Flushing, Queens, NY (Photo: Rachel Bryson-Brockmann/CUNY Journalism)
"Throngs of pedestrians illustrate that Downtown Flushing now has a larger Asian community than Manhattan's Chinatown."

Downtown Flushing

Tiny market stalls, Asian food courts and vast, multi-level restaurants crowd this Queens neighborhood, an ideal place to get a taste of Asia without leaving the city

Restaurants in Downtown Flushing, an Asian outpost in the middle of Queens, serve the best Chinese food in New York City, and possibly all of North America. At the Main Street-Flushing subway station, the easternmost stop for 7 trains, riders exit to the third busiest intersection in the city (Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue). Throngs of pedestrians illustrate that Downtown Flushing now has a larger Asian community than Manhattan’s Chinatown. On the streets, you’ll see Chinese characters interspersed with Roman letters on storefronts and may hear more Mandarin than English.

Locals and visitors shop for fruits and vegetables at markets on Main Street, picking up produce from apples and oranges to spiky red dragon fruit. The cramped food stalls at the Golden Palace mall are emblematic of the neighborhood as a whole: They’re sometimes dingy and often less than aesthetically pleasing, but full of fantastic, authentic, inexpensive Chinese food. Some menus are in Chinese only, but pictures are common and there’s usually someone who can translate and help visitors order classics like dan dan noodles (tossed with ground pork and chili oil) or more adventurous dishes like roasted duck heads. The original branch of New York mini-chain Xi’an Famous Foods does list dishes in English. (Xi’an, a capital city in western China, was an endpoint of the Silk Road.) Popular options include spicy cumin lamb stuffed inside a crispy bread pocket, hand-pulled noodles and lamb face salad. The Xi’an Famous Foods spin-off, Biang, offers similar Chinese delicacies, as well as beer and wine, in a slightly more refined atmosphere.

While Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue are Downtown Flushing’s primary commercial strips, you’ll find restaurants throughout the area. There are several on Prince Street, including Nan Xiang Dumpling House, which serves Shanghainese soup dumplings (steamed buns filled with hot soup and pork). Late morning or early afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays is an excellent — though busy — time to visit Flushing’s dim sum establishments, like Jade Asian Restaurant. In massive dining rooms, waiters push metal carts laden with dishes designed for sharing, including shrimp and vegetable dumplings, roast pork buns, spare ribs and chicken feet.

In the mid-17th century, English settlers, sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, arrived in the area. Today’s Flushing started coming about in the 1970s when the first wave of Asian immigrants, mostly Taiwanese, made their way to Queens instead of the traditional Chinatown in Manhattan, which was dominated by Cantonese speakers. While the Asian influence has grown, the primary sources of immigration have shifted from Taiwan and South Korea to Fujian and other Chinese provinces.

Downtown Flushing’s borders are generally considered to be Northern Boulevard to the north, Sanford Avenue to the south, College Point Boulevard to the west and Union Street to the east. Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest park in Queens, lies to the west; Kissena Park and the Queens College campus are located south of Downtown Flushing. North and east are mostly residential areas. The intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue is the best place to catch a cab. Downtown Flushing is crowded and safe throughout the day and into the evening, though the streets peter out when restaurants begin to close for the night.