Astoria, Guest Bloggers, United Nations of Astoria, Vegetarian and Vegan
May 08, 2014

United Nations of Astoria: The Intrepid Vegetarian Edition

Meaty dishes get a lot of love in the food blogosphere, but there’s plenty of great vegetarian cooking in Astoria — especially if you dip into the neighborhood’s rich array of (…)

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Meaty dishes get a lot of love in the food blogosphere, but there’s plenty of great vegetarian cooking in Astoria — especially if you dip into the neighborhood’s rich array of global cuisines. Additional reporting by Sue Yacka, Meg Cotner, Wendy Wong, Rich Sanders, Judith Klein Rich, Tina Corrado, and Nina Golgowski.

Aladdin – Chana Bhuna

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Iftar box from Aladdin. Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

Black chickpeas are smaller and firmer than their more common light-colored cousins — with a nice, earthy flavor. Aladdin, a popular Bangladeshi restaurant and sweets shop on 36th Avenue, cooks this gravy-less black chickpea dish just right — with ample onion, spicy green chilies, a flavorful mix of spices, and cilantro. If that’s too much spice for you, cleanse your palate with a container of Aladdin’s house-made mishti doi, a tangy-sweet, thickened yogurt dessert. Aladdin Sweets & Restaurant, 29-06 36th Avenue, Astoria, 718.784.2554

Al-Sham Sweets – Katayef (only during Ramadan)

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Katayef from Al-Sham Sweets. Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

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Katayef interior from Al-Sham Sweets. Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

Jordan is renowned as the home of exquisite sweets, and Al-Sham Sweets on Steinway lives up to the hype. My favorite is the katayef, a pillowy, honey-soaked semolina pastry stuffed with walnuts or cheese, which is available only during Ramadan. During the rest of the year, I find sweet consolation in the coconut baklava, made with nuts and a layer of crunchy toasted coconut. Al-Sham Sweets, 24-39 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718.777.0876

Arepas Cafe – Guayanesa Tropical Arepa

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini, courtesy of City Spoonful.

Arepas Cafe is one of my favorite restaurants in Astoria. The menu is packed with tasty, carefully made Venezuelan arepas and snacks. My favorite arepa, the Guayanesa Tropical, combines fried sweet plantain, creamy wedges of avocado, and mild Guayanese cheese. Add some peppery West Indian hot sauce and tangy-creamy guasacaca and dig in. Arepas Cafe, 33-07 36th Avenue, Astoria, 718.937.3835

Balkh Shish Kabab House – Aushack

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Photo credit: Fooditka.

The delicate boiled dumplings at Balkh Shish Kabab House, which hail from northern Afghanistan, effortlessly straddle the flavors of East, South, and Central Asia. The pungent scallion filling evokes Chinese jiaozi (dumplings), while the spiced yogurt sauce is a close cousin to Indian raita and the mild tomato sauce recalls Georgian ajika. It’s an intriguing blend of flavors — and culinary traditions — on a single plate. Balkh Shish Kabab House, 23-10 31st Street, Astoria, 718.721.5020

BZ Grill – Greek Fries

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Photo credit: Adam Kuban.

BZ Grill, a small, unassuming Greek restaurant, has made a name for itself in a neighborhood where Greek food is serious business. Pork gyros are the specialty here, but these extra-crisp French fries laden with crumbled feta, oregano, and a generous drizzle of olive oil are sought after by meat eaters and vegetarians, alike. It’s a dish that reflects Astoria’s effortless confluence of Greek and American cultures. BZ Grill, 27-02 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, 718.932.7858

Cafe Triskell – French Aged Goat Cheese & Herbs Crepe

cafe.triskell.crepe.jpg Cafe Triskell’s crepes, among the best in New York City, are delicate and crisp — like crepes in Brittany, the French seaside region where the dish originated. This earthy, buckwheat crepe contains a hearty portion of French goat cheese, with its smooth, yet musky flavor. On the side, a small mesclun salad tossed with a house-made Dijon vinaigrette complements the crepe’s creamy flavor. Cafe Triskell, 33-04 36th Avenue, Astoria, 718.472.0612

Duzan – Hummus Jerusalem

hummus jerusalem Duzan is known for its rich, silky smooth hummus, served with fluffy, fresh pita. It’s hard to pick a favorite among the half-dozen options, but the Hummus Jerusalem, topped with earthy, warm fava beans, gets my vote. (Hummus Abu Ghosh, topped with fried garlic and pine nuts, is a close second.) Duzan’s house-made mango umba, a tangy, spicy condiment with roots in Israel’s Iraqi-Jewish community, is usually served with shawarma. But if you ask nicely, the friendly folks manning the counter will bring the bottle to your table (or slip a small container of it in with your delivery order). It adds nice bite to any dish. Duzan, 24-11 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718.204.7488

