Queens, half of whose residents are foreign-born, is a polyglot mix where a vibrant strip of Latin American food vendors is sandwiched between blocks of Indo-Pakistani and Nepali-Tibetan shops, as well as a row of Thai, Indonesian and Vietnamese eateries. But neighborhoods like Astoria and Jackson Heights in Queens – considered the most multi-culturally diverse neighborhood in the world – are left off most New York travel
Streetwise NYC's tour weaves through all these sites, beginning with the more well-trodden immigrant centers of Manhattan (Chinatown, the Lower East Side and Little Italy - the "immigrant NYC" of Gangs of New York, The Godfather and history books) and ending in Elmhurst/Jackson Heights, Queens. Tour guide Andrew is a long-time resident of Queens and a reporter in the borough, and along the way, he not only points out great ethnic eateries and shops, but also offers historical and contemporary anecdotes, including stories and explanations for why food vendors are clustered on one side of a particular street; how so many electronic cookware stores can all survive clustered on one block; why Jackson Heights' majestic pre-war garden apartments were initially built and who lives there now; and the kinds of health concerns and social issues the new immigrant communities face.
We took the Chinatown van with Chinese immigrants from Manhattan to Queens, which was a lot of fun, and ate at a family-run Indonesian restaurant whose name I can't remember (Andrew could tell you which; also, the food was delicious), but my favorite part of the tour were Andrew's stories. When you have only a short time to get to know a place, stories really bring it to life and give you a sense of how people there really live, where they might be going as they pass you on the sidewalk.
I definitely recommend this tour for anyone who wants a more off-the-beaten-track experience of NYC, and anyone interested in immigrant America generally.
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