Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

A Street Food Crawl Through Queens, New York

29

Esquite

New York has become one of my bases over the past few years. With so many of my friends living there (as well as a sister who doesn’t mind putting me up on her couch), I’m spending more and more time in the city, and with that, looking for new and interesting things to do on my visits.

One activity that I had been wanting to do for years? A Queens street food tour by Jeff Tastes. And somehow I kept pushing it until a future visit.

After hearing me talk about the tours forever and never actually booking one, my sister Sarah and her boyfriend Zack surprised me by booking the three of us on the Midnight Street Food Crawl for my birthday present. What a perfect gift!

In my past few years of travel, food has gone from a hobby of mine to a full-fledged obsession. From watching a giant tuna being theatrically butchered in the middle of a restaurant in Kyoto to hunting for truffles with dogs in Emilia-Romagna to planning an entire Southern USA road trip around what I would be eating, my greatest travel experiences (and memories) have been shared through food.

But there’s one big gap in my food knowledge. When I can talk about Asian or European food for hours, I barely know anything about Latin American food. The only Latin American countries I’ve been to are Mexico and Argentina (I plan on changing that this winter!) and the only Latin American cuisine that I know well is Mexican.

This tour changed everything. I left with knowledge of food not only in Mexico but Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.

Carne, Moro, Plantains

The Midnight Street Food Crawl

Jeff’s tours are informal — right away, he feels like that foodie friend of yours who just wants to take you around his neighborhood. (Which it is. Jeff lives here and knows it like the back of his hand.) Jeff picks out whatever food looks good and every tour is a little bit different. About eight dishes are included on the tour, but if you want to get more on your own dime, you’re welcome to do so.

Jeff took us to street carts, food trucks and takeaway restaurants in Jackson Heights and Corona. We learned about New York’s strict food cart laws and how some people are, shall we say, interpreting them creatively. At one point, we were invited into an art-deco-theater-turned-church where a service had just finished.

Throughout the night, Jeff introduced us to the different vendors and chatted with the other customers about what they were eating today. At one point, Jeff even argued with one local who said he didn’t like Muslims (“Why? They’re not bothering you! They’re not bothering you!”).

Some of the treats we ate on our tour:

Limon Nieves

Why not start with dessert? The first treat of our crawl was limon nieves, a Mexican lemon slush.

Carnitas Taco

Carnitas tacos are one of my favorite things, ever, and this one was the best I’ve ever had. Carnitas is seasoned pork cooked in lard or fat for a few hours until tender and served with tortillas.

You think bacon is candy? Wait until you try carnitas. Hoo boy.

Quaker

“When you see the word quaker, what do you think?” Jeff asked us.

“Oats?” I guessed.

“Yeah. Quaker is passion fruit juice made with oats.”

I know it sounds weird, but believe me, it was delicious. Bright and refreshing with a slightly textured feel.

Patacon

If you had to make a sandwich without using bread, what would you use instead? If you’re Dominican, you mash and fry plantains into patties and use them to surround a pile of meat. This is a patacon and as much as it felt like a heart attack on a plate, was it ever delicious.

Coconut Juice

When it comes to coconuts, I’m used to just sticking a straw in a coconut and sipping it plain. At an Ecuadorian food truck in Corona, their coconut juice was filled with LOTS of sugar. OH SO SWEET AND GOOD. And now I can’t go back to plain coconuts again.

Ecuadorian Tripe

Ecuadorian seco de chivo (goat stew) and guatita (peanut-based tripe stew). I’m putting guatita into the category in which haggis and paté fall — it’s really, really good if you don’t think about what you’re eating!

Jeff lugged along a bag filled with forks, spoons, and cups, dividing everything into fourths (the fourth member of our tour was a friend of Jeff’s, a foodie and longtime New Yorker originally from Japan — he and I had a LOT to talk about!).

Corona, Queens

On New York Today

I feel like New York is becoming increasingly scrubbed up these days. Prettier, cleaner, far more expensive. Gentrification reigns as the rich spill beyond Manhattan’s borders, taking over neighborhoods in Brooklyn and pricing locals out of their homes in every direction. And even though anyone who’s spent time in New York knows it’s far from squeaky-clean, it just seems so different today, especially compared to the fearsome New York of the 80s and 90s.

