block to Raaga Super Store with its wider selection and much wider aisles. What this store makes up for in comfort, it lacks in price. In addition to the movie titles, look for its selection of bhangra, the electro-Indian pop music of the moment that has sucked a hip-hop sound into Punjabi folk music. On your way to the shop, you’ll have already heard the latest tunes pounding the concrete from cars inching their way up 74th Street.

Shopping in Jackson Heights

Backtrack a few storefronts to Butala Emporium, a perfect place to find an Indian gift. Yes, Ganesh, Durga, Shiva, and other deities are there in print and statue form, along with incense, clothes, stamps, and religious charms at decent prices. In the corner, there’s a well-stocked news rack with South Asian weeklies and monthlies and other printed matter—even comic book renditions of the Hindu epics alongside soap opera magazines. Further back, the walls are stocked with English texts on the study of the South Asian subcontinent. Downstairs, find intricately carved wooden furniture at good prices. There are also Indian instruments of top quality, like the tabla drum, dholak, sitar, and harmonium. Butala is a place where you can spend a quarter or a thousand dollars, and leave with a treasure.

Stroll down 74th Street and other shops beckon. Some brilliantly. Almost every other storefront is a jewelry shop where 22-karat gold predominates. Unlike the 14k, this rich gold is a heavy, almost dull color that makes up for its lack of shine with its beautiful dense sheen and malleability, which allows for more intricate, fantastic designs. Sona Jewelry of London and Sona Chandi seem typical of the small shops.

If you do pick up jewelry, you must get all spiffed up. There are several beauty salons, such as Gulzar Beauty Salon, that feature traditional henna tattooing -— called mehndi -— and hair removal by (hopefully painless) threading, not the brutal wax and strip. Can you pull off wearing a sari to go with that gold and henna? It takes impeccable posture. At least window shop for saris at regal clothing stores like Neena Sari Palace or the ISP (Indian Sari Palace).

Butala Emporium
37-46 74th St.
Jackson Heights, NY

Sona Chandi
37-14 74th St.
Jackson Heights, NY

Gulzar Beauty Salon
74-01B Roosevelt Ave.
Jackson Heights, NY

ISP (Indian Sari Palace)
37-07 74th St.
Jackson Heights, NY

Neena Sari Palace
37-23 74th St.
Jackson Heights, NY

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