Question – how do you shoehorn the best Queens has to offer into a single quixotic, mega-hang?
Answer – you just do. (I’ll trust that when you read the rest of this article you’ll know the answer to the other obvious question – “why would I want to”.)
I write a blog dedicated to smart, less-than-obvious travel destinations, travel “best practices”, and weekend getaways, but some of the best travel adventures I’ve discovered are right here in NYC. Given the opportunity to write an article for We Said Go Travel, I couldn’t escape one compelling notion: Let’s Take Them Deep In Queens.
If you’re not from New York, there’s one thing you likely immediately associate with Queens: the Mets. But locals know Queens as something else – the area with most cultural diversity of any in the world (no – really), some of the best Asian food on this side of the Pacific – nay – anywhere, and a head-turning variety of neighborhoods. But how do you even begin to wrap your mind around this sprawling borough, much less try to experience it in a single day?
You have to be slightly crazy, and you need the 7 train.
And, if you’re lucky enough to have the advice of two intrepid New Yorkers, game to “experience everything for you,” then write about it for you, you take it.
We begin in Flushing.
But let’s back up. We’re going to take you to three Queens nabes, amongst which we’ll run you by Citi Field for a Mets Game midday. Since a long subway ride home is a drag – and because dim sum is abundant in Flushing and best at brunch – we’ll start on the far end of Queens and work our way back Manhattan-ward. There are two easy ways to get there:
Cheapest – grab the 7 train over from Manhattan. It’s a little slow – around 45 minutes – to get to Flushing, but you can ride it all-day for a single day-long metro card. (If you’re visiting from out-of-town and can do the queens hang on a weekday, the “diamond 7” – so-called because of the illuminated diamond enclosing the number insignia – runs express.)
Best – take the LIRR from Penn Station to Flushing Main Street. The ride is around 20 minutes, but will set you back $7.00 for an off-peak fare. Considering what we’re about to put you through, it may be worth-the-investment.
Jade Asian Restaurant
136-28 39th Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
New York’s most famous Chinatown is located in southern Manhattan, but Flushing, its Queens cousin, is far more vast, beginning just across the river from Citi Field and continuing for miles to the East. It’s also more diverse – home to sizable Taiwanese and Korean populations in addition to its Chinese and Hong Kong residents. Chih-Yu and I have been going for years, and we’re barely scratching the surface.
Luckily, you don’t need to know any of that. Just remember two words: dim sum.
Jade Asian restaurant is quick a five-minute walk from either the 7 train or LIRR station (both nearby the intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Ave). If you haven’t tried it before, Dim Sum is a traditional brunch in Hong Kong, and beloved in most of Asia. A visit to Jade is adventurous-but-accessible for a first-timer. The cultural idiosyncrasies are as much a part of the experience as the food. Jade’s dining room is cavernous and richly ornamented, full of big round tables, with a stage up front where, one imagines, the bride and groom sit when they rent out the place for weddings. A gaggle of waiters in matching aprons and chef’s hats crisscross the floor with food carts overfilled with plates and bamboo steamers, and endless varieties of food – mostly dumplings – offering it up to the seated diners. You could theoretically order from the menu, but nobody does. It’s all about waiting until somebody crosses your path with the item you want, then flagging him/her down and laying claim to it before somebody else does.
Jade is said to specialize in steamed items, while Asian Jewel, down the street, tends toward the fried varietals. In reality you can find both at both spots. At Jade we helped ourselves to a positively fool-hearty abundance of dishes, including, but not limited to, shrimp crepes (pictured above), beef tripe stew, beef ribs, egg-tofu-seafood dumplings, something I like to call “bean curd burritos”, and about five other steamers of ornate steamed confections.
Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng
13518 Roosevelt Ave
Flushing, NY 11354
We were lucky that our next stop, Taiwan’s famous Ten Ren tea franchise, was two long avenues away, because after the embarrassing quantity of dim sum we put away, we needed a walk. I rarely miss an opportunity to visit Ten Ren. (I’ll often drink only conservative amounts of water or tea during a meal just to save room for Ten Ren afterward.)
Bubble-tea joints of varying quality are all-the-rage in Asian neighborhoods these days, and Ten Ren is not the most popular with the high-schoolers. That’s okay. They’re geared toward “discerning” consumers, with an wall of canisters of rare loose tea, some of it running upwards of $100-a-pound. You can still get bubble tea, though. They use bagged versions of their extremely high-quality tea (Taiwan’s tea is reputed to be the highest quality in the world) to prepare the iced drinks. Bubble Tea, in traditional parlance, refers to iced tea with marble-sized tapioca “bubbles”, condensed milk, and corn syrup. You drink it through a large-diameter straw, and if you suspect this looks and feels ridiculous, you’re right.
I keep it simple.
“Iced tea, no tapioca, no sugar,” I tell the server.
“No sugar?” he repeats, incredulously.
“You don’t need it,” I say, more pedantically than I intended.
“Okay,” he assures me, rolling his eyes. I try not to take it personally that a Taiwanese tea-store clerk doesn’t consider me the font of bubble-tea-wisdom.
Bellies full, tea-jonze satisfied, it’s back to the 7 train, and onto Citi Field. Our day is only beginning.
In part 2, will Citi Field’s modernity and convenience make Mets fans soft? Plus, we go down the rabbit hole at Sik Gaek in Woodside, then “get lost” in Long Island City after drinking our fill at Domaine Wine Bar.