New York's Great Food Neighborhoods: Astoria

Astoria Just May Be NYC's Culinary Capital

  • Steinway Street in Astoria Steinway Street in Astoria
  • Italian Cheeses at Sorriso's Italian Cheeses at Sorriso's
  • Smoked Pork at Muncan Foods Smoked Pork at Muncan Foods
  • New York's Great Food Neighborhoods:  Astoria

New York's Great Food Neighborhoods: Astoria

Astoria Just May Be NYC's Culinary Capital

Brooklyn gets all the love.

That's because many think our biggest borough is NYC's food center. Between the Brooklyn Flea, the Mast Brothers, butchering classes, rear yard chickens, stinky cheesemongers, and dozens of artisanal food shops run with passion and focus by a new generation of producers and merchants, Brooklyn certainly has culinary momentum. And as proof, the tour buses have arrived.  

But if you want a refuge from those crowds and also the concomitant lifestyle prices (plus the occasional smug attitude), you should cross the BQE (that's the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to you non-New Yorkers) and visit a neighborhood that has a bounty of superb food merchants, shops owned by generations of the same family, with lower prices, excellent subway access, and foods to satisfy any global kitchen.

We're going to Astoria.

Astoria is a residential neighborhood in Queens, the first stop off the Triborough Bridge after leaving Manhattan. It is also one of New York's most international areas, where a remarkable number of different ethnic groups live both separately and together, in a way I've only ever seen in NYC. Because generations of new immigrants have long lived in Astoria, it also home to a UN of food merchants providing the flavors of the old country, including bakers, fishmongers, coffee roasters, salumarias, halal butchers, wine shops, and much more.

Many associate Astoria with its Greek population, which makes sense given the large number of Greek food markets and restaurants there. But there are also Italian, German, Czech, Slovak, South Asian, Brazilian, Japanese, and Arab and North African neighborhoods and food merchants. Among the best known is an area called Little Egypt on a strip of Steinway Street between Astoria Boulevard and 30th Avenue. This is where I had lunch, at a modest but superb small restaurant called Little Morocco (their merguez sandwich deserves the raves it has received; no credit cards).

Its commercial streets, especially Steinway Street, Broadway, Ditmars Blvd, 31st Street, and 30th Avenue, are like arteries that feed the adjacent residential blocks filled with well-kept low-rise houses and apartment buildings.

Astoria has great subway access, in particular the N, R, and Q trains. But you can also drive, parking your car on a side street or in a public lot that's located at 38th Street and 30th Avenue, a well-situated spot.   

I recently spent a day roaming the streets of Astoria and shopping in many of its food markets. Most have been in business for a very long time; few of them have websites. In what is by no means an exclusive list, here are some of my favorites:

Euro Market
30-42 31st Street
718.545.5569
Subway:  N/Q to Broadway

One of those only-in-New York kind of places with a very large and deep selection of meats and cheeses, and a huge selection of grocery items from around the world, e.g., jams, baking supplies, canned and jarred vegetables, soup mixes, pickles, noodles and pastas, plus dairy items. The store has a particularly large selection of foods from Central European and Balkan countries and they are known for their impressive selection of beers from around the world.

Titan Foods
25-56 31st Street
718.626.7771
titanfood.com
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

A large, full-service supermarket for Greek foods and ingredients -- everything you'd need to make any favorite Greek dishes. They have a large selection of feta cheeses, pastas, spices, coffee and teas, canned and jarred vegetables, pastries and sweets, breads, and a large frozen selection of meats and pastries. There is a parking lot next to the store, rare in this neighborhood.

Mediterranean Foods
30-12 34th Street
718.728.6166
Subway: N/Q to 30th Avenue
23-18 31st Street
718.721.0221
Subway: N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

With two locations, these Greek markets have a huge and comprehensive selection of Greek ingredients:  olives, pickled vegetables, feta cheese in more kinds than you knew were made, taramosalata, skordalia, breads, canned fishes, jarred beans and other vegetables, sweet preserves, coffees, Greek beer, and even household items.

Artopolis Bakery
23-18 31st Street
718.728.8484
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.
artopolis.net

A superb Greek bakery with both sweet and savory classic pastries, breads, and cheese pies. They also make French specialties such as macarons. It's located in an unexpected spot, in a small mall, but worth searching out.

Astoria Fish Market
22-78 31st Street
718.726.6390
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

Oh, what a gorgeous fish store!  Huge pieces of swordfish that are cut to order into steaks for the home cook, briny shrimp and other shellfish, whole branzinos, fillets of black cod or halibut, live lobsters. If it is in season, they have it, and at excellent prices.  

Parrot Coffee and Grocery
31-12 Ditmars Blvd.
718.545.7920
Subway:  N/Q to Ditmars Blvd.
parrotcoffee.com

They also have two other Queens locations in Ridgewood and Sunnyside.

Parrot is proud of its large selection of coffee beans that can be ground to order, but that's just the beginning. This is a friendly and packed-to-the-ceiling grocery store with products from around the world including canned and jarred fruits and vegetables, olive and nut oils, sauces, spices, dried fruit, honey, candy, olives, yogurts, and more. Particularly large selection of foods from the Balkans and Middle East. I bought a hard-to-find tube of paprika cream to use in stews and veal goulash.

K&T Quality Meats
33-14 Ditmars Blvd.
718.728.3810
Subway:  N/Q to Ditmars Blvd.

A butcher with Greek and Italian products. Big selection of meats and poultry, including gorgeous lamb patties and other store specialties. They also have hard-to-find frozen vegetables, e.g., broad beans. Very nice and welcoming.

Noisette Pastry Shop
24-21 Steinway Street
718.433.4211
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

An authentic French bakery with buttery croissants, macarons, savory tarts, and breads.

Bidaoui Butcher Shop
24-19 Steinway Street
718.777.2982
Subway: N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

An halal butcher in the heart of the area known as Little Egypt. They sell goat, lamb, beef, chicken, plus some grocery items.

Wessam
24-31 Steinway Street
718.932.3434
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

A small but packed-to-the ceiling Middle-Eastern market with grocery items, a halal butcher in the back, and various household and gift items, including hookah pipes.

Al-Sham Sweets & Pastries
24-39 Steinway Street
718.777.0876
Subway: N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

Middle-Eastern bakery with a beautiful selection of traditional sweets made with nuts, honey, dates, and sweet creams.

Nile Deli
25-12 Steinway Street
718.278.6030
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

Middle-Eastern grocery in Little Egypt with a large selection of grocery items like apricot paste, olive oil, rosewater, preserved lemons, and jarred fruits and vegetables, plus soft pita bread and other fresh items

El Nile
25-02 Steinway Street
718.545.4555
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

Full-service halal butcher with a small selection of grocery items, including canned ghee. A very nice, new shop that is one of the more recent merchants to open in the Little Egypt area.

Laziza Pastries
25-78 Steinway Street
718.777.7676
Subway:  N/Q to Astoria Blvd.

Middle-Eastern pastry shop with treats made from traditional recipes and ingredients from Lebanon and Egypt, made with walnuts, honey, almonds and pistachios, using filo dough and butter.

Blue Island Fish Market
28-19 Steinway Street
718.728.0627
Subway:  N/Q to 30th Avenue

Beautiful selection of fish and shellfish. Top quality with excellent prices. All fish and shellfish can be prepared to your preferences, including fillets of whole fish and cleaned and sliced calamari.

Gian Piero Bakery
44-17 30th Avenue
718.274.8959
Subway:  E, M, R to 46th Street

Italian bakery with a selection that includes semolina and whole wheat breads, cookies, and classic desserts such as cannoli and flaky sfogliatelle.

Off The Vine
44-21 30th Avenue
718.728.4142
Subway:  N/Q to 30th Avenue

A warm and friendly neighborhood but still full-service wine store with a wide selection at all prices. They offer discounts on case and half-case purchases. Closed Sundays.

Sorriso's Salumeria
44-16 30th Avenue
718.728.4392
Subway:  N/Q to 30th Avenue

What neighborhood wouldn't be jealous of having this splendid market?  Serving home cooks in Astoria since 1979, Sorriso's is a grocery, butcher, salumeria, and cheese shop that also makes its own mozzarella, rice balls, prosciutto balls, sausage, and other tempting treats. Open 7-days a week. Friendly and neighborly service. Buy local and artisanal?  Sorriso's is the poster child.

International Meat Market
36-12 30th Avenue
718.626.6656
Subway:  N/Q to 30th Avenue

Excellent full-service butcher shop with some grocery items. The shop's window, which has whole animals displayed, is just a clue to the wonderful choices of meat, poultry and game found inside. Master butchers can cut your order exactly as you need.

Muncan Foods
43-09 Broadway
718.278.8847
Subway: M/R to Steinway Street or N/Q to Broadway

This store is a treasure that is worth a journey and you could build your first shopping visit to Astoria around it. Muncan is an eastern European meat market featuring smoked and cured meats, prime meats and poultry. In addition to an excellent selection of fresh meats, they sell dozens of different kinds of salamis, hot dogs, wursts, pork rinds, hams and bolognas. Ask for a taste of the double-smoked bacon, which is eaten raw (similar to the Italian lardo). In addition to a skinny and spicy garlic salami that I cut into thin slices to serve with cocktails, I bought a small rack of smoked ribs that I slow cooked with sauerkraut that turned the humble soured cabbage into something extraordinary. Muncan also has a small but very well edited selection of grocery items such as European mustards and preserves.

La Sabrosura Bakery
38-02 Broadway
718.791.5035
Subway:  N/Q to Broadway or R/M to Steinway Street

A small Colombian bakery with breads, rolls, sweets, and epinadas plus such specialties as bunuelos, pan de bono, and pan con queso.

Astoria Wine & Spirits
34-12 Broadway
718.545.9463
Subway:  N/Q to Broadway
astoriabierandcheese.com

Full-service wine and liquor shop with a diverse selection at all price points. Friendly and helpful, they have regular wine tastings. Open 7-days a week.

Want to know more about food in Astoria and the rest of Queens?  Meg Cotner has written a very useful book called the Food Lovers' Guide To Queens:  The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings (Globe Pequot Press, paperback, $14.95).  It's a terrific resource, thorough enough to be useful, and compact enough that you'll be glad to bring it along on any shopping trip without it weighing you down.

All these merchants have been added to The City Cook's grocery database, which is searchable by location and also type of merchant. If you have a favorite merchant, whether it's in Astoria or another part of NYC, please let me know so that we can visit it and include them in our database.

Astoria has become an increasingly popular place to live, and once you visit you'll see why. The residential streets are quiet and low-rise enough so that you can see the sky. There's its treasure of food shops and equally appealing and diverse restaurants and bars. And best of all is Astoria's exuberant diversity, evident in its global kitchen. If you don't live there, it's probably not a practical destination for weekly grocery shopping, but if you're looking for a way to explore this city, pack your shopping bags and your virtual passport and take the N/Q to Astoria.

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Tags

AstoriaMuncan FoodsTitan FoodsMediterranean FoodsArtopolis BakeryParrot Coffee and GroceryK&T Quality MeatsNoisette Pastry ShopWessamNile DeliOff The VineSorriso's SalumeriaInternational Meat MarketLa Sabrosura Bakery

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