Jackson Heights: Family, great food and history in the heart of Queens
Well-known for its bustling Roosevelt Avenue, Little India, a plethora of food trucks and ethnic eateries, there is a softer, quieter side to the multicultural Western Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
As vibrant as the area is in its main corridors, with scores of restaurants, bars and boutiques, a different kind of vibrancy — the family-friendly, community-oriented type — abounds down its tree-lined side streets.
“It’s no secret that it’s a great neighborhood,” said Vladimir Simkhovich, a real estate broker who has lived in Jackson Heights for 32 years. “It’s a diversified historic neighborhood with many pre-war buildings and great transportation.”
Simkhovich touted the exclusivity of the garden apartment buildings, known for their historic value.
“They’re some of the most desirable buildings in the area because they come equipped with fireplaces, gardens and elevators,” he explained. “It’s very reminiscent of Upper West Side apartments but even better because they’re half the price of what you’ll pay there.”
Jackson Heights was the first garden community to be built in the United States in 1914, he said. Named after John Jackson, president of the Hunters Point and Flushing Turnpike Company, it once housed golf courses, tennis courses and offered horseback riding.
Many of the buildings from that era remain and are protected in a historical landmarked section that spans from 76th to 86th streets between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard.
The area is acclaimed for being a melting pot of ethnicities ranging from Latin Americans like Peruvians, Ecuadorians and Columbians to South Asians and Himalayans representing India, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet, along with Eastern Europeans, Italians and Brazilians.
In the last six to seven years there was a major influx of young couples with kids to Jackson Heights, many of whom are moving into co-ops, Simkhovich said.
“There are a lot of young professionals who want to raise a family in a quiet neighborhood away from hectic Manhattan,” he said, adding that the good schools and multiculturalism also attract them.
The diversity is also what drew Jeff Orlick, a local food tour guide and Roosevelt Avenue expert, to live in Jackson Heights for the last six years.
“Everyone is here. People across the world know the area and it attracts a lot of people from all over,” he said.
Though he appreciates the quietness, Orlick also loves Jackson Heights for its non-stop energy. “It’s always alive at any point of the day,” he said. “Whether at 1 p.m. or at 1 a.m. Roosevelt Avenue is bumping at all times.”
While many establishments flaunt the ethnic diversity of Jackson Heights, some also show off the area’s gay-friendly vibe. Establishments like Club Evolution, True Colors and Hombres bars are hot spots. The area also houses the Queens Pride House and the Queens Pride Parade and Multicultural Festival is also held here every year.
On the whole, the neighborhood is constantly buzzing with various activities.
On a typical Saturday, residents can be seen at the local “town square,” an area located at 78th Street between Northern Boulevard and 34th Avenue that has been closed off permanently to offer up a space where families can gather.
Festivals are held in the warm months showcasing the area’s various ethnicities. Others, like the Queens Film Festival held every March, and the Jackson Heights Poetry Festival, show off its artistic side.
“There are so many pluses to this neighborhood,” Simkhovich said. “It’s really a great place to raise your family.”
Jackson Heights runs from Junction Boulevard/94th Street in the east to the BQE in the west. It is bounded to the north by Northern Boulevard and to the south by Roosevelt Avenue.
It seems Jackson Heights literally offers a world of food. From Mexican to Columbian, Nepalese and Indian, with a few Italian and Brazilian spots sprinkled among the South Asian and Central American grub, there is a palatable choice for everyone.
Mustang Thakali Kitchen, 74-14 37th Ave.
This small spot serves up authentic Nepali and Tibetan food including thali, a traditional Nepali and Indian dish made up of a collection of various dishes. They also serve Nepali style dumplings known as momos. 718-898-5088.
Tawa Tandoor, 37-50 74th St. This Little India restaurant offers a $10 lunch buffet and dinner buffets. Diners can choose from appetizers like aloo tiki chole, steamed potatoes with chick peas, yogurt, tamarind and mint chutney as well as meat and vegetable curries. For dessert the sweet dish Gulab Jamun, a soft cheese dumpling dipped in honey and rose syrup, is worth a try. 718-478-2730.
Alchemy Texas BBQ, 71-04 35th Ave. Located at the back of Legends Bar this two-month-old spot might soon be the place to flock to for a BBQ fix. Once the same spot where Ranger Texas Barbecue was housed, as well as Pearson prior to that, Alchemy is ran by Josh Bowen, owner of John Brown Smokehouse in Long Island City. Try the brisket, the spicy chicken wings or the pork ribs. Expect a full menu to be online soon. 718-803-8244.
