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For culinary explorers, Queens is not merely a way station, it is a destination in itself. The largest in area of the five boroughs of New York City, Queens is the home of well over two million people, half of them born outside the United States, speaking untold hundreds of mother tongues. During the course of a day, you might hear a dozen languages without breaking a sweat. The gastronomic variety is perhaps even more astonishing. Queens embraces innumerable small neighborhoods within neighborhoods, and no single cuisine or family of cuisines holds sway in them all. The local favorites in food and drink, and the favorite ways to enjoy them, seem to change before your eyes every time you turn a corner.
By publishing the stories of our local heroes, visiting them on culinary tours, or directly fundraising for them when they are in need, we attempt to honor their work and their essential role in maintaining the fabric of the city. Our purpose is twofold. Yes, we want to get travelers to some good places to eat. But we also want to make sure that some of these spots and the artisans making food there find a new audience and get the recognition and support they deserve. They are holding back the tide of globalized sameness, which is not easy work – even if it’s done unknowingly. But we believe that every meal counts and, with the help of our audience, they will add up. We are committed to their perseverance and hope that our modest efforts encourage them to keep at it. Our work is also guided by a belief in: Honest Tourism: The places where we eat and craftsmen that we feature on our culinary tours are all selected with this purpose in mind. We’d never accept a free lunch or consider a discount for our tour groups, because that would contradict our central goal, to support them. Nor do our guides receive any commissions from shopkeepers. Honest Journalism: The same principal is applied to the publishing of stories. There are no sponsored posts or even advertising on CB. The writers and photographers are paid fairly for their work on stories that we all believe in.
The cities we are drawn to all have a culinary tradition of untold richness as well as a certain tension, be it political instability, the tug between East and West, the clash between modern and ancient identities, migration, rapid gentrification, bankruptcy, or a post-colonial hangover. Our decision to get started in a city is always the result of a trip filled with many meals where we are given in intimate view of that tension, right there on the table. By getting lost in this warren of independent food purveyors struggling to preserve or adapt tradition in fast-paced urban life, we start to discover the deep complexity and true flavor of the city. At present, you’ll find our regular dispatches from Athens, Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Marseille, Mexico City, Naples, Porto, Queens (NY), Shanghai, Tbilisi and Tokyo.
As travel to most of the cities where we work has resumed, Culinary Backstreets is working with a new set of safety guidelines designed for the physical well-being of our guests, guides and members of the local community that we encounter. These guidelines have been developed in line with the best practices published by governments and health officials in the countries where CB works with regard to restaurant and tour and trip operation. With these procedures in place, our guests — led by our team of professional guides, who are being trained accordingly — can explore with peace of mind. The new procedures we are instituting include:
Culinary Backstreets’ mission has always been to preserve, protect and celebrate local culinary traditions and the unsung heroes of the kitchen. Now, more than ever, we remain focused on this goal. These days, we are paying close attention to the physical, economic and psychological well-being of the local communities and the people who keep them fed. We view this as an opportunity for cities to develop a tourism model that makes sense for them and that avoids the mistakes of the past, and for companies like Culinary Backstreets to be part of that process by renewing our commitment to a more sustainable way of traveling and working. By joining our tours and trips, you are contributing to this effort, which includes:
Culinary Backstreets is offering maximum flexibility for our guests, as we realize that travel this summer and fall might involve unexpected cancellations or postponements. So that our guests can book with confidence, we are putting in place the following cancelation policies:
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Tour the Backstreets of Queens With Us
Our Backstreets Envoys, Always Searching for the Next Hidden Gem
Dave, Queens Correspondent
Dave is a New York-based photojournalist. He grew up in the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, but his college years in New York cemented his love for the Big Apple. Since 2005 his website Eating In Translation has explored lesser-known food in the five boroughs of the city and, occasionally, farther afield. His work has also appeared in The New York Times; The Art of Eating; Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City; and many other publications.
Esneider, Queens Walk Leader
Esneider has over 25 years of experience in the New York City food scene, most recently as co-executive chef at Angelica Kitchen, one of the city’s first vegan restaurants. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, he enjoys introducing visitors to the diverse immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, where he has lived for the past three decades. He performs in a hardcore punk band, is an avid swimmer, cyclist, and runner, and loves to travel.
