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Astoria restaurant guide: The best places to eat now

Our Astoria restaurant guide points you to the best places to eat in the neighborhood, from trusty favorites to the latest hot spots.

Known for its Greek tavernas and Egyptian eateries, this Queens nabe is increasingly gastronomically diverse. Our Astoria restaurant guide includes a superior Thai spot and a standout café. There are also plenty of cheap eats and select brunch places.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Astoria, Queens


Arharn Thai

Here’s one for your short list of local (or worth-the-trip) Thai eateries. Arharn is Thai for “food,” and the dishes are as uncomplicated as the name. Ingredients are sliced, diced, wokked, tossed and sauced with rugged confidence. Chicken-coconut soup is thick and meaty, but be prepared: If you ask for it hot, you’ll get it fiery. Crunchy fried chunks of meat are drenched in a gingery lime bath for duck salad. Soft-shell crabs, when available, are sautéed in garlic; complement them with a noodle or curry dish. For dessert, try the lychee or durian ice cream.

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Astoria

The Astor Room

Thirty years ago, a restaurant like the Astor Room might have sizzled like the ’21’ Club, with its live entertainment on a baby grand, a buttoned-up barman pouring stiff drinks, and tables crowded with warm Parker House rolls and complimentary bowls of crisp crudités. As a period piece, that first impression feels right—ragtime on the stereo, tiled walls and Tiffany lamps, a stuffed and posed beaver behind an imposing oak bar. Even the crowd—mostly gray-haired on one recent visit—is of the appropriate age, at home in their seats as if they’ve been regulars going on decades. But while New York diners are suckers for a time warp, the restaurant’s manufactured nostalgia never quite transports. Unlike more successful retro haunts—Minetta Tavern, say, or even the Monkey Bar—the Astor Room stops short of channeling a bygone age: The ceiling is particleboard, TVs flash stills of silent-film stars and the Continental cooking is solid but soulless. You might expect more verisimilitude from a space that was once the commissary of Kaufman Astoria Studios, where Rudolph Valentino and W.C. Fields supped on cafeteria cooking. And it still feels like an industry dining room—a better working lunch certainly than the Panera Bread, Subway or Uno’s right around the corner, but not quite a new Queens destination. There are some real talents behind the scenes: former Waldorf-Astoria chef John Doherty consulting on food, mixology team Jim Kearns and Lynnette Marrero of Freemans and Peels advising on drinks. And while the latter duo’s skill comes through in the glass, the food is drab and uneven. Doherty’s menu, conceived with executive chef Richard Pims (Chez Josephine, RM), might be appropriate for a banquet in a deluxe hotel ballroom, but it’s an odd fit in this intimate space. A salad of baby spinach and warm bacon nuggets is exactly what it sounds like, a deft yet dull classic. The oysters Rockefeller plays it just as straight—three tasty but flat bivalves, gently baked in their shells with cheese, spinach and leeks. There’s more sparkle in a rich garlic-cream soup with flaked cod and house-cured pancetta—an elegant spin on the Scottish finnan haddie. Our tastes have evolved in the eons gone by since lobster Thermidor reigned as a ubiquitous splurge. The version served here certainly makes a grand entrance—the broiled two-pounder nearly too big for its plate—but the tough, salty meat, in pasty cheese sauce, is a poor argument for a 21st-century comeback. Beef Stroganoff, another ponderous dinosaur, fares better, its buttery egg noodles topped with fork-tender short rib instead of the usual sautéed scraps of steak. The vintage desserts hark back to a time when sweet, rich, excessive and French were the big-ticket norms, when crêpes suzette still passed for exotic and soufflés came topped (as they are here) with ice cream and chocolate sauce. This memory-lane cooking might be good fun if it were, in the end, more exciting to eat. But nostalgia all by itself doesn’t add up to much.—Jay Cheshes Vitals: Eat this: Parker House rolls, oysters Rockefeller, beef Stroganoff Drink this: Among the retro cocktails, you’ll find homages to silent-film stars like the Fairbanks, a lemony mix of gin, dry vermouth, grenadine and apricot brandy, and delicious classics like the New Yorker, made with red wine and bourbon (each $9). Sit here: When the basement dining room’s empty, as it often is, the place can feel bleak. Dine at the bar instead, and enjoy an easy rapport with the gregarious staff. Conversation piece: The restaurant space retains the original tile walls and marble staircase from the 1920s, when the studios here were a hub for the silent-film industry.

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Astoria

Elias Corner

It’s not the simple blue-and-white decor that lure capacity crowds to this Astoria taverna. It’s the glistening display of seafood destined to become dinner that keeps them coming back. Elias’s grilled fish stands out even in a ’hood packed with seafood-centric Greek restaurants. Those in the know order the swordfish kebabs, fired up simply with green peppers, onions and tomatoes. Dessert isn’t served on weekends, but keep an eye peeled for the occasional special of loukoumades—sweet dough fritters drizzled in honey.

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Astoria

Kabab Café

If you don’t feel like splurging at Mombar, head a few doors down to the pint-size Kabab Café. The food is just as delectable, but cheaper and less gussied-up. Cheerful proprietor Ali el-Sayed wants you to be happy; start on your way with velvety baba ghanoush (studded with apples for a sweet twist) and eggeh, a golden-brown egg fritter. Logs of ground lamb and beef kofta are well-spiced, and the classic moussaka is a hearty vegetarian option.

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Astoria

Taverna Kyclades

Critics' pick

The Greek banter rising from the back patio ought to tip you off: This sunny spot is one of the more authentic tavernas among Astoria’s Hellenic roster. Crisp calamari, flash-fried sardines and succulent grilled scallops are as fresh and deftly cooked as those you’d find at a seaside spot. Dessert, cinnamon-dusted galaktoboureko (custard), is on the house, a gracious touch that makes this odyssey all the more worthwhile.

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Astoria

The Queens Kickshaw

Serious java draws caffeine fiends to this airy café, which also specializes in grilled-cheese sandwiches. While the pedigreed beans—from Tarrytown, New York’s Coffee Labs Roasters—are brewed with Hario V60 drip cones and a La Marzocco Strada espresso machine, there’s no coffee-snob tude here. Of the fancy grilled-cheese choices, the simplest riffs are best: One morning offering features soft egg folded with ricotta, a Gruyère crisp and maple hot sauce between two thick, buttery slices of brioche. But the simple pleasure of bread and melted cheese is obscured by baroque ingredients in some of the more creative options, such as a Gruyère on rye—the nutty cheese is overwhelmed by pickled and caramelized onions, plus piquant whole-grain mustard. Stick to the basics and you'll do fine.

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Astoria

Zenon Taverna

The faux stone entryway and murals of ancient ruins don’t detract from the Mediterranean charm of this oasis that’s been serving Greek and Cypriot food for more than 200 years. Large wedges of lemon arrive on most dishes, a final squeeze lending a refreshing splash of acidity to meats and fish alike. Generally it works, cutting the fattiness of plump loukaniko (pork sausages), seasoned to the hilt, and balancing the charred taste of incredibly tender grilled octopus. Filling sweets, such as galaktopoureko (syrupy layers of filo baked with custom cream), merit a taste, if your stomach isn’t already bursting.

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Canalp C
Canalp C

After Two-Year Hiatus, Beloved Queens Restaurant Mundo Returns to Grander Digs @paperfactoryhotel in the Kaufman Arts District in Long Island City.

www.mundonewyork.com

Watch the grand opening:

http://youtu.be/dAb06IFDk9A