Dining in Sunnyside
is all about options. In a community increasingly defined by its diversity, it's not uncommon to find on a single block of Queens Boulevard a South Asian grocer, a Turkish restaurant, a Hungarian smoked-meat market, a Korean frozen-yogurt parlor, a Tex-Mex café, and an Irish pub.
During these times of economic strain, there's nothing more desirable than an affordable meal. As Sunnyside has remained (miraculously) a treasure trove of pocket-friendly chow, delicious, and filling food-on-a-budget is not only possible, it's essential. Behold, mama's favorite cheap eats in our glorious Queens 'hood:
Hanami Japanese and Nepalese Restaurant
This family-run restaurant knows how to treat its customers. With a gracious waitstaff and a crafty fish maestro, perks include complimentary bowls of warm, salted edamame, bottomless cups of green tea, and post-dinner plum wine shots. Bold sushi spreads and a bounty of under-$10 Nepalese dishes entice: Try the $7.50 beef momo
in a bamboo steam basket with homemade red chili sauce, or a $4 Samurai roll with fresh, hearty mackerel and shards of pickled ginger.
- Hanami Japanese and Nepalese Restaurant - 39-11 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY, 718-361-8232
El Vagabundo Taco Truck
At dusk each night, this Mexican-fare mobile rears into its mainstay Boulevard parking space near 41st Street and gets to grilling. Late-night revelers, after-hours laborers, and local faithfuls line up to Vagabundo's stainless steel counter for masterfully assembled $2.50 tacos, $6 quesadillas, and $7 stuffed burritos with extra pickled jalapeños. Fresh, simple toppings (radishes, lime, cilantro) intensify savory strips of carne asada. The stacked-high grilled chicken torta ($6) is worth every peso.
- El Vagabundo Taco Truck - Queens Blvd at 41st St, Sunnyside, NY, 347-276-4522
Book Chang Dong Natural Tofu Restaurant
Sunnyside's considerable Korean faction flocks to this Boulevard "tofu temple" for banchan
and traditional comfort foods in a cozy, familial setting. As the side dishes are customary (and free), it's easy to stay under budget with the starter spread, which typically includes soup, kimchi, seaweed salad, fishcakes, and spicy pickles. The house-specialty soft tofu bowls ($7.95) served alongside (free) helpings of white rice are big enough for two, and for added sweetness, the mellow waiters throw in sticks of melon-flavored Haitai gum with your bill.
- Book Chang Dong Natural Tofu Restaurant - 40-06 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY, 718-706-0899
El Shater Middle Eastern Market
This Lebanese market is an ethnic godsend on the typically Irish north side of the Boulevard. Sandwiches (a choice of schwarma, falafel, kebab, or sausage) are wrapped in swaths of fresh pita with veggies, hot sauce, and (optional) pickled turnips--for a safe $3.50. And out-of-this-world honey-and-rosewater flavored baked goods occupy precious counter space nightly. When in doubt, Shater's fresh homemade salads-by-the-pound, and $1.75 spinach, cheese, or meat pies make for the ultimate nightcap.
- El Shater Middle Eastern Market - 43-02 43rd Ave, Sunnyside, NY, 718-392-2702
Pio Pio Riko Restaurant
The intoxicating aroma of rotisserie chicken baits patrons a block away to this intimate Peruvian enclave on Sunnyside's busiest street corner. The joint is usually packed, and with a $4.50 1/4 roasted chicken combo (with french fries and salad or rice and beans), it's not hard to see why.
Leftovers are inevitable with the heaping portions -- a $4 side order of salchipapas is roughly 10 hot dogs over a mound of french fries with a generous green salad. A tray of corn nuts with spicy green sauce comes first, always on the house. The tip's included in your bill, and the kitchen's open late.
- Pio Pio Riko Restaurant - 45-23 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, NY, 718-361-5721
Honorable Mention: Butcher BlockA big shout-out to Irish market the Butcher Block (43-46 41st St, Sunnyside, NY, 718-784-1078), for its under-$10 daily meat-and-mashed-potatoes specials, $3 carrot-ginger soup Saturdays, and tempting wall of imported chocolates and ambitiously flavored crisps.