Katherine, Queens Walk Leader
Katherine hails from Cali, Colombia. She moved to New York to pursue her education in art and photography. Several of her photographs have been recently recognized with awards. A Queens resident, she is an avid explorer of new and interesting food.
In addition to leading tours for Culinary Backstreets, Milton is a community worker who migrated 22 years ago from Quito, Ecuador, and was raised in Corona and Jackson Heights, Queens. He’s had over 12 years of experience in the New York City food scene working with small immigrant businesses. He is also a filmmaker, currently a fellow researcher at the New School, and a proud son of Queens who enjoys showing his neighborhood and its various cultures as a way of learning how immigrants historically and presently sustain this city.
Sierra has been a culinary professional (restaurant chef, private chef, large and small event caterer) for over 20 years in both New York City and California. Sierra loves studying global cultural foodways, culinary anthropology, exploring neighborhoods and communities and their unique food histories and fusions, and weaving together the intersections of migration, social issues, and food economics. Sierra is also a singer and private voice teacher, and lifelong instrumental musician, as well as a huge fan of NYC’s waterways and public transit systems.
CB’s work was started in 2009 by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer as a humble food blog called Istanbul Eats. The following year we published a book of our reviews, now in its fifth edition. That year we also launched our first culinary walk in Istanbul, a route we are still using today. In 2012, we realized that what we built in Istanbul was needed in other cities we knew and loved. We started CB that year with Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai as pioneering members of our network. In 2013, we added Rio and also launched our iPhone application in Istanbul. In 2015, Tokyo and Tbilisi came into the fold. That year we published mini-guides to Barcelona and Athens and also launched an iPhone application in those cities. Our Eatinerary service, which provides travelers with tailor-made culinary travel itineraries, was also launched in 2015. In 2016, Lisbon – the latest city to kindle our curiosity – joined the CB network. In 2017 we added Naples and Queens, NY – two places with very compelling stories to tell – to our roster and also published full-size eating guides to Athens and Barcelona. In 2018, Porto joined the list of cities we cover.
Visual Dispatches from the Frontlines of Local Eating
Where is Queens?
Queens is one of the five boroughs of New York City. Queens alone is home to more than 2.4 million people, nearly half of whom were born abroad, and is more linguistically diverse than anywhere else in the world. The largest of the five boroughs by area, Queens borders Long Island Sound to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, the Long Island suburbs to the east and the borough of Brooklyn to the west. The borough of Manhattan is just to the west, too, across a river but easy to reach by public transport or car.
What are the best things to do in Queens?
Most visitors to Queens venture to Manhattan for its landmarks, museums, shopping, theater and nightlife. But the wide-open spaces of Queens offer many outdoor attractions that cosmopolitan Manhattan can’t match. In Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the New York Mets baseball team play more than 80 games from spring till fall, and during two weeks in late summer the park also welcomes the U.S Open tennis championships. The tennis tournament’s former home, in Forest Hills, doesn’t sit idle; it hosts some two dozen pop and rock concerts during the warmer months.
Much of Queens was once farmland, and at the 47-acre Queens Country Farm Museum, in Floral Park, you can visit New York City’s last working farm, in continuous operation for more than three centuries. Of course, the unmatched variety of cuisines from all over the world is one of the greatest draws for visitors to Queens. Most street food vendors ply their trade year-round, as do restaurants, cafes, bakeries and markets. From May through October, street fairs and outdoor festivals are added attractions.
When is the best time of year to visit Queens?
The best time to visit Queens is from late April through June, and from September through early November. July and August are generally sunny, too, but can be very hot and humid. In late summer – particularly September, the driest of these months – hotel rooms are hardest to come by.
What is the weather like in Queens?
The weather in Queens can be very changeable, so it’s wise to pack a travel umbrella and a light layer, such as a windbreaker, that you can add or remove easily. July and August are generally sunny, but the summer months can also be very hot and humid, with temperatures often near 90 F. Spring and fall – April through June, and September through November – are more pleasant, thanks to daily high temperatures in the 50s, 60s and 70s F, but pop-up rain showers are not uncommon, particularly in the spring. In winter, the temperature will rarely climb above 50 F, often accompanied by biting winds and occasionally by a wet, messy snowfall. If you visit during this season, waterproof boots are essential.
Is Queens expensive?
