In keeping with its cheerful-sounding name, the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens has never hesitated to roll out the welcome mat to new residents and visitors alike. Established in the earlier part of the last century as an affordable, middle-class enclave buttressing Queens Boulevard—a thoroughfare created to connect the newly built Queensboro Bridge to central Queens and parts east—Sunnyside was first home to a sizable Irish immigrant population who were drawn to the verdant courtyards and tree-canopied residential streets of Sunnyside Gardens, one of the country's first planned communities (and now designated a landmark and a national historic district). Today, Sunnyside retains its humble, unpretentious spirit and original Irish brogue among a richly diverse blend of accents from a more recent influx of immigrants from around the world—particularly from Romania, Greece, Turkey, Korea and South American countries—making the neighborhood a terrific destination for those looking for a flavorful, affordable international adventure just a few subway stops from Midtown Manhattan. After browsing through family-owned shops specializing in coffee, meats, handmade jewelry and vintage clothing, strolling through quiet, shady historic streets and enjoying a pint in spirited pubs, you'll soon realize why you'll want to, um, stay on the Sunnyside.
43-46 41st St., 718-784-1078
For more than 16 years, Butcher Block has brought a bit of Ireland to Sunnyside. While it's the wide selection of meat—blood sausages, rashers, corned beef, stuffed boneless chicken and something called “boiling bacon”—that lures customers in, the friendly charm and foods from the Emerald Isle are what keep patrons coming back. The shelves are chock-full of imported Irish and British goods, including crisps (potato chips), bottled drinks, dry mixes for oatmeal and soda bread, and sweets like candies and chocolate. Top sellers are bread and tea, abundant in both quantity and flavor, like everything else at the shop. The flavorful sausage rolls are also very popular. Stop by on the way home to grab dinner—there are different specials for every day of the week. If you're arriving by car, call ahead of time to place your order and enjoy free curbside delivery.
43-42 40th St., 718-937-7578
April Glass is an eclectic gift shop with sunny decor and a positive vibe. Its one-of-a-kind objects are chosen by owner Patrice Lee, whose guiding principal is “redefining one's lifestyle by bringing beauty and art into everyday living.” What started out as an unassuming shop 16 years ago has turned into a neighborhood fixture, purveying jewelry from local artists, like the Lola's Lost-N-Found collection, made from donated or repurposed materials. There's even a “Healing Room,” where you can meditate, take part in a Reiki session, get tarot card readings or participate in a workshop where you can learn about the cleansing power of crystals. So whether you're looking for handmade gifts, incense, aromatherapy candles, soaps, lotions, frames, healing gems or just your Zen, April Glass is worth the trip to Sunnyside.
40-07 Queens Blvd., 718-784-0842
Decades before national coffee chains dotted practically every block of the City, Baruir's was carefully working on honing the perfect cup of joe. Since 1966, the shop has been serving fresh-roasted coffee and Armenian and Greek delicacies to a devoted local following, but its old-world charm and distinctly brewed blends make it a must-visit destination for all java lovers. The Nersesian family and their friendly cat run Baruir's as a no-frills gourmet shop with a personal touch, selling everything from imported Hawaiian Kona and organic Peruvian beans to trinkets like handmade brass Turkish coffee grinders. During warmer months, try the delicious iced coffee, kept cool with ice cubes made of coffee, making for the perfect unmitigated summer beverage. You can also savor some snacks from the Mediterranean and Near East, like jams, dried fruit and nuts, and even purchase your own beans to brew coffee at home.
43-17 Queens Blvd., 718-729-9900
The Courtyard Ale House
40-18 Queens Blvd., 718-729-4601
Locals flock to The Gaslight, a laid-back, pub-style watering hole. During the week, you'll find 9-to-5ers sipping top-notch drinks at happy-hour prices as classic tracks stream from the jukebox. Weekends bring a spirited crowd tuning in to the game on TV or relaxing on the back patio. A short walk down Queens Boulevard is The Courtyard Ale House, where craft beer aficionados have their choice of 24 brews on tap—perfect for pairing with the bar's BYO-food policy. Settle in to cheer on the day's soccer or rugby matches on the flat-screen TVs or enjoy live music every Thursday and Sunday and DJs on Saturdays.