El Athens Grill – Chilaquiles con Huevos

El Athens Grill has retained the trappings of the Greek restaurant that preceded it, but the food here is legit Mexican. Vegetarians looking for a filling meal should steer toward the chilaquiles con huevos: fried tortilla chips simmered in salsa roja (red chilies) or salsa verde (tangy tomatillos and ample garlic) and topped with ample crema, two fried eggs, and salty, pungent crumbles of cotija cheese. This rich, carby meal will conquer any hunger — and almost any hangover. El Athens Grill, 30-11 30th Avenue, Astoria. 718.777.5366

Gregory’s Corner 26 Taverna – Cabbage Salad

Despite glowing reviews on this site and elsewhere, Gregory’s continues to fly below the popular radar. It’s a good thing, in my book. This cozy, no-frills café, known (among the few who do know it) for ultra-fresh seafood, isn’t much larger than a typical Astoria living room. There are plenty of good vegetarian options on the menu, but my favorite is the unheralded cabbage salad: coarsely shredded cabbage spiked with olive oil, lemon juice, and enough garlic to hold off a whole gang of vampires. Gregory’s Corner 26 Taverna, 26-02 23rd Avenue, Astoria, 718.777.5511

Hinomaru – Vegetable Ramen

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini

Hinomaru’s ramen and creative small plates are among the best Japanese food in Queens. Amid the other meaty options on the menu, the soy milk-based broth in the vegetable ramen holds its own. It’s rich and savory, easy on the sodium, and topped with a fluctuating array of vegetables: whisps of carrot and scallion, corn, cooked and fresh greens, and more. It’s one of my favorite bowls of ramen in the city. Hinomaru Ramen, 33-18 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, 718.777.0228

Koliba – Bryndzové Halušky

Koliba bacon

This beloved Slovakian dish combines funky, creamy bryndza — a soft sheep-milk cheese — melted over bite-size potato dumplings, called halušky. This rich, carb-bomb of a meal is best enjoyed on a cold evening in Koliba’s cozy-rustic dining room, where you can wash it down with some of the Czech and Slovak beers on tap. Koliba, 31-11 23rd Avenue, Astoria, 718.626.0430

Kopiaste Taverna – Kolokithokeftedes

I usually eschew fried dishes, but Kopiaste Taverna’s Greek-Cypriot kolokithokeftedes are unencumbered by excess oil and packed with bold flavor. These crisp, golden patties combine grated zucchini and sharp feta seasoned with ample dill and scallion. Order a bottle of Keo (a light Cypriot lager) and savor this first-rate drinking snack. Kopiaste Taverna, 23-15 31st Street, Astoria, 718.932.3220

La Cabana – Taco de Queso

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Photo credit: Tina Corrado.

Several taco-filled summers have passed since WHA’s epic taco post, but La Cabana’s taco de queso is still my favorite vegetarian taco in all of New York City. Simplicity is the key to its success. A grilled slab of creamy queso blanco is topped with fresh cilantro and diced onion. Spoon on some of the tangy, garlicky salsa verde and enjoy. La Cabana, 33-18 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718.267.7113

La Espiguita Taqueria – Sopes

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Photo credit: Tina Corrado.

La Espiguita’s owners hail from Mexico City, and their hometown evidently influences their sopes, which are served as a single, enormous disk of masa — much like Mexico City’s famous street food, huaraches. The thick masa base is made from scratch, then topped with refried beans (“blind eye” vegetarian alert!), diced onion, cilantro, and crumbly, creamy queso molido. The flavors are simple, but they strike an ideal balance. Good luck putting this down before you polish it off. La Espiguita, 32-44 31st Street, Astoria, 718.777.5648

Leng – Yum Mamuang Salad

The cooking at Leng doesn’t measure up to the Thai greats in nearby Elmhurst, but it’s among the best in Astoria. My go-to dish is the shredded green mango salad — topped with hunks of ripe avocado and slivers of pungent red onion, then tossed in a funky-piquant mixture of lime juice, sugar, and roasted coconut. Whenever I ask, I’m assured that there’s no fish sauce or shrimp paste in the dish. But strict vegetarians, beware — flavors this bold don’t usually come from a plant. (“Blind-eye” vegetarians, you’re in for a treat!) Leng, 33-09 Broadway, Astoria, 718.956.7117

Lorusso Pizza and Focaccia – Fennel Taralli

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini via City Spoonful.

