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It's hard to believe Queens Boulevard and the elevated 7 train plow right through the middle of Sunnyside; the neighborhood projects a familial vibe and unhurried pace that belie the massive thoroughfare bisecting it. There's space (inside the buildings and out), rents are low, and interesting businesses open regularly. Babies and dogs are walked along the southern blocks of big, residential buildings and along the northern crop of tiny, garden-lined homes in Sunnyside Gardens; national chains can be accessed on Greenpoint Avenue, while smaller, unique shops and cafs dot 43rd and Skillman Avenues.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Sunnyside, Queens
Angel Gil Orrios, artistic-executive director, Thalia Spanish Theatre
"When I arrived from Spain 30 years ago, I already loved Sunnyside. I saw there was a very mixed, cosmopolitan neighborhood that enabled many different people from many different communities to live in the same place. I thought that was very New York. I was impressed by the small houses and amount of green, so different from Manhattan."
"I wanted to buy an apartment, so I did, 15 years ago. My wife and me adopted two kids from Guatemala and we thought this was the best neighborhood to raise them: It's a very quiet neighborhood, it's mixed with people from all over the world and we like that. It's family-oriented—no violence, no robberies. Of course, I also like having work a few blocks from where I live."
"Because the community is so mixed, the supermarkets are good at bringing foods and products from all over the world. Even tea. Not just Lipton but boldo or jicama. In Spain, you cannot cook with any other oil but olive oil. And here you can always find good olive oil. With the Russian or Romanians here, you can even find caviar if you need to, for a special occasion."
"You really have everything: good restaurants of every kind, from Japanese to Italian to Indian to Romanian. For Spanish food, there is a very good meat restaurant called Floresta. The family running the restaurant is from Argentina and owned a butcher shop. They have first-class meat and they prepare it very well."
Floresta, 41-08 Greenpoint Ave between 41st and 42nd Sts (718-784-1305, florestany.com)
"Of course, kids love pizza. One of the best is Marabella; that's there on the corner with the theater. The pizza with macaroni, for example, it's really great. Once I told the kids they can't have pizza all the time and they got pasta, which was prepared very well."
Marabella, 41-07 Greenpoint Ave between 41st and 42nd Sts (718-786-4635, marabellapizza.com)
"Lowery Liquor and Wine Co. has a variety of wines. They have good wine from Spain, from Argentina, from California. When I need to buy electronics or things for the kids, on 48th Street there is a kind of mall, all kids of stores. My kids love to go because there is a Toys "R" Us, but there are all kinds of stores around. You have the Guitar Center and Home Depot and Marshalls. In two blocks, you have every kind of store you might need to buy something without going any further."
Lowery Liquor and Wine Co., 40-14 Queens Blvd between 40th and 41st Sts (718-784-2334)
"In 30 years, it really has been changing, and changing for the best. When the previous artistic director of the Thalia was opening the theater, people told her she was crazy. The neighborhood was quiet and provincial. Now, every door along Greenpoint Avenue around the theater is a business. Even the buildings of the apartments around here are very well taken care of; many of them are co-ops. I am on the board of directors for one of those buildings and see how people care for their properties and their homes."
Scott Bateman, animator
"I've been in Sunnyside for five years. It's great for my wife's commute; midtown is right there. It's a nice place to come home to but it's still close to everything. We're half a block away from Queens Boulevard and we can hardly hear it. It's crazy, for such a big street, how little bearing it has. Also, we have the second floor of a row house; it's more apartment for the money than a lot of people get in New York."
"It was an Irish neighborhood, but they apparently went back in 1999 because the economy was good in Ireland for the first time ever; now that it's kind of tanked, they're coming back. There's also a mixture of North and South America: Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, but also Eastern European. A crazy mix of people!"
"My wife and I are big into diners and there are a couple of good ones along Queens Boulevard. There's one called Foxy's Diner right next to the funeral home. I like the breakfast special. [I special order it with] two eggs, bagel, sausage, french fries. You can get out of there without spending $20 on two people."
Foxy's Diner, 43-11 Queens Blvd at 43rd St (718-482-7640, orderfoxysdinerqueens.com)
"Alpha Donuts is very much a place for people who have lived in the neighborhood their whole lives. But just down the block is New York Style Eats and that's a good diner also. That one is good for dinner. A lot of good pasta dishes and wraps."