Nita's European Bakery
40-10 Greenpoint Ave., 718-784-4047
Sunnyside residents make this small bakery their go-to place for a sweet treat. Freshly baked, tantalizing Romanian-style cakes and pastries line glass display cases, making the option of choosing just one dessert an unwelcome proposition. The shop's cookie selection gets rave reviews from regulars, while croissants, éclairs, baklava, rugelach and fruit tarts make an equally mouthwatering impression. Get a pound to go, or order a cup of locally roasted Baruir's coffee and stay awhile.
Skillman Avenue (bet. 42nd and 43rd Streets)
Sunnyside's diversity isn't confined to its population. See what's fresh at this Skillman Avenue weekend staple, where farmers from across the tri-state area set up shop on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm from June to December. Fifteen vendors make their way to this quiet, tree-lined stretch near Lou Lodati Park each week, among them Ballards Honey, Dipaola Turkey and Millport Dairy. Peruse market classics like seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh-caught fish and baked goods, along with Mexican produce, pickled vegetables and wine made from local grapes. You'll be inspired to rush home to your kitchen with events like recipe exchanges and cooking demonstrations, set to the tune of live music.
Thalia Spanish Theatre
41-17 Greenpoint Ave., 718-729-3880
It doesn't take a linguist to appreciate the artistic stylings of Thalia, Queens' only Hispanic theater. The award-winning center's 35-year history has seen more than 170 plays, operettas and folklore shows, staged alternately in English and Spanish. Vibrant costumes provide a fashionable survey of Spanish and Latin American culture past and present, and new works bring an undeniable energy to the stage. Past highlights include an adaptation of Cinderella, a take on the Cuban tale La Cucarachita Martina, the late Carlos Fuentes' The One-Eyed Man is King and a tribute to poet Federico García Lorca, Flamenco & Lorca. Thalia has also produced flamenco musicals based on three plays written by Pablo Picasso. The theater is best known for its annual tango musical and even hosts dance workshops with the show's stars for theatergoers ready to become part of the onstage action. For a list of current events, visit thaliatheatre.org.
49-02 Laurel Hill Blvd., 718-786-8000
Calvary Cemetery—one of the country's largest cemeteries, with more than 3 million interments spread over four separate sections—has sweeping skyline views of Manhattan and serves as the final resting place for a storied roll call of names. The first burial there was in 1848; the land was purchased in 1845 because Manhattan's Old St. Patrick's Cathedral's Mulberry Street cemetery was nearing capacity. History and entertainment buffs should recognize the names on some headstones—among the most famous are actor Joe Spinell (The Godfather, Rocky and Rocky II), baseball Hall of Famer Mickey Welch and Irish immigrant Annie Moore, the first person to be processed at Ellis Island. The space also serves as a burial ground for 21 Roman Catholic Civil War Union soldiers.
48-09 Skillman Ave., 718-779-7795
Furniture, salvaged items and antique goods and trinkets can all be found at Stray Vintage, an inviting secondhand shop on Skillman Avenue. Owners Tara and Dan Glasser seek out vintage treasures from around the region and also spotlight handmade items from local artists. While Mid-Century furnishings and wares are this shop's specialties, you'll find vinyl records, bags, clothing, typewriters and housewares, among other collectibles, here as well. On any given day, the sounds of classical music, jazz, '50s rock or holiday tunes add to Stray's mellow shopping ambience.
45-02 48th Ave., 718-392-2161
When you step into De Mole, your senses will be delighted with the wafting fragrance of corn tamales baking, onions caramelizing and taquitos frying. This isn't your average Mexican eatery—owner and chef Ramiro Mendez, a native of Puebla, cooks authentic cuisine. Dishes include nopales, with grilled cactus and tomatillo sauce, and tinga, Puebla-style beef brisket. For the less bold, try more familiar options like burritos, tortas or fajitas or the nachos, served with black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and your choice of meat. The decor is minimal, which means you can focus solely on the generous portions in front of you.