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Exploring New York City as a food lover can be intimidating (and disappointing) if you don’t know where to start. You may end up sticking to the familiar favorites—trusty neighborhood hole-in-the-walls; reputable and expensive restaurants in central Manhattan; fast food. But if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone and utilize the city’s innumerable bus and subway lines, these itineraries may serve as jumping-off points for your eating adventures. For the sake of convenience, all of these itineraries begin at Stuy.
1) Cookies in Canarsie Itinerary
Board a downtown A train at the station on Church St, and switch to a Canarsie-bound L train at Broadway Junction-East New York. This is a bit of a long haul, since you’ll ride the train to the end of the line: Rockaway Parkway. Canarsie is a lively neighborhood, and upon exiting the station you’ll see an array of inexpensive clothing shops and eateries along Rockaway Parkway. My personal Canarsie favorite is Bella Bakery (1439 Rockaway Parkway), one block southeast from the station. They offer an assortment of delectable cookies and pastries in the style of many outer-borough family-run bakeries.
At Flatlands Avenue (about two blocks along Rockaway Parkway from the L station), you can catch the B-82 bus bound for Coney Island. It runs along Kings Highway, and you can disembark under the B/Q elevated Kings Highway Station. Underneath the station is Mama Meya Pizza (1511 Kings Highway), which sells what I would deem the best garlic knots in the entire city.
If you’re feeling tired, you can head back to Manhattan on the B/Q. But if you’re still looking for more food, take a Coney Island-bound B or Q train to Brighton Beach. A few blocks west along Brighton Beach Avenue, you’ll find M&I International Food, Inc. (249 Brighton Beach Avenue), a Russian market with a slew of delicacies and sweets. You’ll find a small café (reminiscent of the café run by Zabar’s) selling delicious fried pierogi filled with potato, cabbage or meat. Upstairs you can buy Russian candies by the pound. I recommend the Michelle, a mixture of chocolate and prunes, and Manhattan, chocolate-covered jelly. There are multiple candy shops along Brighton Beach Avenue, but I’ve found International’s to be the best.
2) Garden State Itinerary
You may have noticed the small ferry terminal towards the southern end of Rockefeller Park. If it’s piqued your curiosity, you may want to catch a ferry to Port Imperial, New Jersey (the ride is $11.25 one way, but beautiful and worth the cash). At Port Imperial, you have two options.
If you’re in the mood for Japanese food, switch at Port Imperial to a northbound NJTransit 158 bus. After you pass by Target, exit the bus outside Mitsuwa Marketplace (595 River Road). Mitsuwa is the next-best thing to being in Tokyo. There’s a tremendous food court with all varieties of udon, curry and soba (and even the plastic food models used to order food familiar to those who’ve visited Japan). Mitsuwa also includes a huge supermarket selling all of the quintessential Japanese cookies, crackers and of course wasabi peas. At the end of your visit you can take the 158 back to Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.
Alternatively, you can switch to a northbound Hudson-Bergen Light Rail at Port Imperial. Take the train one stop to Bergenline Avenue, where you’ll find a number of superb Spanish restaurants. My favorite is a short bus ride (bus line 88) or long walk away at 70th Street and Kennedy Boulevard (one block west and 20 blocks north), La Fonda Don Miguel (7000 John F Kennedy Blvd). Their garlic-laced yuca, rice and beans and flan are all superb. One block south you’ll also find a Dairy Queen (6903 John F Kennedy Blvd), the closest branch to Manhattan. It may not be quaint or charming, but it is tasty. At the conclusion of your journey a southbound 88 bus will take you to the Journal Square Station on the PATH subway line to Manhattan.
3) Sweet Tooth Itinerary
Take a Brooklyn-bound 2 train to the Nevins Street station. Upon exiting, walk past the Fulton Mall to Junior’s (386 Flatbush Avenue Extension), marked by a lighted orange sign. Junior’s, famous for its cheesecake, also has branches in Grand Central and at Times Square. But the original restaurant in Brooklyn one-ups the annexes on elegance and ambiance. Some of the food can be a bit salty, so I’d suggest sticking to cheesecake and the small complementary pastries offered at the beginning of the meal.
Upon finishing (or giving up on finishing) your cheesecake, walk towards Manhattan along the Flatbush Avenue Extension and make a right on Myrtle Avenue. If you’re still stuffed and not ready for your next course, this area is worth exploring. A few blocks west of Myrtle you can view the old Brooklyn Navy Yard and explore the eerily vacant Vinegar Hill district—both are mysterious and impressive relics.
Make a left from Myrtle on any of the side streets and catch a Queens-bound B-62 bus on Park Avenue. The B-62 passes through the Williamsburg waterfront and a number of interesting shops and bars along the way, but staying on the bus a bit longer will leave you in Greenpoint, or “Little Poland.” You’ll find the Peter Pan Bakery (727 Manhattan Avenue), an otherwise dull coffee shop that happens to sell ice cream-filled donuts. It’s a bit messy, but the pistachio ice cream-filled red velvet donut is not to be missed. The G train Greenpoint Avenue Station is located nearby.
4) Ice King and Queens Itinerary
If you’re not one of Stuyvesant’s many Flushing natives or have never been to this restaurant-filled enclave, you’ve been missing out on a superior Chinatown. It’s easily accessible by taking the 2 train to Times Square and the 7 train to the end of the line, Main Street.
If you’re on a budget, I recommend paying a visit to Four Choice and A Soup (136-75 Roosevelt Avenue). Don’t be dissuaded by the fact that “choice” is misspelled as “choise” on two of the banners. For under $5, you’re given a Styrofoam lunch box which you can fill with any four dishes from the buffet, soup and rice. The tomato and tofu mix is particularly delicious. If the weather is nice, you can walk along the adjacent pedestrian mall to 39th Avenue. The Q-16 bus picks up passengers there for Fort Totten, a picturesque picnic ground and rock beach with a stunning view of the Throgs Neck Bridge.
Another must-try in Flushing is the Curry Leaves Malaysian restaurant (135-31 40th Road), just off of Main Street. The Mee Goreng, or Indian Fried Noodles, is sprinkled with lemon juice and served with delicious peanut sauce.
One block south from Curry Leaves is the bus stop for the Q-58 on the corner of 41st Road. I suggest taking a short ride on the Q-58 to Corona Avenue and 108th Street. Right at the corner is the Lemon Ice King of Corona (52-02 108th Street), a Queens original with some of the best non-pretentious icy treats in the city. (The best pretentious icy treat is probably the Snowy Chocolate Sorbet made by Cones at 272 Bleecker Street in Manhattan.) Stick to the fruit flavors—in particular, the Lemon Ice King’s namesake flavor. Across the street is a charming square where you can enjoy your ice. The 7 train is about a 10 minute walk away along 108th Street.
Admittedly some of these trips can be a bit on the long side. But your journeying will not go unrewarded—some of the best restaurants are hidden in the city’s most obscure pockets. Plus, you might find what you see along the way interesting as well.
1439 Rockaway Parkway
Mama Meya Pizza
1511 Kings Highway
M&I International Food, Inc.
249 Brighton Beach Avenue
595 River Road
La Fonda Don Miguel
7000 John F Kennedy Blvd
North Bergen, NJ
6903 John F Kennedy Blvd
North Bergen, NJ
386 Flatbush Avenue Extension
Peter Pan Bakery
727 Manhattan Avenue
Four Choice and a Soup
136-75 Roosevelt Avenue
135-31 40th Road
Lemon Ice King of Corona
52-02 108th Street