I feel like most of the travel and lifestyle bloggers who cover New York today focus only on the pretty, the upscale, the expensive — ignoring its less attractive aspects. I know I’m guilty of it. (Call it the Sex and the City legacy. Love it or hate it, that show is still far more influential than anyone ever dreamed it would be.)

There are some exceptions to this, of course, no blog more so than Humans of New York — but for the most part, if you were judging New York based on the blogosphere alone, you’d imagine a gleaming city of brownstones and burnished chrome and adorable food trends, of boutiques and maybe the occasional witty hobo. Not exactly a full-fledged, well-rounded city home to more than just the economically privileged.

This part of Queens was the best antidote. Jackson Heights and Corona are working-class neighborhoods of Spanish-speaking immigrants. It’s not that pretty, but the food is simple, delicious, and astoundingly fresh. People stopped at streetside counters and chatted with neighbors as they ordered food. Taking in the late-night Roosevelt Ave. street life as the subway rolled overhead, it felt more like Bangkok or Manila to me than New York.

Corona Esquite

The Takeaway

I’m so glad I finally got to go on this tour. I feel like Jeff gave me the keys to a new part of New York City. If I had come to Jackson Heights on my own, even with internet research, I would have been a bit lost — but now that I’ve gotten the lay of the land, I can explore it in greater depth next time (and hopefully hit up some Indian and Himalayan eateries).

You bet I’ll be returning to eat my way through Jackson Heights and Corona. One of my friends in New York used to live on the Texas-Mexico border and I can’t wait to show her how good the Mexican food is here!

If you’re looking for something new to do in New York, especially if you’ve been focusing on the shiny, upscale side of New York lately, this is a great way to spend an evening.

Essential Info: Jeff’s Midnight Street Food Crawl takes place in Jackson Heights and Corona, costs $59 per person and lasts about three hours. Despite the name, it starts at 8:30 PM, not midnight. The cuisine on this tour is Latin American.

Jeff runs another tour: Queens Tastes of the World, which also costs $59 and lasts three hours, but it takes place during the day in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Woodside, covering cuisines from all over the globe.

See Jeff’s full site here for more information about the tours, the food, and the neighborhoods.

A little bit of Spanish will help you immensely in this part of Queens.

What’s the best food tour you ever went on?

Comments

29 Responses to “A Street Food Crawl Through Queens, New York”
  1. Mary says:

    This sounds so awesome and is definitely going on my list of things to do in New York! I’ve lived in the city for five years now and I’m always looking for new things to do that aren’t the typical tourist traps (been there, done that). I recently started to branch out and see what the rest of Queens has to offer (hitting up the Asian markets in Flushing was practically life-changing), but I never thought to do a Jackson Ave. crawl – thanks for the suggestion! Oh and also congrats on the Travel Show panel – I go every year and love the show, I’ll try to get a spot in the audience when you’re speaking! (this has been an utterly random assortment of thoughts in this comment).

  2. You know I love me some culinary tours! This one looks fantastic.

  3. I’m so glad you made it to this part of Queens! I live in Woodside, which is very close to Jackson Heights. I moved there 3.5 years ago, lured by cheap rent, and fell in love with the area. The food is so cheap and amazing, and it’s actually very safe. There’s a taco truck underneath my train stop that’s delicious – and dangerously open til 4AM. I love eating Colombian bakery treats on the weekends for breakfast too. You also need to check out the Thai food of Woodside next time – I haven’t been to Thailand so maybe I’m not the best judge, but according to most people we have the most authentic Thai restaurants.

    • Oh my God, if I lived in this part of Queens, I would eat the street food EVERY night! Will have to try the Thai food sometime — that’s something I’m definitely more familiar with than Latin American food!

  4. Yummy – that all looks delicious! I maintain that the best way to learn about a culture is through its food, so I try to do at least one food tour in every country that I visit.

  5. I’m such a fan of food tours and this one sounds fabulous. All I can think about right now is that carnitas taco. One of my favorite food tours was in Edinburgh with Eat, Walk Edinburgh! Unusual but surprisingly delicious food and gorgeous scenery. Also, lots of alcohol!

