Must-See Astoria

Adam Kuban

(Updated 12/18/2015)

Astoria was named for millionaire merchant John Jacob Astor, in the hopes that America's then-richest man might bestow some of his fortune on this part of northwestern Queens. He eventually invested $500 in the area but reportedly never set foot there.

His loss. Today, Astoria is one of New York City's most culturally diverse neighborhoods and home to arts institutions, food destinations and shopping that make a visit eminently worth the 20-minute subway ride from Times Square. Known primarily as the City's traditionally Greek neighborhood, Astoria is also home to a significant number of residents of Italian, Brazilian, Baltic, Irish and Egyptian descent, as well as a new set of émigrés—younger, hip, creative types drawn to the neighborhood's affordable housing, inexpensive amenities and short commute to Manhattan. There's much to enjoy here.

Astoria encompasses a large section of northwestern Queens. For visitors, it's best to think of it as a collection of smaller neighborhoods centered on each of five thoroughfares (36th Avenue; Broadway; 30th Avenue; Ditmars Boulevard running east-west; and Steinway Street running north-south) and to concentrate on one or two of them at a time.

To explore more, check out our interactive map of neighborhood attractions, and book a hotel so you can stay right near the action.

Museum of the Moving Image. Photo: Marley White

Museums and Sculpture
Astoria is home to three venues that draw arts and culture lovers from throughout the City. The Museum of the Moving Image is the only institution in the country dedicated to the art, technology and social impact of film, television and digital media. It is home to the largest collection of moving-image artifacts in the US and features hundreds of screenings a year. Astoria is an apt place for it, too; the neighborhood was one of America's early centers of filmmaking and is home to Kaufman Astoria Studios, located next door to the museum, which dates to 1920. In fact, the museum and the studio sit squarely within the recently designated Kaufman Arts District. Within walking distance (about 20 minutes, nearby bordering neighborhood Long Island City) is the Noguchi Museum, which celebrates the life and work of sculptor and artist Isamu Noguchi. Time your visit to take advantage of the free 2pm tour that the museum offers every day it's open (Wednesday through Sunday). After visiting the Noguchi, take a stroll though nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, which is practically across the street. Created by sculptor Mark di Suvero in 1986, the park is a 4-acre outdoor museum with a pleasant view of the East River and Roosevelt Island. Curators organize several large-scale exhibitions here each year as well as educational programs and community events like outdoor movie screenings and farmers' markets in the summer.

Astoria Park. Photo: Marley White

Outdoor Astoria
One of the neighborhood's gems is leafy 60-acre Astoria Park. Perched partially on a gently sloping hill that affords sweeping views up and down the East River, the park is home to the City's oldest and largest swimming pool—which was used for qualifying events for the 1936 and 1964 Olympics—as well as bocce courts, playgrounds, a running track and a skate park. Another of the neighborhood's beloved outdoor spaces is Athens Square Park, which the park association revamped in 1990 to "create a little bit of Athens in Astoria." Sculptures of Socrates, Aristotle and Athena surround an amphitheater that in July and August plays host to Greek Night (Tuesdays, 7:30–9pm) as well as Italian Night (Wednesdays); both events entail music and dancing. Rainey Park, on Vernon Boulevard and 34th Avenue, is also popular (and packed on weekends) and has a riverfront promenade with views of Roosevelt Island.

Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. Photo: Clayton Cotterell

Beer Gardens
Dating back to 1910, Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden is the granddaddy of NYC beer gardens. Until just a short while ago it was the last of a dying breed. But even though numerous biergarten have sprung up throughout the City in recent years, Bohemian remains one of the best and most sprawling. Grab a cold pitcher of Czech or German beer—or one of the craft brews on the menu—and, in clement weather, spend the day with friends at a sun-dappled picnic table under the trees. The Garden at Studio Square, a more recent upstart, is just as expansive as Bohemian and features DJs, live music, karaoke, sports viewing and 20 beers on tap. For a more intimate, beer-centric experience, try Astoria's SingleCut Beersmiths,which was among the first of Queens's burgeoning number of local breweries. Hit the taproom (Wednesdays through Sundays) to grab a pint or sample a tasting flight of brews. Not content to simply drink beer? Get all you need to make your own at Astoria Beer & Brew, a craft-beer and wine bar that doubles as a home-brew equipment store.

Ovelia. Photo: Marley White

Greek Food...
If there's one thing most New Yorkers know Astoria for, it's the neighborhood's Greek culture—especially its cuisine. A mainstay of the 30th Avenue dining scene, Ovelia is a neighborhood favorite and is perfect for brunch if you're visiting in the late morning or early afternoon. Don't-miss dishes include the house-made loukaniko, a Greek sausage, and the tiropita toast, the restaurant's feta sandwich. On the northern end of Astoria in the Ditmars Boulevard area you'll find Taverna Kyclades, which is renowned citywide for its traditional seafood dishes and draws crowds of destination diners. Try the grilled calamari or branzino and the lemon potatoes. The wait can be long; fortunately, the portions are large, so you can satisfy an appetite that's had time to ripen. For vegetarians or those after lighter fare, the mixed vegetable plate at nearby Telly’s Taverna is a great option—and for dessert every night except Saturday, the restaurant serves free loukoumades (essentially fried doughnuts, drizzled with honey).