Jackson Heights never really sleeps and this makes it a prime place for those with a penchant for late night partying.
Amaru Pisco Bar, 84-13 Northern Blvd. This trendy spot takes its name from the famous Peruvian cocktail, Pisco Sour. Between Amaru’s narrow brick wall and the bar, well-dressed young patrons can be seen sipping on various kinds of pisco sour cocktails. Try the Cholito, the Viejo Verde or the namesakes, Amaru and the traditional Pisco Sour. For a place with such minimalistic décor, the drinks pack some flare as many are served with beautiful presentations. 718-205-5577.
Club Evolution, 76-19 Roosevelt Ave. Jackson Heights is known for its string of gay-friendly bars, but Club Evolution turns it up a notch. Two dance floors pump out Latin music, techno and popular hits and drag queens can be seen flaunting their beauty in this often jam-packed spot. 718-457-3939.
D’Antigua Lounge, 84-16 Northern Blvd. This local spot is the place to be if you want to get a fix of Spanish rock. Local Latin rock bands often play gigs at D’Antigua. The cozy couches make for a comfortable group gathering or date. Karaoke is also offered on some nights. 718-779-0128.
Boasting a mix of trendy boutiques, chains and specialty stores, there are many places to shop here.
82nd Street Shopping District. This strip between 37th and Roosevelt Avenues offers an array of stores including The Children’s Place, Easy Pickins, Bakers, Xios and Prima Donna.
Made in Brazil, 81-09 37th Ave. This quaint local boutique offers trendy and affordable clothing and accessories for women. 718-507-9747.
India Sari Palace, 37-07 74th St. #A In the heart of Little India, this boutique offers a variety of traditional colorful Indian garb for anyone who is shopping to attend an Indian wedding or for those who just want to own a sari. They also carry traditional gold jewelry to match any outfit. 718-426-2700.
Jackson Heights Greenmarket, Tavers Park at 38th Avenue and 78th Street. This is the largest greenmarket in Queens and it attracts locals as well as those who live outside the neighborhood. The market offers a variety of vegetables, fruit, eggs, and specialty Mexican produce. GrowNYC.org. 212-788-7900.
Mimi for Me Yoga, Mind & Body Wellness Studio, 76-11 37th Ave. Take a yoga or Pilates class at this spacious yoga studio. Classes vary from Vinyasa yoga to chair yoga and restorative yoga among others. 718-505-9642.
Food Tours with Jeff Orlick Local food guide Jeff Orlick (A.K.A. Jeffrey Tastes) hosts tours that allow participants to venture to the far away Himalayan, South Asian and Latin American lands by way of their taste buds. From momo crawls to gift crawls, Orlick guides groups to sample the authentic food that abounds in the area. Iwantmorefood.com/tours.
Residents in the area are concerned with the safety of the streets near to the schools. An 11-year-old, Miguel Torres, was struck down and killed while trying to cross Northern Boulevard at 80th Street on December 28, 2012. And according to StreetsBlog.org, earlier in June, a three-vehicle crash which occurred near to three schools at 35th Avenue and 81st Street raised concerns again.
A forum held in the wake of the Torres’ death urged police and the Department of Transportation to do more work in order to improve safety around the area schools. DOT is working to improve safety around I.S. 145 and P.S. 69 as part of their Safe Routes to School program which aims to implement traffic-calming solutions like curb extensions and speed bumps. According to DOT’s website, so far DOT has upgraded school crosswalk signs around all of the high-risk school locations around the city, including Jackson Heights.
Q&A with Jeff Orlick: Jackson Heights resident and local food guide
Jeff Orlick has lived in the area for six years and has hosted food tours around Jackson Heights for two.
The 31-year-old runs Iwantmorefood.com and organizes local food and gift tours.
What made you move here and what makes you stay? It was all the cultures ... that attracted me. The Little India, the Mexican population, the Himalayan population. I really had no idea how much there was until I started to settle in. I stay because of this, and because it’s so close to everything: the 7 train, the LIE, the BQE.
What do you do for fun in Jackson Heights? I walk down Roosevelt Avenue and I explore all the new street food that’s happening on the avenue. There’s always new vendors popping up, some with a professional setup and some just pushing a two-wheel shopping cart. ... There is always action going on, and at every hour of the day. I also go to Diversity Plaza [on 37th Road and 73rd Street] sometimes.
Where do you see the neighborhood in the next five to 10 years? In the last five years, there weren’t many Himalayans, but in the next five I see Little India expanding and becoming more Nepalese, I see more young professionals coming in. ... Train access and cheaper rents will drive people here.