July 11th, 2011
09:15 AM ET
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Food says so much about where you’ve come from, where you’ve decided to go, and the lessons you’ve learned. It’s geography, politics, tradition, belief and so much more and this week, we invite you to dig in and discover the rich, ever-evolving taste of America in 2011. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m. E.T.

On maps, New York’s 7 train links Midtown Manhattan with Flushing in Queens, but it really connects New Yorkers from all over the world: so much so that the city has dubbed it the “International Express.” In 2000, it was named a National Millennium Trail, in recognition of its serving as “a metaphor for the migration of all the world’s people to America’s shores.”

Most of its stops are in Queens, which is one of the most diverse counties in the United States. 47 percent of the population was born outside the United States. This migration has brought with it a huge number of excellent restaurants, and the 7 train is a passport to eating all the way around the world.

At the Butcher Block in Sunnyside, near the 40th Street stop, Irish immigrants can find newspapers from home and potato “crisps” in all flavors, but most action is at the butcher counter. On Sunday, the baked-ham special makes the store smell wonderful. The Ecuadorian cashier notes that their clientele is largely Irish, saying, “What I noticed about Irish people is that they can’t live without things from home. Their own bread, their own water, their own tea - they’ve got to have it!”

Just a few blocks down Queens Boulevard at Mangal, a busy place with a steady takeout business, a Turkish waiter named Ismail Karci makes a similar point. “Maybe 50 percent of the people coming in here are Turks from Sunnyside. We like to live here because it is easier to be around people you can talk with and ask for help. People who are not Turks come here also. In Astoria there are Greeks, in Flushing Chinese – many of them come here to eat, and we like to go there too.”

Several stops further, past the Bum Bum Bar and the Filthy Rich Unisex Barber Shop & Flawless Skin Clinic, is Woodside, another neighborhood full of interesting food. One of the city’s best Thai restaurants, SriPraPhai, is here, Donovan’s Irish pub does one of the very best burgers in New York, and the V&V Italian Bakery (with a mostly Latino staff) sells a fine éclair.

But much of the population is Filipino. As Emma Bizon at Renee’s Kitchenette down the block explains, Woodside is “Little Manila.”

“More and more city people are coming in here from Manhattan," she says, “Especially Filipinos married to Americans – a lot of them are coming to eat food from home. On the weekends, we get a lot of tourists.” They come for the restaurant's specialties of garlicky adobo and kare-kare: oxtail with peanut sauce and tropical vegetables.

East Asia turns into South Asia along Roosevelt Avenue. Jackson Heights is next along the International Express, and it’s dominated by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants, though there’s also Korean fried-chicken, several Tibetan restaurants, an excellent taqueria with unusual daily specials, and food carts galore.

At Rajbhog, the oldest Indian vegetarian place in Jackson Heights, third generation owner Nirav Shah has overseen some menu expansions. “We have so many Americans coming in, and they all want to try our food, and so many are vegetarian. We had many requests for vegan food too.”

Non-Indians drove some menu additions, such as the samosa sandwich – a delectable flattened samosa on bread with mint chutney. The restaurant is even kosher-certified, which was an easy credential to get for a vegetarian restaurant, and Shah says that it’s enhanced their sales.

Jackson Heights is "a hub for all of the surrounding areas to do their shopping.” Shah explains, and the changing demographics of the neighborhood show that. While the area is becoming more Bangladeshi, with Korans and halal food for sale on the street, the neighborhood still supports the Indian shops that it’s known for.

While there are Latino restaurants all along the way, they’re especially noticeable a little farther east. The red, yellow, and blue of the Ecuadorian, Colombian, and Venezuelan flags flutter everywhere. Pandebono Almojabana, a Colombian bakery on 82nd Street, sells their namesake piping-hot cheese bread, near a Uruguayan diner serving grilled meats, filled crepes, and pastas, and carts hawking charcoal-grilled corn on the cob.

Not long past the Unisphere, the symbol of the 1964 World’s Fair, the 7 train dives under the ground from its elevated trestle and heads to Chinatown. Not Manhattan‘s, but the larger and arguably more diverse Chinatown in Flushing at the 7 train’s terminus.