The Greek food in Astoria ranges from classic to contemporary reinterpretations of the cuisine. The gyro is an iconic dish in this panoply, and BZ Grill serves what many consider to be the best in the City. BZ's version is made from cuts of marinated pork stacked high on a rotating spit, which slowly roasts the meat, leaving it crisp and juicy. Bridging the gap between traditional Greek fare and the changing tastes of the neighborhood is MP Taverna, where chef Michael Psilakis serves simple-seeming dishes that are packed with flavor. The Greek meatballs, grilled octopus with chickpea salad and smashed fries have developed a following among locals.

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

...And Every Other Cuisine
Astoria is rich in diversity, and that's reflected in its non-Greek dining scene. Along 36th Avenue, you'll find a concentration of Brazilian shops and restaurants, where Malagueta is a standout. The acarajé (a fritter of mashed black-eyed peas) is particularly good. Pão de Queijo serves an over-the-top Brazilian sandwich known as the "X Tudo"—a hamburger with ham, cheese, bacon, egg, calabresa sausage, corn, potato sticks, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Along Steinway Street, with its immigrants from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen and Algeria, you'll find a number of hookah cafés and some of the best Middle Eastern food in the City. Kabab Cafe is a destination among the City's knowing food-lovers, who praise it for the inventive food being cooked up by owner Ali El Sayed. Be forewarned: the food at Kabab Café is only half the experience. El Sayed is the other half, as much entertainer and intellectual as chef, and prone to conversation with his guests. You're better off letting him cook you what he wants rather than going by the menu. For a less involved meal, try Duzan Mediterranean Grill, a small Palestinian restaurant that makes some terrific hummus, falafel and chicken shawarma. The last few years have seen ramen shops open in the Ditmars and 30th Avenue areas—Hinomaru and Okidoki, respectively—and an excellent small Thai spot called Pye Boat Noodle that specializes in the kind of dishes commonly sold from floating markets in Thailand.

Italian is another mainstay of Astoria dining. Toward the higher end, Trattoria L’Incontro is a must-visit—the ravioli and risotto dishes are excellent. Astorians tend to make L'Incontro a special night out, so dress accordingly (and be sure to make a reservation). Nearby and more casual—but just as delicious—is Ornella, known for its chestnut-flour pasta and more adventurous, seasonal specials like sanguinaccio (blood-and-chocolate pudding). Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana makes some of the best Neapolitan-style wood-oven pizza in the neighborhood. Head to Ukus for Bosnian fare like burek or cevapi sausages stuffed in pita.

Loveday 31. Photo: Christine Cluff

Astoria is largely residential but does offer some unique shopping experiences. Among them is recently opened Lockwood, which stocks chic decor items; locally made clothing, food and accessories; and kitchen gear. For more shopping nearby, Loveday 31 specializes in vintage clothing and jewelry from local designers. Astoria has always been family friendly but is experiencing a baby boom of late. Getting back to food, two must-see grocery destinations are Titan Foods, a Greek grocery store so beloved that regional expats arrange tour buses to visit the shop and stock up on food, and Muncan Food Corp., a charcuterie that initially specialized in Eastern European sausages but soon began re-creating the cured meats of other countries in response to the culinary leanings of Astoria's pan-ethnic population. Alongside its original Serbo-Croatian sausages are chorizo, made at the request of Muncan's Mexican employees, and pork-free products, for the neighborhood's Muslim residents.

Mac 'n cheese at The Queens Kickshaw. Photo: Joe Buglewicz

In Astoria, Change Is Constant
The influx of younger, creative types attracted to Astoria's lower rent and cost of living has had a significant influence on the neighborhood in recent years. With the new arrivals have come restaurants and bars that, five years ago, would have been more likely to be found in parts of Brooklyn. Among them are the Queens Kickshaw, which made a name for itself with its inventive grilled cheese sandwiches when it first opened but has expanded its reach to include dishes like brussels sprout okonomiyaki (grilled pancake) as well as a renowned cider and mead menu. Neighborhood pizza favorite Milkflower looks toward both Naples and Brooklyn for inspiration, combining the two into a pleasing package. Favorite bars among this set include Sweet Afton, where bartenders mix cocktails-with-a-twist (such as the Rye Root Beer) and the Sparrow Tavern, known for its laid-back vibe and late-night menu that includes fare transcending that of any 24-hour diner.