Stand at the bustling crossroads of Broadway and Steinway in Astoria's southeast corner and watch people from all corners of the world pass by. The throngs hustle up and down Steinway for some of the borough's best discount shopping, or onto Broadway and the numbered avenues for tasty cheap food that originated in a host of international regions, including the Middle East, Greece, Italy, South America, and the Balkans. Here are a handful of the neighborhood's never-fail places to eat.
Home Made Falafel:
At this small shop with minimal seating the menu centers on Middle Eastern fare, but then darts in Indian and Nepalese directions (Hyderabadi biryani and chicken momos, respectively, made with halal meat).
The falafel is the thing to get, wrapped in a giant, thin-skinned pita rather than placed in one of those abominable pockets, the chick-pea orbs fried to order and the greenery and sauces unimpeachable. The proprietor once ran an international food court on the SUNY Stony Brook campus.
Yes, even this neighborhood has hipsters, and Queens Kickshaw is where they hang. They come for coffee pour-overs, small batch beers, and food that's much better than you might have expected, given the coffee-bar format.
The interior is agreeably gothic and the cheddar/mozzarella toasted cheese is not to be disparaged. Come one, come all, and bring your tattoos. (I hope I've succeeded in convincing you I like this place.)
This Colombian old-timer that was once known as La Casa del Pan provides the commonplaces of that country's dining and baking in an easily accessible fashion, from picture-perfect empanadas to fresh arepas to chicharron de cerdo to salt-roasted potatoes to sweet puddings and cakes. Make your selection from the glass case in the window or go inside and gawk.
This cart has been at this corner forever, and there always seems to be a line. You can smell the fragrant smoke drifting up Steinway, and the selections run to beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp. (The pig is the most iconic of Greek kebabs, the one favored by Cretan immigrants.)
Proving that pizzerias in isolated places come up with interesting oddities and offshoots, Rizzo's specializes in crusts so thin, they threaten to turn into crackers.
And a semi-crisp crust goes especially well with the blobby tomato sauce, crumbly sausage, and the place's free hand with the cheese, especially ricotta. A branch has recently opened in the LES (17 Clinton St, 646-454-1262).
Cedars Meat House:
Really, this is one of the best and cheapest places in town to get great, flame-grilled meat, wrapped in a gossamer pita with pink-pickled turnips, and smeared with a garlic sauce inspired by French aioli that will leave your lips burning.
The beef schwarma is especially admirable.
A stone's throw from Cedars is this charming Bosnian Café, which serves charcoal-grilled cevapi (skinless, oniony sausages), pljeskavica (fragrant Balkan burgers), baked phyllo pies called bureks, and a jerky-laced bean stew called grah. One of several Balkan spots in this corner of Astoria.
The list of brats is indeed impressive at this German beer hall which really feels more like a restaurant — though it offers some fine sidewalk seating. Smoked beef, pork, veal, and chicken bratwurst are only the beginning of a 20-item list that runs to such Teutonic arcana as rattlesnake and alligator brats. The German beer list is also worth exploring. Hamburgers and sandwiches in various permutations are also available, but remember, the main purpose of this place is drinking beer.
And here's a map: