What you'll pay: $500,000
What you'll get: An 830-square-foot two-bedroom condo in new construction
Distance to midtown: 30 minutes on the N or R train
Even though the Steinway Piano Company, which developed parts of Astoria in the 1870s, no longer offers residents factory-town perks like a private school, an amusement park and a baseball team, its continued operation still adds to the area's artsy cred. Many creative types call this place home, like Vicky Barranguet, an artist, and her musician husband, Gustavo Casenave, who love the northwest Queens neighborhood for its cultural attractions and wide range of ethnic food.
Elmo addicts will be impressed to learn that the red monster and his buds shoot Sesame Street episodes at New York's historic TV and film production center, Kaufman Astoria Studios, just around the block from its 14-screen movie theater (UA Kaufman Studios, 36th Ave at 38th St; 800-326-3264). On hot summer days, families head to Astoria Park (23rd Rd to Hoyt Ave, between 19th St and Shore Blvd; 718-626-8621) for its huge pool, playgrounds, shady spots for picnicking and views of Manhattan. Parents also bring little ones to nearby Long Island City, where they can play at Socrates Sculpture Park (32-04 Vernon Blvd between Broadway and 10th St, 718-626-1533) or take part in the Art for Tots workshops at the Noguchi Museum (9-01 33rd Rd at Vernon Blvd, 718-204-7088). Astoria's toy shops and essential businesses—banks, laundries, grocery marts—are concentrated in the area around Broadway and Steinway Street, where familiar chains are interspersed with family-owned stores.
Astoria is loaded with casual restaurants serving standout food. Barranguet recommends bringing the kids to Mundo (31-18 Broadway at 32nd St, 718-777-2829). "We're from Uruguay," she says, "and the blend of Turkish and Argentine food there reminds us of home." Locals also enjoy the greatest concentration of Greek joints in NYC, like Uncle George's (33-19 Broadway at 34th Ave, 718-626-0593) and Stamatis (31-14 Broadway between 31st and 32nd Sts, 718-204-8968). Other culinary faves are the stroller-friendly Cup Diner and Bar (35-01 36th St at 35th Ave, 718-937-2322), a 300-seat eatery that dishes up tasty mac and cheese, and the 718 Restaurant (35-01 Ditmars Blvd at 35th St, 718-204-5553), where Jenny Lando, mom of Nora, 2, heads for romantic date nights with her husband. And no guide to Astoria is complete without a nod to the landmarked Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (29-19 24th Ave between 29th and 31st Sts, 718-274-4925), where kids can nosh on pierogi with sauerkraut and onions —or if that doesn't fly, chicken nuggets and fried cheese.
Astoria has long had a reputation as a renters' neighborhood. Two-bedrooms in older low-rise brick buildings list for $1,300; even better bargains are found farther from the N and R stops. But a dozen new developments will spell more options for families looking to buy. Associate broker Robson Lemos of the Corcoran Group recently listed a 900-square-foot two-bedroom condo at the new Ionian Condominiums—with maple floors and quartz countertops—for $600,000. And the modest two-family brick houses (both attached and detached) lining quiet side streets start at $750,000, says Adriano Hultmann, associate broker at the Corcoran Group.
Even the most ardent fans have quibbles. Aside from the oasis of Astoria Park, concrete dominates the landscape. Schools can also be a sore spot. Sarah Espaol, mom of Ruben, 3, and Oscar, 1, runs a meet-up group for Astoria moms; she says parents recently discussed ways to bolster some of the area's weaker schools. Two grade schools do pass muster. Opened in 2003, P.S. 234 (30-15 29th St between 30th Rd and 30th Ave), pre-K to fifth grade, still has its founding principal and earned a good review from Insideschools.org for its high test scores, weekly art lessons and spacious facility. Our World Neighborhood Charter School (35th Ave between 36th and 37th Sts), K-8, offers small classes and boasts high reading and math scores. For some parents, Astoria is ideal because it's not overly kid-centric. "It isn't only for families," says Lando. "It's not just like you're in some commune with children; there are places to escape."
Bottom line: Manhattan-style convenience at a better price point lures families who favor the perks of city life.