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Woodside recently came to mind when we spoke with Franco Raicovich, the chef and a co-owner of Fuzi Pasta, a restaurant in Fresh Meadows. Franco grew up in Woodside, and on Sundays he would visit his father’s parents, Nonno Bepe and Nonna Angela, and help to fold the fuzi, an Istrian pasta that’s now the namesake of his restaurant.

Those childhood Sundays were a half-century ago. Today, the elevated 7 train that takes us eastward from Manhattan to Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing passes over a very different Woodside, and yet more than ever, it’s a neighborhood that shouldn’t be overlooked. True, Woodside is crisscrossed by Queens Boulevard and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), which corral many lanes of auto traffic at all hours, as well as the LIRR commuter rail. On paper, the neighborhood might seem like a patchwork, but in person – to our eyes – it’s a crazy quilt of wonderful food and drink. To make sense of it all, we’ve put together a guide to what we consider to be the best restaurants and other food stops in Woodside.

A common entry point to the neighborhood is the 74th St. station in neighboring Jackson Heights, a transportation hub where the 7 train crosses four subway lines and at least a half-dozen bus routes. Walking west, we soon reach the BQE overpass, which takes us past the drone of expressway traffic and delivers us into Little Manila.

This compact stretch of Roosevelt Ave. features the densest concentration of Filipino businesses anywhere in the city, most of them focused on food. When we’re in a mood to sit awhile, our first choice is Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill, a mom-and-pop restaurant that’s been a fixture in the community for more than three decades. One of the few local businesses older than Renee’s, Phil-Am Food Mart, offers a dizzying display of imported foodstuffs for cooking at home or snacking on the go. We particularly like the polvoron, crumbly shortbread cookies in flavors like coconut, melon and purple yam.

Many of the restaurants in this area have small countertop displays of similar snacks. By afternoon, even on chilly days, a few street vendors might sell their own homemade confections. In warm weather, they’re joined once a month by an outdoor food fair that crowds the sidewalk with more confections, pour-over coffee fattened by condensed milk and, from all parts of the pig, skewers grilled to order.

These Filipino street vendors are more the exception than the rule, perhaps due in part to the terrain. Compared with the busiest blocks of Roosevelt Ave. in neighborhoods to the east, here the streets and sidewalks slope upward, in places, as we walk to the west. We’d have to think that the terrain also contributed to the name of the neighborhood: The area on the far side of the hill, bathed in afternoon light, has long been known as Sunnyside.

True, the real estate developer who bought a 115-acre farm on this land in 1867, Benjamin Hitchcock, owned a Vermont estate also named Woodside. Hitchcock divided the farm into lots, and what had been the site of Native American and then Dutch settlements soon became the largest Irish American community in Queens.

Today, while it’s not so common to hear an Irish accent on the sidewalks of Woodside, we can remedy that situation over a frothy pint at one of the neighborhood’s many Irish bars. When we’re of a mind to watch sports with our mates – rugby, hurling, Gaelic football – we look to The Beerkeeper, which also maintains a wide and well-curated selection of craft brews on tap. When games aren’t on, live performances of traditional Irish music set the scene.

If we’re in the mood, instead, for “a properly poured pint of Guinness” in a warm setting – even when the fireplace isn’t burning – we head for Donovan’s Pub. Any one of its several wood-paneled rooms is the right place for a classic Irish meat-and-potatoes meal, though we also look back with fondness at our last juicy Donovan’s burger, long considered among the city’s best.

The prosaically named Woodside Grocery boasts that “we sell Irish products,” and the brand names illustrated on the eye-catching sign outside – for chips, cookies, candy, grocery items and more– are well-represented inside, too. On our most recent visit, however, the two fellows running the shop that day evidently hailed from South Asia, as do many residents who’ve recently arrived in the neighborhood.

The crowded streets around Diversity Plaza, in neighboring Jackson Heights, are thick with Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants, trucks and food carts. But it’s in Woodside that the Tibetan Community of New York & New Jersey found ample room for Phuntsok Deshe, a former sewing factory that’s been transformed into the organization’s community hall. Food seems to figure in every event at the hall; earlier this year we sipped butter tea during preparations for Losar, the Tibetan Lunar New Year.

Our favorite spot for jhol momo – Nepalese steamed dumplings immersed in a sesame-laden, chicken-broth-based, particularly soupy chutney – remains Bhanchha Ghar, also in Jackson Heights. For variety, however, that restaurant can’t match Woodside’s Momo Crave, which serves the dumplings in about a dozen styles. In addition to the classic steamed, pan-fried and deep-fried momo, each with various fillings, we also find tandoori momo skewered with pepper and onion, and even – beneath avocado, black bean paste and salsa – taco momo.

Until last year we knew of only one Bhutanese restaurant in the city: The Weekender, which since our first visit has expanded and redecorated the dining room, while billiards now keep to a room of their own. But today Woodside boasts a second Bhutanese restaurant, Zhego NYC. Even though it’s much smaller – the entire dining room could fit atop a billiard table – the menu might be more adventurous, if that’s possible for a cuisine that employs chile peppers not as a seasoning, but as a vegetable.

Woodside is not blessed with a Little Thailand – a street by that name can be found in neighboring Elmhurst – but it does sport a pair of well-stocked shops under the name 3 Aunties Thai Market. Each features a small kitchen that turns out all sorts of snacks. Most are savory, but the owners make their own Thai-tea-flavored ice cream, too.

On the same block as the original, charmingly compact 3 Aunties, we also find what might be New York’s most venerable Thai restaurant, Sripraphai, a fixture since the 1990s. Unlike many of the city’s newer Thai restaurants that devote themselves to regional cuisine, especially the fiery food of Isan, in the northeast, Sripraphai serves dishes from all across the country on its expansive menu. Also expansive: Sripraphai’s trellis-shaded back garden. It’s especially welcoming when the flowers are blooming and the fountain is flowing.

Woodside, alas, does not present us with many options for tranquil outdoor dining. So we’re particularly looking forward to the return, with warmer weather, of the Sunday-only Mexican pop-up Carnitas los Jarochos. Long-simmered pork carnitas and slow-roasted beef barbacoa can be delicious in any setting, but at a backyard picnic table, washed down with a tall cold Jarritos soda, they’re hard to beat. We wonder, how many other Woodside backyards have something cooking?

Dave Cook

Published on May 14, 2024

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