One of the most common misconceptions about New York City is that there’s no sense of community. But here’s the truth: the city is simply a collection of neighborhoods. Most New Yorkers are fiercely loyal to their part of town, declaring local coffee shops, bodegas and bars as the best around. The more time we’ve spent in Astoria, the more we find ourselves championing it the same way a local would.
Why you should visit Astoria
Astoria has an interesting history that makes it a particularly fun area to explore. Here are some fun facts to help you get to know this unique neighborhood in Queens:
It was named after wealthy businessman John Jacob Astor to entice his investment in the area. He only made a small contribution and never set foot in it, but the name remained.
In the 1920s, it was home to the eastern location of Paramount Studios, and a quarter of the studio’s movies were made here.
The Dutch first settled here, but the area has had an influx of a variety of immigrants over the years from Italy (after World War II), Greece (after 1965) and a number of Muslim countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Syria (mid-1970s). This has resulted in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City.
These 12 cool spots in Astoria capture a nice cross-section of what it has to offer. We’ve loosely laid it out as a fun way to spend your day in this easy, diverse neighborhood of Queens.
If you’re anything like us, the day hasn’t begun until you’ve had your first cup of coffee. Astoria has no shortage of great coffee shops, but one of our favorite stops is OK Cafe. OK Cafe reads less like a trendy cafe where the cool kids with laptops hang out, and more like a neighborhood spot where friends sit and catch up. The baristas are approachable, and will happily chat about their favorite beans or tell you about a random ingredient they’re incorporating into a summer concoction. We might also be slightly swayed by the fact that they use Counter Culture coffee here, which we brew at home. Whether you’re popping in for a cold brew in the summer, or a tasty cortado in the winter, this is a great place to start.
Martha’s Country Bakery
Martha’s Country Bakery feels like the local bakery in a small Midwestern town that becomes famous after it’s featured on a Food Network special. But it’s not. Instead, its country-chic concept is the brainchild of George Stertsios and his wife. Stertsios came directly from Greece at age 7, and started putting time in at his father’s bakery in Hell’s Kitchen (the original Martha’s) at age 12. Stertsios now has three successful locations of the bakery and coffee shop named after his mother. While the displays of cakes, tarts and pastries–all made in-house, by the way–are tempting, the coffee bar alone is worth a visit. The Freddo Espresso is an addictive way to jumpstart your day. (If you decide to throw in a Berry Napoleon, we wouldn’t fault you.)
Socrates Sculpture Park
Socrates Sculpture Park is a neighborhood park founded by sculptor Mark di Suvero, whose work you’ve likely enjoyed in top museums and galleries, as well as at Storm King Art Center (another popular New York institution). The park is named in honor of the great Greek philosopher, but also as a tribute to Astoria, which is home to New York City’s largest Greek community.
The former landfill was initially intended to be an outdoor sculpture laboratory dedicated to up-and-coming artists, but it’s since evolved into much more. The park offers a variety of visual arts exhibitions that rotate year-round, as well as a number of cinema, music, fitness and education programs. Pop by for yoga, a screening of March of the Penguins, a crafting workshop or an outdoor jazz concert. Stroll around the park and take in the amazing waterfront views. Feeling brave? Weather permitting, you could try kayaking and canoeing from Socrates’ beach at Hallets Cove. Oh, and did we mention? It’s all FREE.
After spending some time at Socrates Sculpture Park, hop across the street to one of Astoria’s gems: the Noguchi Museum. Internationally-renowned American artist Isamu Noguchi may have died in 1988, but his eponymous museum–one of his greatest achievements–is alive and well. The Noguchi Museum is filled with stone sculptures, but somehow manages to escape feeling cold and detached. You can instantly tell there is a deeply personal attachment between the artist and the space. Noguchi was living across the street when he purchased the 1920s industrial building with the express purpose of displaying his life’s work. He had exceptional insight when he conceived it, incorporating cohesive elements of nature and design.