Head south on Main Street, and stop at Corner 28 for a steamed bun stuffed with Peking duck and scallions for just a dollar before venturing to the Golden Mall. Flushing has many “malls.” Some are warrens of tiny stalls, and some have big stores, but they all have food courts bursting with utterly authentic cooking designed to soothe homesick immigrants and fill the bellies of cultural tourists.

The Golden Mall’s basement is especially choice, as Chen Du Tian Fu boasts great Sichuan dishes, while Xi'an Famous Foods just around the corner sells lamb-face salad to the truly adventurous - or spicy cumin-laced pork burgers to those a little less so.

It's a long way from Times Square by now, but a single subway line offers an endless bounty of the world’s cooking. Queens is a place where people come to make better lives for themselves and their families, and share a taste of their homeland with hungry travelers.

Read more about the inextricable bond between food and cultural identity.

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Filed under: 100 Places to Eat • America • Cultural Identity • Culture • New York • Travel

soundoff (46 Responses)
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  8. Hashim

    I grew up in Jackson Heights and am most familiar with it. Used to be more dangerous with drug gangs in 1980's era. For the most part one can have a great time spending the day walking from Main Street Flushing on Roosevelt Ave all the way into Manhattan – about 10 miles total – will take 4 hrs min if you stop along the way to sample all the ethnic foods and drinks along the way. Really like the Irish/English pubs for beer in Sunnyside. A real NYCer would do this instead of taking the 7 train. Anyway read my novel – king of Bat'ha.

    October 14, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  9. Justyna

    I take the 7 train to and from work every day. It is the worst thing on the face of this planet.

    July 11, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  10. 7-247

    It's always nice to retreat to Queens after a hectic day of working in Manhattan. I live in Sunnyside, and the Butcher's Block is a godsend – always great hot-food choices. And to the CNN reporter...it's "Xi'an," not "X'ian."

    July 11, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  11. Daniel

    The 7 train is always broken. Take the R.

    July 11, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  12. eddantes

    Queens is great, the variety of food is amazing, from Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Colombian, Afghan, Philipino, Korean, Peruvian, Irish, etc.
    Queens is the most diverse place in the world, is time to step out of the bubble you live in and get to know other cultures without having to step out of the US.

    July 11, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  13. Jennifer G.

    We lived in Jackson Heights for a few years and I wouldn't trade it for anything! It was truly one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Every night we could eat food from different countries. I loved how the author picked restaurants that weren't the biggest and most popular. For those 'naysayers' you really need to get a life. I'm a white girl and we had 2 babies while living in Jackson Heights. I would walk them any hour of the day or night and feel perfectly safe. I loved going to the playground, looking at the moms and dads and realizing that most likely at any one moment there were folks from at 40 countries represented! What a unique way for my children to grow up. To this day my kids don't mention race when describing others–they just see a person and it really makes me smile!

    July 11, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  14. Brian

    This is the reason I love Queens so Much. The choices in food I have are amazing. No where else could I have Authentic, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Afghan or italian delivered to my door. Come visit us in Queens and Please EAT!

    July 11, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  15. R Burns

    I get the pun, but it's really in poor taste!

    July 11, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  16. lex

    yeah Queens. And good bicyling and parks too

    July 11, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  17. QI

    Jackson Heights has majority Pakistani restaurants, not Indian or Bangali. I am disappointed CNN can't tell the difference.

    July 11, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  18. Karen J-L

    I've been taking the 7 train for the past 10 years. The neighborhoods it serves is as diverse as any major city – the different types of foods are wonderful AND actually cooked by the people of that particular country. Not like going into Manhattan and the cooking is done by "others". It's funny that a few people have written negative things – obviously you are NOT A REAL New Yorker. Think about that

    July 11, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  19. S

    I've only taken the 7 train to go from Manhattan to the US open. Get off anywhere in between and prepared to be mugged and have your wallet stolen.

