You’ve written the requisite bucket lists: The Met, the Statue of Liberty, the High Line, Central Park. You’ve shouldered your way through Times Square and wiped out spectacularly on the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. So, now what?
Even longtime New York City residents can’t claim to have experienced all of what the city has to offer. The beauty of the Big Apple is in its ever-changing nature and sprawling array of experiences. And for those who believe they’ve uncovered all the secrets of those boroughs more frequently in the limelight (looking at you, Manhattan and Brooklyn), there’s still plenty of ground to cover in Queens. From abstract art double features to restaurants hidden inside temples, here are some of the best-kept secrets of the World’s Borough. You may not find them on any top ten lists, but that’s the whole point.
The Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park
Queens may not be the first borough that springs to mind when it comes to preeminent museums, although the MoMA PS1 in Long Island City has garnered plenty of acclaim. However, further north along the waterfront in Astoria is a duo of equally impressive but lesser-known sculptural sanctums.
Start by walking through the Noguchi Museum in the afternoon, where you’ll find two levels of exhibition space and a walled garden filled with the abstract, architectural creations of artist Isamu Noguchi. Perhaps best known for his Akari light sculptures, a longtime favorite of interior design nuts, Noguchi’s work along with the building he designed and created himself makes for an introspective, aesthetically pleasing experience for everyone.
A couple blocks away is the Socrates Sculpture Park, a waterfront artist’ haven that once was home to a trash dump. Now, it’s the best place to see supersized exhibits while taking in views of the city skyline across the water. Aim to get here a little before sunset, and you’ll be able to witness the sculptures, and sometimes even the artists in the process of creating them, in all their backlit glory. The park also offers events like yoga and kayaking.
While in Kathmandu
If you’ve never had Nepalese food, you’re seriously missing out. It’s lucky, then, that While in Kathmandu in Ridgewood, Queens is seriously under-frequented – the cozy restaurant is serving up some of the best Nepali fare in the city, and there’s typically no wait, even on the weekends. Grab a table in the trellis-covered picnic area if it’s a nice night, and order naan and momo to start – their garlic naan and cheese-stuffed naan are made to order, and will come out piping hot and mind-meltingly good. Their momo, which are dumplings served in a delicious soup, deserve a mention as well. If you get an entrée, go for one of their grilled meats – they come out sizzling on a cast-iron platter, and their smoky goodness is balanced out by sides of veggies and mashed potatoes. Their prices are very fair, but keep in mind that this spot is cash-only.
If you’re in the mood for a night of laughter, skip the big-name Manhattan comedy clubs and their exorbitant prices and head to Q.E.D. in Astoria instead. An independent, woman-owned arts venue, Q.E.D. offers a casual setting that includes drinks and snacks, but the refreshments aren’t the main event here. With over a hundred events every month, this performance space hosts everything from craft workshops to board game meet-ups to movie screenings, but their stand-up shows set them apart. Depending on when you go, you might see beginners trying their hand at an open mike night or well-established comedians cracking jokes for an uproarious crowd of fans. Sink into one of their chintzy sofas and try to refrain from spit-taking your IPA.
Carefully curated displays of used books abound here, along with racks of locally made zines, rows of fresh pastries, and stimulating conversation between like-minded browsers. At Topos Bookstore, your search through the stacks might yield collections of raunchy medieval limericks, classic editions of Agatha Christie novels, and an entire section marked “Paranormal + Aliens!” You’ll also find locally made novelty gifts and a selection of new and noteworthy books. While purchasing your treasures, pick up a chocolate croissant and cappuccino from the cashier as well, and park at one of the indoor or outdoor tables to start perusing.
The Record Room
In Manhattan, speakeasies are more popular than regular old bars. This might seem somewhat backwards, but you can trust a novelty experience to create a buzz. In Queens, however, the secret spots remain more of a secret.
Fronted by a coffee shop in Long Island City, the Record Room is new to the neighborhood. Once inside the shop, find the bouncer, who will show you through a curtain at the end of a hallway lined with old vinyls. The main room is a mid-century modern enthusiast’s fever dream, with its comfortable, low-slung couches and warm wood-paneled walls. Enjoy a classic cocktail and some elevated finger food as you listen to DJs spinning records from old-school hip-hop to slow jazz. Keep in mind that it tends to get loud, so this spot might be better suited for intimate catchups than group excursions.
The Ganesh Temple of Queens
Flushing, Queens is home to the first traditional Hindu temple built in the U.S., a palatial structure that emerges spectacularly from the squat brick buildings around it. Beneath the temple to Ganesha, one of the most commonly worshipped Hindu deities, you’ll find a community canteen-style restaurant. To find it, veer right when you see the intricately carved elephant idols pointing the way inside the temple. Down a flight of stairs on Holly Street, you’ll find an unadorned room that looks more like a church basement than anything else but serves the best South Indian dosas in the city, hands-down. Temple volunteers manning the counter are happy to guide you through the extremely affordable menu, which includes a wide array of stuffed crepe dishes.
After eating, swing by the temple bookstore to pick up jasmine or lotus flowers to leave as offerings for Ganesh – he’s known to banish problems and obstacles. Keep in mind that the temple has a strict dress code, and does not allow photography of the altars.