Neighborhood: Jackson Heights, Queens
Queens may not have a Smith Street, but we do have Jackson Heights. This neighborhood—which lies midway between Manhattan and my home turf of Forest Hills—is lively and colorful and about as multicultural as one place could possibly be, and has such a reputation for good, cheap restaurants, it draws a steady stream of visitors from around the city. I know this because, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I used to be one of those day-trippers (and believe me: it was a trek).
Though JH holds its own on a number of culinary fronts—Thai, in particular, comes to mind, and let’s not forget that Korean fried chicken—it is most famous as a sort of little India. Take a stroll down 74th Street, lined with Indian jewelry stores, sari boutiques, and Indian restaurants, and it’s easy to see why. And how cool is this: a place with a working tandoori oven in the window!
And then, smack-dab in the middle of the block, sits the Patel Brothers grocery store. If it’s edible and it’s Indian, you’ll find it here.
In the veggie aisle, I encountered eggplants round and eggplants skinny, eggplants large as footballs and eggplants small as golfballs. There were chiles galore, items—like Chinese long beans—that hinted at the store’s varied clientele, and a number of greens, globes, and bumpy things (see middle left photo, below) that were an utter mystery to me.
Wander beyond the produce, and discover sacks of legumes (Who knew lentils came in so many colors?), spices (How fast can one household go through two pounds of cumin?), and yes, shelves and shelves of those jarred sauces that constitute Indian cookery for most of us non-Indians. Did I mention they have a snack-food aisle to rival any grocery store’s? And not a Cheeto in sight (though, I must admit, the Indian stuff looks just as salty and bad for you). A large frozen foods section will keep you stocked with paratha and samosas for life, and you can even pick up a few of those nifty copper serving dishes used at Indian restaurants.
Oh, and before hopping back on the train, be sure to stop for a sweet:
37-27 74th Street
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
“E,” “F,” “7,” “V,” or “R” trains to Roosevelt Avenue-Jackson Heights. For more detailed directions, visit http://www.hopstop.com.