Chef Stephen Menna is experimenting with some pretty cool weekend specials at Tufino Pizzeria, like this cappellini cake–a breaded round of angel hair pasta tossed with ricotta, caciocavallo, and fior di latte cheeses, which is then deep-fried and served surrounded by a moat of creamy alfredo, all garnished with shavings of grana padano. Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana | 36-08 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria | 718-278-4800 | www.tufinopizzeria.com
This lobster roll was insanely delicious, so fresh, so perfect. You can see one of the enormous claws, and there was a second one, plus the whole tail, and knuckle meat, too. Plenty of butter and a hint of lemon-mayo with herbs. The best lobster roll I have had to date. The hand-sliced homemade chips were a great touch. Off the Hook * 28-08 34th St, Astoria * (718) 721-2112
Sugar Freak’s gumbo, muffuletta, and crawfish boudin balls are mouthwatering, but the N'Awlins-inspired brunch items are some serious comfort eats… Fried Chicken & Waffles topped with Bananas Foster, a fried chicken sandwich stacked with Louisiana mac ‘n cheese, or eggs benedict with tasso ham and fried oysters under cajun hollandaise. Sugar Freak, 36-18 30th Ave, Astoria; (718) 726-5850; http://sugarfreak.com
“Hangover Pizza” at Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar (served only during weekend brunch from 11 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.) – the Bloody Mary of pizzas, with spicy tomato sauce, potato, pancetta, and fried eggs. Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar; 21-02 30th Ave (corner of 21st St); (718) 545-5550; http://www.vestavino.com/
At Arepas Cafe, you get killer Venezuelan food and some of the best service around. The house specialty is the arepa, a crunchy grilled corn pancake butterflied and loaded with every array of filling imaginable (pictured: tuna, pico de gallo, avocado, & truffle butter). And with numerous specials and a happy hour like this, how can you go wrong? Arepas Cafe, 33-07 36th Ave., Astoria, NY; (718) 937-3835
Now that’s a frankfurter! The “perro” from Los Verdes is a Colombian hot dog topped with mozzarella, crushed potato chips, bacon, a quail egg, spicy mayo, and pineapple sauce. Los Verdes * 4626 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, NY 11104 * (718) 255-6600 * www.losverdes.com
For one of the most powerful views of the skyline, witness it reaching above the horizon of grave markers at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside–one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States. With over 3 million interments (more than any other cemetery in the U.S.) and managed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it is the posthumous home to numerous Civil War soldiers, mobsters, politicians, and artists. The oldest gravestone is dated 1718. An original adult burial plot cost $7.
Nothing quite compares to the emotion evoked by this scene from the window as my airplane descends to LaGuardia airport… and few things make me happier after a long flight than knowing I live in Astoria, and the cab fare and distance to my apartment are lower than anyone else waiting for a taxi.
I stumbled upon his hole in the wall under the N train tracks when the Taco Truck took an unexpected hiatus last spring, only to discover that this spicy pork sandwich is exponentially superior, with juicy, spicy-sweet pork, a layer of beans, quacamole, and pickled nopales. And the bread? You can actually see its fluffy perfection in the picture. Plus it’s open ‘til 4AM daily. As good as it gets for affordable, authentic Mexican cuisine in Astoria (the huaraches are fantastic, too!). El Athens Grill, 30-11 30th Ave., Astoria; (718) 777-5366
Recently really impressed with a terrific banh mi (Vietnamese ham, roasted ground pork, paté, pickled daikon, carrots, cilantro, cucumber, sriracha, & soy sauce) at Cyclo, the new Vietnamese restaurant in Long Island City. They also serve a tasty beef pho in oxtail broth, as well as several other Vietnamese dishes… great lunch specials, too (banh mi with veggie soup for $6.50)… Cyclo * 5-51 47th Ave, Long Island City * http://www.cyclolic.com
Authentic Mexican food doesn’t get much better than this rather hidden gem… Athens Grill. Don’t be fooled by the name and walk past like so many erroneously do. The owners may be Greek, but it’s definitely a Mexican run and patronized restaurant that serves killer tortas & cemitas (try the al pastor), huaraches, tamales ($1.50) and even tops their tacos with grilled nopales (cactus). Wash it back with a MexiCoke, Jaritos, or tequila. They even deliver, open daily ‘til the wee hours of the night (usually 4AM). Athens Grill * 30-11 30th Ave, Astoria * 718-777-5366
Yesterday’s blossoms at Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City’s outdoor sculpture museum and gardens overlooking Manhattan and the East River; Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City at the intersection of Broadway & Vernon Boulevard, open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to sunset; www.socratessculpturepark.org
Linn Restaurant serves up some delicious Japanese dishes in a traditional Osaka style, like the koori tofu (Sweet tofu suspended in Japanese gelatin, served with a blackened sugar syrup), Miso Ramen, Hanetsuki Gyoza (black pork and garlic dumplings fried into a tissue-paper thin crepe you punch out like little edible paper dolls), and Yose Tofu (Boiling soy milk is turned into homemade tofu table side in a piping hot clay pot, and served with scallions, daikon, bonito flakes, and a soy-mirin broth). Linn Restaurant, 29-13 Broadway, Astoria; http://www.linnrestaurant.com/
Whenever a friend asks me what to order at Il Bambino – and I say “the potato salad” – the response is always a wrinkled nose as that person undoubtedly pictures an off-yellow celery-studded mustardy mush clump from their childhood. And the tune always changes as soon as they take that initial bite, addicting them for life. Fingerling potatoes are sliced into bite-sized coins, tossed in a truffle aioli, delicately drizzled with homemade basil pesto, speckled with shallots fried like miniature onion rings, and then blanketed in a snowfall of shaved pecorino romano. It’s incredible. Il Bambino, 34-08 31st Ave, Astoria; (718) 626-0087; http://ilbambinonyc.com
“Growing up in Austin, Texas smoked BBQ is in our blood. Every Saturday night my parents would get mesquite and hickory burning in our 8 foot backyard smoker (that my dad had welded together) and tend to its fire overnight. On Sunday afternoon, right after church, we had us a good ol’ time. We wanted to offer a “Meatopia” of our favorite meats and the Butcher’s Platter was born—a sampler of burnt end brisket, pork belly, and ribs topped with mac and cheese and bacon-string beans. Just like Momma’s Sunday BBQ!“ Orlando Sanchez, Executive Chef, Butcher Bar, 37-08 30th Ave, Astoria, (718) 606-8140, butcherbar.com