Killer Kebabs, stellar Thai, and your seasonal dose of urban leaf peeping
This sleepy corner of Queens is just one more example of why Queens truly deserves to be thought of as one of the world's great food meccas. Of course, the borough's growing recognition certainly isn't by chance. In fact, Queens in many ways has long had the perfect recipe for culinary stardom. Queens County is considered to be the most ethnically diverse area in the world, with over 138 languages spoken and ~ 50% of its 2.3M residents foreign born. And, not only is the borough home to one of the most unique intersections of culture, flavors, and languages, but it is also one of the nation's silent population powerhouses. If each borough was its own city, Queens would be the fourth largest city in America, behind LA, Chicago, and Brooklyn. How's that for comparison?
Hop of the 46th street 7 in Sunnyside and in one afternoon of wandering, you can travel from the Souks of Turkey to the food carts of Thailand, all for under $25. Plus, not to mention, wander the beautiful gardens and oggle the perfect fall colors of one of the City's first planned communities.
Come with a hearty appetite and prepare to bring home leftovers. Hello Sunnyside!
First stop: Shawarma at Souk El Shater
Walk into this humble shop and you're likely to hear the owner chatting with the locals in Arabic, affectionately addressing a friend "Habibi" and shouting "Inshallah" or "God Willing", out the door as he waves goodbye to a regular. Its awesome and, let me tell you, this guy knows what he's doing. We ordered the combo platter: off the spit juicy meats, crisp tomatoes and onions, whipped garlic, vibrant pink pickles, spicy green pepper sauce, and fragrant rice. Grab a spot at the counter and enjoy one of the most delicious meals in town. Extra sauce please.
Pro tip: split a plate with a friend so you have room for what's next! And, of course, credit to the master Max at Serious Eats for suggesting this spot. Its safe to say he knows pretty much everything, especially when it comes to meat roasting on a spit somewhere in the outer boroughs.
Next up: Adana Kebabs at Mangal Kebab
Grab a seat at this spot on the other side of Queens Boulevard and you're met with a massive menu of various saucy, peppery, yogurty Turkish dishes and the smell of something excellent happening in the kitchen. We started with a plate of eggplant mezze and crispy bread, collectively eaten in under 2 minutes. When its too fast to photograph, you know its good. Next up, a shared plate of Adana Kebabs with yogurt and charred pepper, over a layer of hearty dough. Delicious, and yes I know, you're already way past full. But don't worry, we'll walk it off before the next stop.
Walk it off and take in the views: Sunnyside Gardens Historic District
Much like neighboring Jackson Heights, Sunnyside had a flirtation with the English Garden City movement in the early 1920s. The city planning ideal du jour of the late 19th century, this utopian movement aimed to build self sufficient communities with housing, commercial, and industrial uses surrounding a garden core and encircled by a larger agricultural greenbelt. In the Sunnyside version, affordable homes were built around airy central courtyards and linked by common walkways, a radical plan that allocated 70% of the land to open space.
Enter pretty much anywhere you see one of these charming pathways and you'll soon find yourself wandering through a tangle of beautiful trees, gardens, and open courtyards. You'll know you're in the right spot if you see the sign above and if you're somewhere in the square between Skillman Ave and 39th Ave and 44th-49th. Google maps will look like a checkerboard of lots with green squares in them.
Below you can see one of the beautiful open courtyards at the center of the block, surrounding by the charming pathway that connects all the backyards to each other.
This here guardian of the gardens was clearly off duty - snoozing in the sun and too lazy to blink at us. A candidate for Grumpy Cat, Sunnyside edition?
Homes like this one have closed in yards, all butting up against the beautiful central common area and creating a small urban oasis in the center of an otherwise normal looking block. Doesn't feel like New York, does it?
I don't know about you, but these are some of the most beautiful fall colors I've seen around the entire city, and in Queens no less. Orange, yellow, green, and those crisp fall blue skies.
Upon emerging, what else of course but the quaintest of streets greets you on 39th Ave. Take a right and head towards Roosevelt and into the neighboring community of Woodside for our next stop.
Thai Grocery Shopping in Woodside: Inthira Thai Market
Head down 39th avenue toward its intersection with Roosevelt and you'll find yourself in a mini mecca for Thai cuisine. All those authentic Thai ingredients need to come from somewhere and Inthira Thai Market is just the spot. This little grocery store is packed with spices, sauces, canned asian fruits, and quite the spectrum of Thai noodle varieties. Check it out for fun or even if you're planning on doing a little adventurous home cooking. And hey, I hear Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker shops here too.
Too delicious to miss, one last meal and some stellar Thai dessert: SriPraPhai
Lets talk Thai food. With 1,400+ reviews and 4.5 starts on Yelp in an otherwise less traveled corner of Queens, I'd say the votes are in and its unanimous - this place is awesome. Its certainly some of the best Thai I've had New York if two dishes are any indication.
Starting with the menu, you're likely to see all sorts of things here that you wouldn't at your standard neighborhood joint. So, we ordered the unfamiliar, starting with watercress salad. The watercress was fried tempura-style and served with a spicy sauce of shrimp, peppers, cilantro, peanuts, and (perhaps cuttlefish?) to pour on top. Delicious and unlike anything I've had before.
We finished with a dessert of red rice in coconut milk with warm squares of taro and ice on top for cooling. Sweet and savory at the same time and the perfect way to end a day of eating and wandering.
And, of course, who can stop themselves when there is a wonderful fridge full of delightful desserts on the way out? Suffice it to say, we grabbed quite the to go order. The Taro cake made for an excellent snack for the office the next day. "Colleagues, we went all the way to Thailand yesterday and brought back some goodies!"
Mapping your trip