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Jackson Heights, Queens, NY (Photo: Matt Surrusco/CUNY Journalism)
"Immigrants mix with younger professionals who have discovered Jackson Heights ... The ethnic diversity means a bonanza for food-lovers. "

Jackson Heights

There's an incredible mix of culture in this Queens neighborhood, and it's reflected in the edibles, which include Tibetan dumplings, Indian curries, Mexican tacos and Peruvian chicken

Queens is the most diverse county in the United States, and Jackson Heights may be the most diverse neighborhood within Queens. Its approximately 67,000 residents hail from countries all over the globe, from Colombia and Ecuador to India and Nepal. More than 30 languages are spoken in the neighborhood, and two thirds of the population was born abroad. Immigrants mix with younger professionals who have discovered Jackson Heights as well, seeing the diversity and relatively down-to-earth real estate prices as major assets. The ethnic diversity means a bonanza for food-lovers. Tibetan, Indian, Peruvian, Colombian and many other cuisines are available within just a couple of blocks.

Roosevelt Avenue, a major commercial stretch at the southern end of Jackson Heights, resides in the artificial shadow of elevated train tracks. Every few minutes, a 7 train clatters by and obscures conversation on the street below. On the western edge of Roosevelt Avenue, there’s a collection of Himalayan and Tibetan restaurants; Nepalese dumplings called momos are a popular treat. East of 82nd Street, Latin-American culture dominates Roosevelt Avenue. Carts selling tacos, quesadillas and sopes cluster around major intersections, like 90th Street and Junction Boulevard. Flags of various Latin American nations fly, and their colors are displayed across store awnings; those of Colombia, Mexico and Ecuador are most prominent. At Taqueria Coatzingo, you can pick up delicious roast pork or al pastor tacos at low prices.

The Jackson Heights Food Court was a former film cinema (Photo: Matt Surrusco/CUNY Journalism Photo)

The Jackson Heights Food Court was a former film cinema (Photo: Matt Surrusco/CUNY Journalism Photo)

The heart of the neighborhood’s Indian community is 74th Street, between 37th Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue. The Jackson Diner offers an Indian buffet, with delicious samosas and fried pastries with savory fillings; South Asians shop for Indian spices at the Patel Brothers supermarket.

Another major thoroughfare of the neighborhood, 37th Avenue offers a sunnier walk through a similar display of restaurants and shops. This street also shifts toward Latin America as it runs east. Northern Boulevard has some restaurants as well, including Pio Pio, a restaurant serving Peruvian rotisserie-style chicken.

Food is not the only draw of Jackson Heights. The buildings that make up the core of the neighborhood are historic. Constructed in the 1910s and 20s, as the subway was making its way into the area, many of these buildings have private gardens — and inspired the term “garden apartment.” Large chunks of the area between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard, and around 76th Street to 88th Street earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. These upper-crust buildings attracted wealthy residents at first, but that gradually changed as the Great Depression took hold of the economy. The local population shifted again in the 1970s and 80s, when Eastern Europeans living there moved to the suburbs and many new immigrants picked Jackson Heights as their first home in America.

The Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street station is one of the biggest transit hubs in Queens; the 7, E, F, M and R trains stop there. Roosevelt Avenue is packed with pedestrians through all hours of the day; cabs are easiest to catch near the station. Roosevelt Avenue is the border between Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. Astoria Boulevard separates it from East Elmhurst and LaGuardia Airport. Walk east, past Junction Boulevard and you’re in Corona; beyond the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is Woodside.

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