At the Noguchi Museum you’ll find the lower level dedicated to Noguchi’s many works, curated by the artist himself. The upper level, however, includes temporary displays that pay homage to the design ideas and aesthetics he advanced. On one of our visits we found a beautiful display of hanging paper lanterns, as well as an oversized Akari light sculpture formed by stacking 2-foot by 2-foot pyramids. The entire museum creates an intimate portrait of the artist.
If you’re considering brunch, then make your way over to neighborhood institution Queens Comfort. It’s not difficult to understand why a line forms in front of the eatery before it opens every weekend. The bizarre, Texas State Fair-meets-Saturday Morning Cartoons take on seemingly staid and predictable comfort food is entirely worth braving the elements for.
If logic informs your decision-making, you’ll never find yourself answering in the affirmative to the following questions:
If avocado is a superfood, doesn’t that make Guacamole Stuffed Onion Rings healthy?
Is the Peanut Butter and Jelly Burger worth miserably flunking my next cholesterol test?
Should I wash all of that down with a Nutella Glazed Strawberry Donut?
But at Queens Comfort, you’ll say yes to all of the above and more.
It should be noted that the kitschy decor is as much of a draw as the outrageous food. Think of hubcaps wrapped in string lights, action figures arranged neatly on wall shelves, and cotton clouds hanging overhead. All of this while Godzilla is projected onto a giant screen in the background, of course.
Pro Tip: Queens Comfort does not accept reservations. Show up 15 minutes before open and get in line to ensure you make the first seating. Getting there early is its own reward, as James Avatar (whose story is a worthy read) offers a dazzling display of showmanship. The self-proclaimed “barker” and host of Queens Comfort is the perfect introduction to the wacky, childlike joy that awaits. BYOB and cash only.
Compton’s is Astoria’s modern take on the deli. The sandwich-coffee shop hybrid is named after its owner Alex Compton, but there are tiny nods to its namesake LA neighborhood all over the corner store. The gourmet sandwiches feature specialty ingredients on fresh bread, but the artisanal coffee gets plenty of attention too. The menu features classics with a twist, like The Debbie, a tuna salad sandwich with apple slices and red onion, or The Spencer, a version of the Philly Cheesesteak with hot pepper mayo on a pillowy hero. The tiny space can get uncomfortably warm in the summer, but you’ll want to sit outside and people-watch anyway.
Sugar & Water
Sugar & Water might be confirmation that gentrification has fully arrived in Astoria, but it’s impossible to be upset with its delicious dossants. (The dossant is the cleverly renamed donut-croissant hybrid, since Dominique Ansel copyrighted the cronut.) Besides the dossants, you’ll find a variety of cake and yeast donuts here, all decorated with colorful glazes, sprinkles and iridescent pearls that bring food Instagrammers out in droves. But it’s more than just window dressing here. Sugar & Water is helmed by Chef Francis Legge of MasterChef and Chopped fame. After spending years catering private events and supplying a local coffee shop, he broke out on his own doing what he does best: donuts. Whether you’re a no-frills donut fan looking for a simple Cinnamon Sugar donut, or an adventurous donut fan looking to try the Blueberry Margarita donut, there’s something here for everyone.
Museum of the Moving Image
We’re both huge movie buffs. We spent many a late night re-watching Young Frankenstein and The Princess Bride. We had countless movie dates at the Cedar Lee, a tiny independent film theater in Cleveland. And today, we’re usually deep diving into our streaming platform libraries. So it seems pretty obvious that we would absolutely love the Museum of the Moving Image.
But here’s what you need to know about The Museum of the Moving Image: it’s fun. A lot of fun. Adult and child alike will find something to love. You can participate in public discussions, take advantage of educational programs, or spend hours perusing their vast collection of film, television, and digital media-related artifacts. You immediately get the sense that the curators here could name every Ingmar Bergman film ever made, but they could also give you an oral history of viral YouTube videos. And all of this comes through in short-term installations like the quirky GIF Elevator or permanent exhibitions like the much celebrated Jim Henson retrospective.