Alpha Donuts, 45-16 Queens Blvd between 45th and 46th Sts (no phone) * New York Style Eats, 45-02 Queens Blvd at 45th St (718-937-4121, newyorkstyleeats.com)
"My wife loves to cook, so she goes to the Sunnyside Greenmarket every Saturday. I think this is its third year. Really good produce, and you just see everyone in the neighborhood there. We used to go into Manhattan for that kind of stuff, so it's nice to have it right there and get to know the farmers."
Sunnyside Greenmarket, Skillman Ave between 42nd and 43rd Sts (grownyc.org/sunnysidegreenmarket)
"Sunnyside Gardens is beautiful. All those trees—and there's Sunnyside Gardens Park. I think you have to live near it to have access, actually, but I think they open it up a couple of times a year. But there [used to be] a film festival there every year on the lawn. I showed a couple of animated things there a few years ago and it was a great experience. Nice people."
Sunnyside Gardens Park, 38th Ave between Gosman Ave and 50th St
"Superior Market has this really big selection of foreign beer. If we're going to a party or something we'll just pick something up. It's weird, because it's this sketchy Russian store, but they have this really nice, high-end foreign beer. They also keep a heap of dried fish by the register. Um, okay!"
Superior Market, 40-08 Queens Blvd between 40th and 41st Sts (718-392-3178)
"I spend a lot of time at Starbucks, actually. I'm on hiatus at the moment, but I do a great deal of my work there; if I'm animating I'll bring my laptop and even my scanner and sit and draw and scan and animate. They don't mind at all. And I'll run into a lot of regulars from the neighborhood."
Starbucks, 46-09 Queens Blvd at 46th St (718-472-5215, starbucks.com)
Dan Glasser, co-owner, Stray Vintage
"We've lived in the neighborhood for about 11 years. We were introduced to Woodside by a mutual friend. At first glance, it was familiar; then I started riding down Skillman every day on my bike, thinking, What is this? Those tree-lined streets! We'd stop, get a cup of coffee at Aubergine Caf and wander around. The Gardens are still untouchable but we found this great spot on 46th."
Aubergine Caf. 49-22 Skillman Ave at 50th St (718-899-1735, auberginecafe.com)
"As far as Aubergine goes, we appreciated that there was this great, community caf at which there were open mikes and other readings. That was a lot of the inspiration to stay and open up a business in this neighborhood. We walked into Aubergine and told [co-owner] Gary, this is why we're here. He was a pioneer. Ask a lot of business owners and they'll tell you the same thing. It sparks people's interests."
"Quaint is great for friends or family; we think of that place right away. Small menu, pretty simple and everything's fresh. Tim, the owner, is very responsible. Saturday you'll see him walking from the Greenmarket with fresh vegetables. That night, they'll do good veggie dishes."
Quaint, 46-10 Skillman Ave between 46th and 47th Sts (917-779-9220, quaintnyc.com)
"De Mole, a lot of people love this place. Over the years, they've expanded, and they deserve every ounce of credit. That guy just cooks with a lot of love. The fish ceviche is great; it just won an award for the Taste of Queens and, having eaten it for years, we thought, Of course it won an award!"
De Mole, 45-02 48th Ave at 45th St (718-392-2161, demolenyc.com)
"It's filled with so many great characters, as far as artists go. In June, we had an art festival. It was the third year and over 900 people showed up! Some of the people from Queens Council on the Arts came out and were happy with how many people there were and how youthful it was."
"Because I work here, too, I'm in the neighborhood a lot. Sometimes it drives me a little batty, but it does feel like home. You really do get a small-town vibe here with the people it attracts, the businesses around and their generosity. If I ever leave Sunnyside, if I head into Manhattan and look up at the buildings, it's like, Whoa, I'm a tourist."
Sherry Gamlin, producer, Sunnyside Shorts Film Festival
"I've been in the neighborhood since 1975, when I was just a youngster. And though I went to high school in Queens, I'd never heard of Sunnyside; I lived in Rochdale Village. But a friend invited me to her family's home for Christmas. It was such a nice little neighborhood and so affordable, that when my parents moved down to Florida to retire, I moved here. It's a great neighborhood and there's a real small-town feel about it."
"I've lived in many different places in Sunnyside, but the apartment I live in now I bought ten years ago. It's tripled in value! I walk along Skillman Avenue every day, and it's like main street in a small town. I know the shopkeepers, I know the people in the neighborhood."