Prices in Queens are higher than in much of the United States, although not as high as in Manhattan. The average price of a 3-star hotel is about $180 per night. At many of our favorite restaurants, a three-course lunch or dinner for one person is about $40, although Queens offers many more-casual options – slices of pizza, a huge sandwich to share, all manner of street food – that allow you to eat your fill for far less. A cup of coffee is about $3, a draft beer is about $8.
Is Queens safe?
Queens is very safe. It is particularly welcoming to visitors from many different backgrounds, since the borough is itself home to residents who first lived in many other countries and speak many different languages. On streets and in crowds, of course, do be mindful of wallets, purses, phones, cameras and other valuables.
What is the best food in Queens?
Queens is famous for its unmatched variety of cuisines from all over the world, and so the “best” might well be one of the many cuisines that you’ve never tried. Naturally, you can find exceptional steamed dumplings and hand-pulled noodles from China, skewered meats and fried empanadas from all quarters of Latin America, and Italian ices in a rainbow of flavors. Just to take the letter “B,” enjoy cheese-sauced peppers in a Bhutanese billiard parlor; slurp-filled salteñas from a Bolivian sidewalk counter; dine on ilish, a fatty, oily Bangladeshi fish, to be eaten with the fingers; or try stuffed, griddled Burmese palatha at a night market. Queens (and the rest of the alphabet) awaits.
Where is the best place to stay in Queens?
Long Island City, at the western edge of the borough, is one of the best areas to stay in Queens. Via the elevated 7 train, it provides ready access to the culinary wonders in the Queens neighborhoods to the east – Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Corona and Flushing – as well as a quick ride west into Manhattan. Many travelers to New York City prefer to stay in Manhattan for sightseeing and taking the train into Queens for a day of eating.
What is the COVID-19 situation in Queens?
About 85% of Queens residents are fully vaccinated; this rate is about 78% for New York City as a whole. Masks are not required in most indoor settings, but some individual establishments do set their own requirements, and so it’s good to keep a mask at the ready. All inbound international travelers over the age of 18 must be fully vaccinated. In addition, all inbound international travelers 2 years of age or older must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result within the 24 hours prior to departure.
What are the requirements for American travelers?
As of June 25, 2021, domestic travelers to Queens, or to anywhere in New York State, are no longer required to submit traveler health forms or provide proof of vaccination. However, proof of vaccination is still required by some individual businesses.
Can I fly directly to Queens?
Queens is served by three major airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK); Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), in the nearby state of New Jersey; and LaGuardia Airport (LGA). Most international travelers fly into JFK or Newark, where dedicated trains deliver them to public transport. From JFK, fixed-fare taxi rides are also available to anywhere in the city. LaGuardia, which serves travelers from the United States and Canada, is served by several bus routes as well as by taxis.
What is the best restaurant in Queens?
The unparalleled variety of culinary delights in Queens makes any head-to-head comparisons near-impossible, and so the “best” is hard to define. Even so, we can wholeheartedly recommend the “divine” food at Angel Indian Restaurant, the red-sauce fine dining at Park Side Restaurant and the soda-fountain “nostalgia, by the scoopful” at Eddie’s Sweet Shop.
Are there beaches in Queens?
Although Queens is surrounded on several sides by water, generally the waterfront offers little more than a view. The exception is Rockaway Beach, which boasts a five-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk and an even longer beach open all summer for sunbathing, swimming and – if you’re game to rent a wetsuit and board – surfing. From much of Queens you can reach the beach in less than an hour by car, or an hour-and-a-half by public transport. Pass through the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on your way, a sprawling sanctuary for hundreds of bird species on the southern outskirts of the borough, offers guided presentations, hikes and family programs year-round.
Is Queens suitable for children?
Parents will find plenty of food that their children will enjoy. Chinese dumplings and noodles, and Latin American kebabs and empanadas, quickly come to mind; so do Italian ices in a rainbow of flavors. Navigating a stroller through the narrow, crowded sidewalks of Flushing or Corona can be problematic, however. By contrast, the upper reaches of Astoria – several stops to the north from most Long Island City hotels on the elevated 7 train or a short ride by car – offer wider and less challenging sidewalks. These are home to many family-friendly Greek tavernas, cafes and restaurants. Gantry Plaza State Park, in southern Long Island City, offers a playground and a mist fountain; wide, paved walkways beside the East River; and spectacular views of Midtown Manhattan. Almost invariably, a convoy of food trucks will line up just outside the park, too.