    July 11, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • on the 7 train

      REALLY? you must be the biggest punk in NY.. do you have a stamp on ur forehead saying MESS WITH ME !!! ?

      July 11, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • LES

      Seriously MAN UP! Go back to the Upper West Side! Who are you John Rocker?

      July 11, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • abc

      you are an idiot! a total punk. I use to live in queens and loved the real people and never had any issues. I now live in a rich neighboorhood and the people suck. I miss queens like crazy!

      July 11, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • NYC GIRL

      you are so ignorant......people like you do not deserve to live in NYC – I suggest you go back to whereever it is you came from – we New Yorkers do not need people like you.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Thomas Ciccone

      Give me a break. I've lived in NYC for 10+ years and I've never even *witnessed* a crime in progress, let alone been a victim. Same goes with many of my friends. I live in Queens and have been all around the places shown in the article.

      July 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • S

      Oh wow, I didn't know I'd get so many replies from you sensitive Queens people. I'm 6'1, 220, very little bodyfat and hardly look like an easy target. I've been to much more dangerous places than queens all over the world and haven't been robbed, but it doesn't mean I can stop a bullet. All it takes is one of you weirdo's with a gun, and you could take down Mike Tyson. I'm just trying to warn women, children, and tourists about this sorry part of NYC. I'm not denying there isn't culture but i'd suggest you check it out before ;between noon and 5 pm, if at all.

      July 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
      • Q

        Sadly enough there's thousands of women and children being mugged across Queens at this very moment!You're quite the moron. For someone that's been to far more dangerous places you sound like a little BIA!

        July 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  20. From NYC

    The 7 train runs through the trash-holes of Queens. I'd advise AGAINST traveling to many of the places noted in this article.

    July 11, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • Ruzz

      I agree. That way you will never learn anything new, never experience anything out of the ordinary, never taste some unbelievable new foods, and never really live. Much better to stay at home on the sofa, curled up in the fetal position in fear.

      July 11, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • AG

      Agreed! It goes to Citi Field, enough said.

      July 11, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • NYC GIRL

      ....and you too can go with "S"......

      July 11, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • richie

      I agree about the trash area in queens along the no. 7 line. no one speaks english and it stinks on the streets.
      used to be nice italian area in corona, no more....

      July 11, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • JO

      Great article. I love the choices!

      July 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • RGD223

      You must live in Manhatten...please do us Queens residents a favor and stay in your borough.

      July 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  21. David

    Easy Chef Sun – don't get so excited, check your dictionary – it is a play on words.

    July 11, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  22. Chef Sun

    Listen up you CNN morons. It's the world's FAIR not FARE !!!

    Chef Sun

    July 11, 2011 at 6:55 am |
    • Deep North

      Fare: . a range of food and drink; diet....So you flunked English!

      July 11, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • Matt

      Listen up Chef Sun. Here is an early morning cup of stfu, you moron.

      July 11, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • on the 7 train

      Listen up you CNN morons. It's the world's FAIR not FARE !!!

      @Chef Sun

      Worlds Fair is in flushing Medow.. World Fare meaning its a World Market..

      July 11, 2011 at 8:37 am |
      • Tradio

        LMAO!!! It's Meadow you waste of life!

        July 11, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      We play with words sometimes. Eat delicious fare at the fair. It may not be everyone's cup of cotton candy, but we like it.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Julia Child@Chef Dipstick

      Ugh..don't bogart the cooking sherry...

      July 11, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • John

      You are the moron. It is fare because they are talking about food not like a trade fair. Learn the language.

      July 11, 2011 at 9:53 am |
      • rags

        Yes John> You are one 100 % correct. I thought of saying the same. But You did before me. What do these chefs no about English.Let them stick to their culinary (Fare)

        July 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  23. Pat

    lol notice in picture 1, the green sign says "Body Work" mwuahaha :D

    July 11, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • T. Ciccone

      Regarding "Bodywork", I live in NYC not far from there and I know the location of the photo. It's totally legit. There aren't many places in Flushing that do the other kind of bodywork and advertise openly. They're there, of course, but not with street signs adverising it.

      July 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
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