This article follows the NoshWalks of Latin American Jackson Heights that I lead every year. It highlights the flavors of Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador, and Mexico that have made Jackson Heights one of New York City's most vibrant attractions for serious foodies and curious tourists.
Latin American Jackson Heights stretches along two east-west roadways, Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue, from about 76th Street on the west to Junction Boulevard at the east. There are some great places a few blocks away on Northern Boulevard (like Pio Pio), but since I do my food exploring on foot, I focus on areas near the subway (directions to Jackson Heights.)
In Jackson Heights I love to start with a cholado. This Colombian treat is a cross between the best fruit salad and the best smoothie you've ever had. None of the locals I've asked has been able to explain what the word cholado means, but I did learn that they're most popular in the city of Cali, the hometown of many Colombians in Queens. Getting off at 82nd Street on the #7 train, I head over to 37th Avenue, to Aqui Colombia (81-08 37th Ave, 718-651-6565), a busy bakery-restaurant with a wide selection of baked goods and small meals.
Watch as the cholado is made: it starts simply enough with a cup of shaved ice, which is then saturated with passion fruit syrup and raspberry syrup. Then comes sweetened condensed milk, shredded coconut, and chunks of fruit – strawberry, banana, cantaloupe, papaya, or other tropical fruits – topped off with a maraschino cherry. This magnificent treat costs just $3.
For something less rich, try champus, a beverage made with ground corn and cooked with pieces of pineapple and lulo fruit, sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon. Extra-large corn kernels – typical in South America – float in the deep-tan colored drink.
Our next stop is an Uruguayan restaurant El Chivito d'Oro (84-02 37th Ave, 718-424-0600). Its excellent menu, similar to Argentine, features grilled meats and many great seafood dishes, too. Since we're on a tasting tour, we try the lighter, more portable appetizers such as shrimp ceviche, octopus salad, or slices of arrollado, which is a form of rolled meat, here in either pork or veal.
Then we head one block further, across 37th Avenue, to Don Francisco 2000 (85-17 37th Ave, 718-623-1316), the only Argentine-owned market I know in Jackson Heights. Although its meat counter is the major draw for local shoppers, I like to explore the imports filling its shelves, which include different brands of yerba mate, the popular herbal tea you'll see all over Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, plus pastas made in Uruguay and sauces and spices from Peru.
Our next stop, La Nueva Bakery (86-10A 37th Ave, 718-505-3700), is a great place for a light snack. Although the owners are from Uruguay, the selections are truly "Pan-American," with sweets and savories from Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico, and soft drinks as well as coffee and tea, from all over the Americas. My favorites are an arrollado in sandwich form – sweet, thin layers of rolled bread filled with tuna or ham, hearts of palm, lettuce, and bits of olive and tomato – and pasqualino, which is a cross between pizza and quiche. I like the spinach best, and to chase it with Uruguayan limeade.
Now we head to a great market called La Risaralda (91-02 37th Ave). Local shoppers line up for cuts of beef, goat, and pork, but I go for the packaged products. There must be at least a dozen types of arepas (Colombian cornmeal patties) as well as a few dozen salsas and spices. Arepas are often served like toast with meals, or eaten at breakfast. They are heartier than toast, however, and one prepared arepa can cost $2.
With my tours, I usually turn now to Roosevelt Avenue, which runs parallel, but I'd be doing a disservice not to mention Tierras Salvadoreñas (94-16 37th Ave, 718-672-0853), the only Salvadoran restaurant in Jackson Heights. Salvadoran cuisine has some wonderful specialties, especially the pupusa, a grilled corn-meal pancake filled with cheese, pork, chicken and a green called loroco, deliciously topped with a spicy slaw and salsa. They're excellent in this beautiful restaurant, adorned with Salvadoran artwork.
Myra Alperson is the founder/editor of NoshNews, a newsletter that highlights the food of New York City's ethnic neighborhoods, and founder of NoshWalks, a tour business that focuses on those neighborhoods. You can contact Myra Alperson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 212-222-2243.