“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,

Open since 2006 and run by three brothers from the former Yugoslavia, along with their mother, sister, and aunt, Ukus is known for having some of the most gargantuan and tasty pies, like the sirnica (above). Putting most versions of tyropita to shame, the flaky puff pastry of buttery sheets of phyllo is crispy on the outside, and ever so moist and chewy inside, filled with a mixture of soft cheeses and egg. Think oven-fresh strudel stuffed with a tangy lasagna cheese blend of creamy ricotta and mild feta. The remainder of their little menu reads like an abridged Who’s Who of the most popular dishes served in the Yugoslavian tradition, with three soups, four salads, five pies, and thirteen grilled and main dishes (the name, ukus, translates to “taste”).  But these gigantic pastry pies appear nearly a foot-and-a-half in diameter, and come piping fresh out of the oven throughout the entire day. $4.50 gets you one slice of either the meat, cheese, or spinach pies; and each slice is actually a quarter of the whole pie! It’s colossal, and more than enough to share.  Ukus (42-08 30th Ave., Astoria) Open daily from 10AM to 11PM (718) 267-8587

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

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.

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


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

So I recently fell head-over-feet in love with this outrageously delicious bacon cheeseburger at F. Ottomanelli Burger & Belgian Fries in Woodside, run by the famous butcher of the same name down the street.  The single is $5.39 (with unlimited free toppings), but of course I went with the double for $1.30 extra.  For one of the most affordable burgers in the area, it tasted like a million bucks.  They even make patties with seasonings mixed in, like chipotle or roasted garlic.  And the truffle parmesan aioli for the fries is outrageous. F. Ottomanelli Burger & Belgian Fries, 60-15 Woodside Ave, Woodside; (718) 651-5544

Hinomaru Ramen is now serving more than just noodles – they have a full summer menu of special recipes, and a delicious assortment of tapas, including this takoyaki… fried pastries stuffed with chopped octopus, and a gooey dough center, topped with tangy brown takoyaki sauce, a drizzle of mayo, bonito flakes, and chopped seaweed.  Almost like steaming little seafood zeppoles. Four for $5.  HinoMaru Ramen |33-18 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria | (718) 777-0228


The Thirsty Koala officially opens its doors later today at 4 p.m.  This unique, friendly, and delicious new restaurants fills in a gap previously untapped in Queens… Australian fare.  These herb-crusted lamb lollies (chops) over caramelized pumpkin join a line-up of unique crostini (with homemade chèvre), boomerang tacos, Aussie desserts (a Tim-Tam tiramisu), and other fresh bites (with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, like the edamame chili above).  Welcome to the neighborhood, guys!  The Thirsty Koala * 35-12 Ditmars * 718-626-5430

Astoria is already home to two renowned beer gardens, but now add to that Max Bratwurst Und Bier which opened last Friday… bringing authentic German into Astoria’s mix.  Sure, they have homemade pretzels with traditional obazda cheese spread, schnitzel of all sorts, a line of house made sausages, and German beer galore.  But for the adventurous, why not try a bratwurst made of rattlesnake, rabbit, or alligator?  Max Bratwurst Und Bier, 47-02 30th Ave, Astoria, NY 11103;