You may have heard of Jamaica, Queens, in a hip-hop lyric, or passed through the area on your way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, but there’s much more to the bustling neighborhood.
While rappers like Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent, Run DMC, LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest put Jamaica on a global stage and proudly represented it in their music, the legacy of Black culture in the area runs deeper. Jazz legends like John Coltrane, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet and Charlie Mingus once called Jamaica home. Numerous Black-owned restaurants, shops and cultural institutions, both new and generations deep, provide a distinct identity to the community.
The core of Jamaica, roughly between Hillside Avenue, Linden Boulevard, Merrick Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway, is a scrappy area with a lot of heart, though greater Jamaica takes in neighboring areas such as South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, Laurelton and Jamaica Estates. Spending a weekend exploring this southeastern corner of Queens is a great way to uncover a frequently overlooked cultural hub and support local businesses.
We look forward to a time when businesses have fully opened up, and our itinerary reflects this ideal. For now, some restaurants, bars, shops, attractions and cultural institutions may be temporarily closed, have delivery/takeout/outdoor-dining only or have shortened hours. Be sure to check on their status before your visit.
Day 1: Friday
Have a warm start to the day with porridge from Genesis Restaurant. The flavor changes daily, so you’ll appreciate the variety. The Jamaican restaurant, which was established by chef Garfield Clarke in 1997, offers other breakfast options such as traditional ackee and saltfish.
Head southwest on Hillside Avenue and take a left at 153rd Street to reach King Manor Museum, on Jamaica Avenue. The museum and surrounding 11.5-acre park were named for Rufus King—American Revolution veteran, framer and signer of the United States Constitution, political figure and vocal anti-slavery advocate. It’s the only historic house museum in the area and puts on frequent exhibits and public programs.
Walk a few blocks on Jamaica Avenue to find the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. This cultural incubator, which has been around for nearly five decades, holds live performances and community classes in visual, literary and performing arts. During the pandemic the center has transitioned to online events, like Second Thursday Night Jazz; limited live performances resumed in April.
“Dwellin' in the Rotten Apple / you get tackled.” Queens native Nas rapped these iconic words in his seminal hit “The World is Yours.” As you continue down Jamaica Avenue, you’ll notice a bustling thoroughfare chock-full of vendors, including a clothing store likely inspired by the lyrics: Rotten Apple Wear. Stop in for all of your Queens-centric (and beyond) gear: Rotten Apple reps neighborhoods outside Jamaica—and across the five boroughs.
On the corner of 165th Street and Jamaica Avenue stands a patty shop called Jamaican Flavors. On a nice day, expect the line to the shop’s walk-up window to be wrapped around the corner. Aside from the standard beef filling, Jamaican Flavors offers chicken, ackee & salt fish, pumpkin and Impossible patties. Pro tip: if you want an Impossible patty, arrive early in the day.
Continue up Jamaica Avenue to the legendary VP Records. This record shop has been operating in New York City for over 40 years. Named after its founders, Vincent and Patricia Chin, VP Records is the progeny of Randy’s Record Mart, of Kingston, Jamaica. Today VP Records claims to be one of the world's largest independent record labels. You’ll be lured into the shop by its entrancing music (that you can often hear from the street) and welcoming ambience.
Take a bus or cab down to Island Taste for dinner. The outdoor area provides the setting for a proper dining experience in the fresh air. Entrée options include seafood pasta, curried or grilled lobster tail and salmon in coconut sauce; there are specials as well.
Day 2: Saturday
Start your day with movement. Over three decades ago, artistic director Carolyn DeVore founded the DeVore Dance Center. It still thrives today. The studio provides classes for tiny tots all the way to adults. Hour-long sessions are available for ballet, tap, modern, hip-hop, jazz and African dance, which is taught with live drummers.
After working up an appetite, stop in at Bebe Fritay for traditional Haitian fare. Try the codfish served with boiled plantains, yam and sweet potatoes. If you’re want to skip breakfast, go for the wildly popular poule en sauce (chicken stew).
A long stroll west on Hollis Avenue and onto Jamaica Avenue brings you to a storefront that’s painted bright yellow with red doors. The marquee reads “The Center for Culture”—that’s your welcome to the Afrikan Poetry Theatre. For more than 40 years, the theater has brought cultural and educational programs to Jamaica—hosting concerts, classes and an array of workshops like the current Educated Actors crash course.
You'll be hard-pressed to find another place that sells vegan chopped cheese, loaded fries and vegan oxtail in Jamaica. Located on Liberty Avenue, DeeGee’s Vegan 360 serves a wide selection of meat-free, soy-free food. This takeout spot is guaranteed to make your mouth water.
End your evening at Liberty Avenue’s Vibes, a lounge that touts itself as place for “good food, good music, good people, good times.” Be sure to check out its rum punch, Henny punch and Henny strawberry lemonade.
Day 3: Sunday
Start your day at Greater Allen AME Cathedral. After a light praise and worship, exit the megachurch, located on Merrick Boulevard (which was recently renamed to honor the Rev. Floyd Flake, the pastor of the cathedral), and stop by Burgers Tacos Wings & Seafood for Soul Sundays. This special soul-food menu features honey-roasted chicken, jerk turkey wings, parmesan shrimp, fried whiting and fried jumbo shrimp. Be sure to snap a flick in front of the BTW wall on your way out.
Named after the late civil rights activist and NAACP leader, Roy Wilkins Park sprawls across 54 acres and includes basketball courts, baseball fields and cricket fields. It’s home to events like the Jamaica Jerk Festival and the Groovin’ in the Park festival. Smaller, community-organized festivities occur regularly in the park, like soccer games and group workouts—as well as a pop-up Double Dutch day.
The park’s indoor recreation center is the home of Black Spectrum Theatre Co. Founded by playwright Carl Clay, the company was first established as a traveling theatrical troupe five decades ago. Black Spectrum now offers plays, concerts and an array of cultural programming (like their free ongoing theater master class for children).
Head south to take a walk down the tree-lined streets in the Addisleigh Park Historic District, filled with around 650 beautiful estates. The area was the home of many prominent African Americans—including musicians Count Basie, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown—in the 1950s. It’s also where groundbreaking ballplayer Jackie Robinson once lived.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite by walking all day, loosen up your belt for dinner at The Door. The Jamaican restaurant, founded by Joan Lewis and Christopher Roberts, is a local mainstay. The Door serves all of the island’s classics, including jerk chicken and oxtail. For dessert, do yourself a favor and try the black cake.