Everyone who flies into New York City travels through Queens—it’s home to the John F. Kennedy and Laguardia International Airports. But seldom do those who land in Queens stay in Queens.
The largest and most diverse of New York City’s five boroughs, Queens is trailblazer territory. Its neighborhoods are so manifold, Lonely Planet named it the #1 destination in America in 2015, touting its inimitable culinary scene. Invited to head out with Queens Food Tours during my weekend as a tourist in my own city, I was fortunate enough to put the oft-forgotten borough to the taste test myself.
Queens Food Tours is an independent small business committed to supporting others like it—this means that all of the five places we visited on our tour are locally owned and operated, and use locally sourced, organic ingredients. It also means that the community vibe to the company’s tours is palpable.
Typically, I’m not one for tours, especially in my own city, because I don’t consider myself much of a tourist. To my surprise, however, the Flavors of Long Island City Tour isn’t necessarily for tourists. In fact, I was joined by just six others, all of whom are from New York. And a relatively more intimate tour booked up by locals in a city that boasts more than 50 million tourists a year is not only rarity, but also perhaps proof of authenticity.
Our guide Richard’s close relationships with the owners of each stop also hint at Queen’s unpretentious, hospitable character that’s been built upon years of family-oriented community-building. A longtime native himself, Richard shared fascinating facts about the neighborhood’s industrial past, artistic present, architecture and culture as we ate our way through the historic Long Island City.
And I mean, we ate. Over the course of three hours, we walked to five different mom-and-pop shops and legendary food joints around the neighborhood, trying a burger with a recipe that dates back 100 years, chatting with local artisans about their childhood memories growing up in Queens and more.
The ardor for the area from Richard and the culinary artists alike was both tangible and contagious, and, while all of the restaurant tastings are locally run, the globally inspired recipes revealed to us stories of Queens’ yesteryears.
Though I can’t spoil the surprise of where exactly this tour takes you, I can promise you that your taste buds will welcome the flavors of Long Island City. That said, if you have any food allergies, the company will of course accommodate you.
For tourists and locals alike looking for a genuinely off-the-beaten-path, bona fide experience and a guide to grub you might otherwise glaze over, reserve your spot on the next tour here ($65 per adult/$48 per child).