Your admission fee to the museum also gives you access to a same-day movie screening as long as the cost of the ticket is equal to or less than the cost of admission (subject to availability). So be sure to check their calendar, you might get lucky and score a double-feature!
Much has been written about Astoria’s abundance of excellent restaurants, particularly those of the Greek persuasion. For almost a quarter of a century, Taverna Kyclades has been a popular destination for traditional Greek seafood. But, as is often the case, we’re fans of getting the most bang for our hard-earned buck. This is what led us to the Little Egypt section of Astoria and our decision to highlight AbuQir.
AbuQir, named for a town on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt not far from Alexandria, is housed in what was once a neighborhood butcher shop. It’s a no-frills, unfussy restaurant with an obsessive focus on fresh, excellently cooked seafood. From an icy display bed, you’ll choose from whatever is fresh that day: whole fish, octopus, prawns, scallops, etc. Then you’ll stipulate the cooking method: fried, grilled, or baked. There’s no wrong choice here, including the sides, like the sublime eggplant, which, with an excess of bread, would make for a pleasant meal by itself.
Prince Tea House
Open till midnight on weekdays and 1 am on weekends, Prince Tea House is a fun, family-friendly way to end the day. Prince Tea House originated in Flushing, but owner Manny Lee has expanded to multiple locations across Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. Tea is beloved in Asian cultures, and Prince Tea House serves up an incredible variety. The charming interior manages to feel trendy yet elegant, and the hot tea is served in adorable matching tea sets. Add a long menu of delicious desserts, and you have a slice of Instagram heaven. Enjoy your Lavender Milk Tea with a slice of Purple Yam Mille Crepe Cake. Or sip on your Rose Petal Black Tea while you indulge in the Fruit Toast. That’s what we call a sweet ending.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden
While a beer garden with abundant outdoor seating and oversized screens might seem like a college student’s dream, Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden is actually an important slice of Astoria (and New York City) history. Without delving too much into the complicated past of the Czechs and Slovaks, Slovaks were trying desperately to free themselves of Hungarian control after the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established in 1867. They found allies in the Czechs, who were trying to break free of the German liberals who held majority influence in Austria. Many Czechs and Slovaks found their way to America, and settled in Astoria. In 1892, they formed the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society, which is named after the medieval Kingdom of Bohemia, the predecessor of the Czech Republic.
The society purchased two adjacent lots in 1910 and went on to build the Bohemian Hall as a community center. It still owns and manages the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, which now welcomes customers from far and wide. Along with an extensive selection of beers that rotate throughout the year, you can also find Czech specialties on the menu. The Bohemian Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Luna Asian Bistro
Luna Asian Bistro isn’t the kind of place you stumble upon. Located on the 6th floor of an unsuspecting professional and medical office building, Luna Asian Bistro is a destination for the lucky few who are in-the-know. The eatery offers a mashup of Asian dishes and drinks, with primarily Japanese offerings like sushi and sake. We can’t speak to the food, which is a sentence you won’t hear from us often. But we can speak to the real draw here, which is the rooftop. The incredible views of the Manhattan skyline offer the perfect nightcap, no matter what you order.
How to get to Astoria
Astoria is easily accessible by the New York City Subway. The trip from Times Square to the 30th Av stop in the heart of Astoria takes 20 minutes on the N and W trains. But our preferred method to visit this neighborhood is by way of the NYC Ferry. For the same fare as the subway, the NYC Ferry offers a completely different public transportation experience. From Manhattan, the ferry stops in Long Island City before dropping you off in Astoria, where you’re just a short walk away from Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum. Weather permitting, head to the upper deck for amazing panoramic views of the city from the East River.
Astoria is a paragon of New York City’s incredible communities. It has history, art and culture, not to mention an abundance of lively entertainment and incredible bars, bakeries, and restaurants. Those living in it will defend it to their last breath, and those who have left it, speak about it with reverence and nostalgia. If you are visiting New York City or if you live in another of its amazing communities, make sure you to add a visit to Astoria to your to-do list. Missing it means you’ve only glimpsed a portion of New York City’s rich tapestry of communities.
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