Owned by a family from Bari in southern Italy, this off-the-beaten-path gem is known for its focaccia topped with everything from mashed potato to roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic. But don’t miss the house-made taralli, which are rolled out like pretzels, twisted into shape, then boiled and baked until crisp and golden. The fennel taralli — slightly sweet, and mildly licorice-y — are my favorite. Ask them to throw a bag of taralli in with your next delivery order. Lorusso Pizza and Focaccia, 18-01 26th Road, Astoria, 718.777.3628

Loukoumi Taverna – Gigantes

There are many contenders for best Greek food in Astoria, but Loukoumi gets my vote — mainly because it offers so many excellent vegetarian dishes. (The incredibly warm, old-school hospitality doesn’t hurt either.) The gigantes, meaty lima beans simmered in mildly seasoned tomato sauce, is greaseless, yet filling. Pair them with the lightly boiled dandelion greens (topped with a few squirts of fresh lemon juice) and any one of nearly a dozen Greek-Cypriot cheeses on the menu. It’s one of the tastiest, and most nourishing, vegetarian meals in Astoria. Loukoumi Taverna, 45-07 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria, 718.626.3200

Masjid Al-Hikmah – Gado-Gado (warm weather months only)

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Photo credit: Wendy Wong, courtesy of Real Cheap Eats.

At Masjid Al-Hikmah’s monthly Indonesian Food Bazaars, both meat-eaters and vegetarians clamor for the gado-gado: boiled, yet crisp, vegetables (carrot, potato, kale, and long beans are mainstays), hard-boiled egg, tempeh or tofu, and dense rice cakes tossed in tangy-sweet, spicy-garlicky peanut sauce. That sauce — freshly ground on huge stones by an expert team of older women — makes this (arguably) the best gado-gado in the Tri-State area. Masjid Al-Hikmah – Summer Food Bazaars, 48-01 31st Avenue, Astoria, 718.721.8881

Melting Pot Cuisine – Callaloo Meal

A vegetarian plate of callaloo, fried and boiled dumplings

Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

These greens, simmered with savory onion, sweet bell pepper, and tangy tomato are a rare specimen of legit Jamaican cooking in Western Queens. This hearty platter also includes an array of satisfyingly carby sides — typically boiled green plantain, yam, and fried or boiled dumplings. Melting Pot delivers throughout Astoria, but it’s worth visiting their sunny dining room on Vernon Blvd., if only to enjoy their incredibly friendly service. Melting Pot Cuisine, 36-01 Vernon Blvd., Astoria, 718.606.2670

Pao de Queijo – “Everything but the Feijoada” (collard greens with black beans and rice)

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

Pao de Queijo is one of my favorite weekend spots. The dining room is cozy, and the coffee and fresh juices are exceptionally good. On Saturdays, feijoada (a meaty Brasilian bean stew) is served with collard greens and rice. But any day of the week, vegetarians can pair those sides of greens and rice with a bowl of black beans (think of it as “everything but the feijoada”). The greens — lightly charred with a few slices of garlic – are crisp but tender, with a smoky edge. The soupy beans are mildly seasoned, yet deeply flavorful. Pao de Queijo, 31-90 30th Street, Astoria, 718.204.1979

Samira Deli Grocery – Tacos Placeros con Huevo y Arroz (Sunday mornings only)

This bodega doesn’t look like much at first glance. Inside you’ll find a tiny, but well-stocked, Mexican grocery with a small prepared foods operation. On Sunday mornings only, molotes (meat-filled, masa-encased Oaxacan “empanadas”), tamales, and other specials are prepared in-house and sold. Most are meaty, but if you ask for tacos placeros con huevo y arroz, you’ll get two large, freshly made tortillas topped with fragrant rice (“blind eye” vegetarian alert!), hard-boiled eggs, sautéed onion, and roasted jalapeño slices. The ingredients are simple but incredibly fresh. Just be sure to get there  (or call in your delivery order) by 10am — the food is prepared in small batches and it goes quickly. Samira Deli Grocery, Astoria Blvd. at 21st Street, Astoria, 347.808.0727

Seoul Fusion Eater – Kimchi Fried Rice

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

As Astoria’s only option for Korean cooking, Seoul Fusion is much better than it has to be. The kimchi fried rice (be sure to ask for it without pork) — a satisfying blend of carbs and full-throttle flavors — combines tangy kimchi, piquant scallion, and nutty sesame oil. Slice open the fried egg resting atop the mound of rice and enjoy the rich, creamy flavors it adds to the mix. Seoul Fusion Eatery, 24-06 34th Avenue, Astoria, 718.433.3003