    Happy travels 🙂

  6. i’m drooling, quite literarily!

  7. Wow, NYC never fails to please when it comes to food.
    Here in San Antonio Texas we have this great fella who gives a historical/cultural/architectural foodie tour that’s to die for. All on the famous Riverwalk and no chains. Some real classic sites and some unique and out there establishments too. It’s called the “Fork in the River” Tour and it takes the cake and the whole meal. Never pass up the chance to try it again when I’m downtown.

  8. I wish I had known about this when I was in New York this past summer! Everything looks so delicious and down to earth. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to Queens and try some of these foods this upcoming summer.

  9. Silvia says:

    Um, yum. I’ve never taken an official food tour, but the street food I’ve most obsessed over was probably in Iran. I think I gained ten pounds in my two weeks there, ha. This post has be totally craving Latin American food though!

  10. street food is what truly depicts the society and culture of the country, otherwise in 5 stars you get the same traditional,l food. Thanks for sharing!

  11. This sounds amazing! I love Latin American food. So good! I’ll have to add this to my list of things to do next time I’m in NYC. 🙂

  12. Tate Nanje says:

    experiencing specific foods is one of my favorites reasons to travel. so many cultures in New York do offer the possibility to explore so many different dishes! I love the funny way you describe the tastes! your posts do inspire me! all the best,
    Tate from http://tatenanje.com/

  13. I LOVE food tours, especially latin food and even more especially street food, so I will definitely be checking this out if I make my way back to NYC again. yum!

  14. Monica Gray says:

    Wow! I live on Long Island and definitely need to head over to Queens to check this out. Everything looks so delicious!

  15. NZ Muse says:

    OMG this sounds like a dream come true. We stayed in Queens for a couple of days while in NYC and would love to do a tour like this 🙂

  16. Rikka says:

    Yayyy for including Queens in your NYC coverage! My home base, Astoria, is a great location, too. Lots of great food, beer gardens, and activities. Awesome sunsets with the NYC skyline from Astoria park, sculpture park, and a new rooftop bar which recently opened up on Steinway St. Don’t miss it! 🙂

  17. This is one of the best things about New York–the cultural discoveries it offers are unmatched. And what better and more delicious way to learn about histories than through the most mind-boggling plethora of street food!
    I’m yet to try the Ecuadorian variety, but I think my absolute favourite will be biriyani for $5 from the Bangladeshi stalls.

  18. My favourite New york Street food id “Luke’s Lobster”. You should definitely check that out too. But awesome post Kate.

  19. Jamie says:

    Those tacos look extremely delicious, who knew New York had such great street food? I’m too use to Asia’s street food, which as I guess you know, consists of awesomeness!

  20. Kit Luclucan says:

    It’s good to know that the city of New York is being invaded by those small businesses selling food mentioned above. It is a great thing because there are a lot of different nationalities walking on the streets of New York. As a traveler, I’m always on the hunt for food that is new to me. With my comment, I’m not just going to talk about street food, I’ll share something I think you would love to know that is something about the palate of Filipinos… yes, I’m talking about food available in my country. Philippines have a lot of great tasting food and places to go on a vacation.

  21. Sarah says:

    Hi Kate, I’m in SE Asia at the moment so am in no shortage of delicious food stalls, but your pictures and descriptions literally have my mouth watering! Will definitely have to do this when I’m back in the states!

  22. It’s not even 7 am and you have me starving! My daughter lives in Brooklyn … I’m going to have to do this next time I visit!

  23. I thought I’d commented on this before, but it must just have been on a FB photo! That goat stew looks absolutely delicious! One of the things I loved the most about NYC was how you can literally eat the world in one city – Chinese takeaways, African buffets, Dominican desserts, Indian fast-food. I wasn’t the biggest fan of street food in Colombia after spending a month there – a lot of it was pretty samey – but I’d actually like to do something like this tour upon my return to NYC, whenever that may be, as I didn’t make it over to Queen’s last time.

  24. That looks so cool. I’ll have to try that if I ever go to NYC 🙂

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