This highly anticipated open-air event is a true celebration of New York City’s diversity, as the majority of vendors are small businesses (and even some home cooks) sharing the food they grew up with. Here, you can get a taste of cuisine and culture from more than 90 countries, many of which are underrepresented even in the foodie haven that is NYC. Throw in live music, novelty hand-crafted merchandise, free admission, and a guaranteed price tag of $5-$6 per dish, and anyone can see why this grassroots phenomenon has transformed into a true NYC must-see.
The expansive night market began as an idea its founder, John Wang, had in 2014. He left his career as an attorney with the goal of creating an affordable and diverse community space in NYC. Inspired by his fondness for night markets he’s visited in the course of his international travels, his goal was to create an event that highlights vendors’ unique stories and the importance of experiencing different cultures and backgrounds. With over 90 countries now represented through vendors and food, the Queens Night Market has certainly realized Wang’s original vision. The market is for the vendors just as much as it’s for the patrons and has helped launch around 350 new NYC businesses. At least 20% of every night’s profits go to charity, and the market’s low price points and free admission ensure that it stays true to its values of inclusivity and diversity.
Where & When
Take the 7 train to the 111th Street station, walk south for a few blocks until you reach an overpass, and you’ll begin hearing the strains of live music and the roar of a crowd before the enticing aroma of meat cooked over a grill washes over you. Beneath the overpass, in the parking lot of the New York Hall of Science, is the vast collection of blue-awninged stalls that is the Queens Night Market.
Located in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, the market is currently in its eighth summer season. The family-friendly event takes place every Saturday evening during the summer and fall from April to October, with a break in late August and early September for the U.S. Open. From 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., huge crowds gather to feast on street food from around the world. Passing from booth to booth, you might get a taste of Peru with a light ceviche, then head across oceans and continents in just a few steps to sample some Taiwanese popcorn chicken.
What to know before you go
Part of the Queens Night Market’s charm is in its massive melting pot of activity, but with so much going on, the market can get a bit overwhelming at times. Here are some tips to ensure you can enjoy your experience sans stress.
Parking is extremely limited on site and the Night Market’s organizers encourage patrons not to drive there. The 7 train to the 111th Street Station takes you just a few blocks from the grounds; you can also take the Q23 or Q58 bus to Corona Avenue at 108th Street, the Q48 to 111th Street at Roosevelt Avenue, or use a ride share service.
Lines at a lot of the more well-known tents get absurdly long during prime dinnertime hours. The best advice for those looking to try as many cuisines as possible is to arrive right when the market kicks off at 5:00 p.m. and grab a bunch of dishes from the most popular spots before the bulk of the crowds roll in. Then, hit the newer, less chaotic booths as the night goes on. This will also make sure you get your hands on all the dishes you most want to try – vendors may run out of certain food items as the night goes on.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Lines typically hit their peak around 8:00 p.m., so especially if you’re going around that time, keep in mind that the length of a line isn’t necessarily a reflection of the popularity of a vendor or the quality of their food. Sometimes, it might just mean a vendor is slower at service (many are independent operators without much food service experience) or that it takes longer to make a certain dish. Trust your instincts and your taste buds, and you can’t go wrong.
Divide and conquer.
If you’re going with a group, this is the best way to try as many things as possible. Split up, hop in different lines, and get enough to share. Then, you and your crew can reconvene to enjoy your spread.
Timing is everything.
Frequent fliers should try to hit the market during the first six weeks it’s open, as this is when most of the new vendors will be there. If you’re a first-timer, the first few weeks can be extra busy and more overwhelming, so it may be best to plan your visit after the short U.S. open break in the fall when things calm down more. The market is kid-friendly year-round, but families will particularly enjoy the market’s closing night in October, when many of the vendors dress up for Halloween and fun surprises can be found at every turn.
If you only bring one thing, make sure it’s cash. There’s an ATM onsite, but the line for it is often longer than those for the stalls, and the majority of vendors only accept cash. If you prefer to sit and enjoy your meal rather than walking and eating, your best bet is to bring your own picnic blanket – there’s not much in the way of seating.
Savor every bite
No single event in New York City drives home the importance of food as a vehicle of cultural exchange as profoundly as the Queens Night Market. From Afghan mantu and chapli kabobs to Ukrainian borscht and pirozhiki to Jamaican jerk chicken, it would likely take most of the summer to eat your way through the entirety of its mouthwatering offerings.
Meticulous planners can check vendor lists on Fridays and take note of the booths they’re most interested in to save time.
Consider these all-star vendors a good place to start. Mo Rahmita’s Nansense offers an array of Afghan mantu dumplings and an incredible smash burger, the eponymous dish at Don Ceviche is not to be missed, and newcomer Emeye Ethiopian Cuisine offers a go-to sega wat. Head for the Twisted Potato tent to indulge in deep-fried spirals of starch, Twistercake Bakery to munch on flaky, cinnamon-y Romanian chimney cakes, and Moon Man for Indonesian-style pastries and mochi. Look for Myo Lin Thway at Burmese Bites to try his famed palata, or seek out ChefBoyarNetty for a savory soul-food twist on a classic cupcake.
While you digest be sure to stroll over to artist’s row, where you’ll find a vibrant showing of hand-poured candles, vintage apparel, local art, and novelties. The Museum of Nostalgia is run by a pair of avid toy collectors selling vintage board games, plushies, action figures, and lunch boxes; Bodega Cats of New York is an art collective selling prints, stickers, and pins (all feline-themed, of course; and the popular Nose Candles offers tongue-in-cheek olfactory delights. Don’t leave without getting $5 Really Bad Portraits done by Ricky Brown – they’re truly terrible and always hilarious.