"I eat in Manhattan but I always prefer the restaurants in Sunnyside. Not only because I find them better, but more affordable. Quaint and Bliss are great restaurants with outdoor seating in the warm weather. It's like going on vacation when you go to brunch or dinner. Bliss serves French-oriented food; I've eaten at French restaurants in Manhattan recently uptown, and I'd say Bliss is comparable. They have specials—free-range chicken, for instance—that are just top-notch. Quaint is more of a Soho type of eatery. I love their tilapia with quinoa; it's excellent. Both places have desserts to die for. And both of the owners are the nicest people. They make you feel like you're walking into Cheers."
Quaint, 46-10 Skillman Ave between 46th and 47th Sts (917-779-9220, quaintnyc.com) * Bliss Bistro, 45-20 Skillman Ave at 46th St (718-729-0778, blissbistro.com)
"Sunnyside Gardens is a private park; you have to be a member, but it's good for families. I'm not a member—I only have a cat! But we did have the first film festival there outdoors. We had such an amazing response and a standing ovation. And every year it's rained on film festival night, so now we do it at Sunnyside Community Center."
Sunnyside Gardens Park, 38th Ave between Gosman Ave and 50th St
"We have filmmakers from all over the world in the festival. France, Romania, Colombia, England, Argentina, all over the U.S. and, of course, Sunnyside! There are lots of filmmakers here. I think it's just a cool, affordable neighborhood rather than Williamsburg or Brooklyn Heights. We're a 45-minute walk into Manhattan and it's also just very pretty here. The private homes with the interconnected gardens are picturesque. Especially when it snows; it's just like a postcard."
"April Glass, they have beautiful things there. Furnishings, like lamps and picture frames and candles and fabric for curtains and tablecloths. I'm looking at my apartment as I say this because I've got so much from there! They also have great jewelry and very great owners."
April Glass, 44-09 Queens Blvd between 44th and 45th Sts (718-937-7578, aprilglass.com)
"At the really lower end of the price scale, there's South Pole Stores. You can find some really great bargains there, including clothing. I bought a Calvin Klein cashmere skirt there from Italy—$150, but I got it for $9.99! It was just wedged between the racks there. You never know what you're going to find."
South Pole Stores, 44-04 Queens Blvd at 44th St (718-937-4252)
Gary O'Neill, co-owner, Aubergine Caf
"My wife and I noticed there was no nice place to get a good cup of coffee in our neighborhood. If you go to Astoria, there's cafs and restaurants every block or two. This corner became available across from where we were living and we took it. It was an old grocery store; we put a lot of work in it and we opened in January about seven and a half years ago."
"We want people to be comfortable and proud of their little coffeeshop in the neighborhood, but it does feel strange to have newer businesses cite us as an example. We just like to come in and do our jobs. It feels nice to have people in the neighborhood rely on us, though."
"If you were to take a Google map of Sunnyside and Woodside, it really looks like a forest because of all the trees. It's quite strange. And to be 15 minutes from the center of Manhattan! In the last five years, lots of new, young families have moved into the neighborhood. Five or six years ago, The New York Times did a piece on this neighborhood, and Time Out has done something every 14 or 18 months. When there are positive pieces being written, people start giving the neighborhood a look when they might look elsewhere."
"Up the block from here is The Kettle. The owner there is Patrick Tunney. It was an old Irish bar for maybe 30 years or more, but Patrick came along and turned it into a restaurant. It was really the first place on Skillman Avenue that was a full dining restaurant. I do appreciate people citing us as an inspiration, but he was really the first one to do it. The place is an anchor."
The Kettle, 50-24 Skillman Ave at 51st St (718-335-7596)
"The Bliss Street Station Restaurant has been there for 15 or 20 years. It's [got] really good, solid food. The Turkish Grill, Pure Spa & Salon... Just by walking into the door into any of these businesses, you can tell the owners are putting quite an investment into the neighborhood and they're doing so in a place where people are appreciating it."
Bliss Street Station Restaurant, 47-02 Greenpoint Ave between 47th and 48th Sts (718-729-2547) * The Turkish Grill, 42-06 Queens Blvd at 42nd St (718-392-3838) * Pure Spa & Salon, 40-15 Queens Blvd between 40th and 41st Sts (718-784-6400, purespanyc.com)