To Laiko – Zucchini Pie

zucchini-pie-down-to-laiko-astoria-queens To Laiko’s sweet and savory phyllo pies are excellent for breakfast on-the-run. The zucchini pie, served in huge slices, is particularly delicious. The filling, a blend of leeks, creamy cheese, and shredded zucchini, is deeply savory and surprisingly light. It’s great with one of To Laiko’s famous Greek frappes: iced Nescafe coffee whipped with water (milk and sugar are optional). To Laiko, 29-29 23rd Avenue, Astoria, 718.274.6141

Trakia – Monastery’s Eggplant

Early coverage of this newish restaurant has focused on Trakia’s organic pizzas and Mediterranean fare. But chef-owner Alexander Dimitrov hails from Bulgaria, and his menu features several dishes from his home country, as well as from neighboring Romania, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Serbia. Most of these dishes are meaty, but this eggplant dish is worth trying even if you’re not a vegetarian. First a whole eggplant is slowly roasted; then it’s slit open and topped generously with truffle oil and a volcanic salt (at your table). The eggplant itself is smoky and wonderfully fragrant. The truffle oil adds savory depth, and the salt kicks in an earthy zing. Trakia, 38-14 30th Avenue, Astoria, 347.813.4709

Zenon Taverna – Flaounas (available by pre-order at Easter)

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Photo credit: Anne Noyes Saini.

During the week before Greek Orthodox Easter, Zenon Taverna bakes hundreds of flaounas, a savory Cypriot pastry with grated cheese, sweet raisins, mint, piney mastic gum, and nutmeg-like mahlepi baked into the dough. This intentionally rich indulgence is eaten on Easter Day to break the “fast” (aka, vegan diet) that many Greek Orthodox observers keep during Lent. Flaounas are available by pre-order only. (To place your order, call or stop by Zenon anytime during Lent.) Zenon Taverna, 34-10 31st Avenue, Astoria, 718.956.0133

Bonus: My “To Eat” List

Just because I haven’t tried these dishes yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.

Cafe Boulis – Loukoumades

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The Greek Festival at St. Demetrios Cathedral — with its legendary loukoumades — comes but once a year (coming soon: May 15-18!). But at Cafe Boulis, you can enjoy these Greek treats year round — fried to order, soaked in honey, and dusted with cinnamon (or served with innovative toppings, like sour cherry or chocolate). Cafe Boulis, 31-15 31st Avenue, Astoria, 718.806.1014

Jerusalem Pita House (AKA Pita Hot) – Baba Ganoush

Trusted sources rave about Pita Hot’s smoky, garlicky, tangy baba ganoush and friendly service. What more could you ask for in a neighborhood take-out joint? Jerusalem Pita House, 25-15 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718.932.8282

King of Falafel & Shawarma Cart – Falafel

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Photo credit: Harris Graber from our WHA Flickr pool.

There’s no shortage of good Middle Eastern fare in Astoria, but Freddy’s crisp, intensely flavorful falafel are rumored to be among the best in the city. King of Falafel & Shawarma Cart, 29-18 Broadway, Astoria, 718.838.8029

Leli’s Bakery & Cafe – Ricotta Qassatat

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Photo credit: Leli’s Bakery.

If you’ve ever contemplated crashing the Maltese Center on Astoria Blvd., head to Leli’s instead. Dave Cook reports that traditional savory pastries from Malta — baked qassatat (filled with ricotta, vegetables, or beef) and pastizzi (same fillings encased in phyllo dough) — are available every morning. Leli’s Bakery & Cafe, 35-14 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718.626.8090

Ukus – Kromprirusa (Potato Pie)

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Photo credit: Bradley Hawks.

Buttery mashed potatoes and savory onion baked into a hefty, spiral burek? That’s an excellent way to get through a fierce winter — whether you’re in Queens or Sarajevo. Ukus, 42-08 30th Avenue, Astoria, 718.267.8587

Zaitoun – Koshary

Egypt’s beloved comfort food combines macaroni and brown lentils with spicy tomato sauce, tangy vinegar, and fried onions. A trusted source reports that the modest food counter tucked at the back of this small market serves (arguably) the best version in Astoria. Zaitoun, 25-22 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718.204.9393

3 Comments

Anne Noyes Saini

Hi Josh,

Thanks for these recs! Chana daal is one of my all-time favorite Desi dishes…I make it at home with ghiya/bottle gourd. I’ll be back to try Aladdin’s version. :)

Best,
Anne

Reply
Joshua Khan

Hi Anne,

My family owns Aladdin Sweets and Restaurant. I’m glad you enjoyed the chick peas and the yogurt. I’m a practicing vegan myself and strongly recommend the Aloo Bean (green bean and potato curry) accompanied with Channa Daal (spicy lentil soup).

Thank you for stopping in and I hope to see you around!

Josh

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