What to eat and do in Jackson Heights, Queens

By Esha Ray and amNY staff Special to

Jackson Heights, just on the other side of Astoria and Woodside, is a destination worth exploring for its South Asian cuisine, South American music and vibrant history.

Along with its many ethnic enclaves, this northwestern Queens neighborhood also is home to quite a large LGBTQ community; many consider Roosevelt Avenue to be the Christopher Street of Queens.

The E, F, M, R or 7 lines all drop you off right at the border. So pick a train and head to some local spots you won't want to miss.

Fuel up at a coffee joint the locals love

Photo Credit: Esha Ray

Pretty much everything about Espresso 77 at 35-57 77th St. is local, from the art on the walls to the pastries filling its shelves. For nearly a decade, longtime residents and new-age hipsters alike have flocked to the cafe for quality coffee, refreshing fruit drinks and tasty breakfast options.

Order a latte, complete with foam art, and a pumpkin scone if you're in a hurry. Or stay for sandwiches, soups and salads. In the evenings, the cafe really comes out to play with free live music and a small selection of beer and wine.

Thinking of getting some work done on your laptop while you eat? Be mindful of the large sign at the register: "Weekends at E 77th are screen free."

Snap a selfie with the legendary 35th Avenue street sign

Photo Credit: Esha Ray

Here's a bit of Queens trivia that's sure to surprise your friends: Scrabble was invented in Jackson Heights. Legend has it that the architect Alfred Mosher Butts first devised the popular board game in 1938 while renovating the Community United Methodist Church on 35th Avenue. Decades later, the quirky sign at 81st Street incorporating letter values from the game was erected to honor Butts' work (a 14-point word for anyone who's counting).

In 2008, the sign mysteriously disappeared, much to the neighborhood's chagrin. Three years later a new terra cotta plaque was installed in its place and remains there today as a small reminder of Jackson Heights' contribution to the world.

Do some shopping at Lockwood

Photo Credit: Lockwood

If you're looking for some Queens merch, like a souvenir from Jackson Heights, Lockwood's got you covered. The store, located at 7713 37th Ave., offers a range of products for the home, bath, clothing, gifts, cards, notebooks, wedding gear and local pride items (Queens T-shirts, a Jackson Heights mug and maps of the borough). If you're on a budget, merchandise is available at different price points, and don't worry about not finding your size -- there's a range to pick from.

It's a local shop through and through. Owner Mackenzi Farquer started the shop as SITE NYC on Astoria's 34th Street in 2007 but reopened it on 33rd Street and Broadway under Lockwood in 2013, expanding its footprint across Astoria with new shops like Lockwood Paper and Lockwood Style.


Stock up on South Asian groceries at Patel Brothers

Photo Credit: Patel Brothers

Whether you're a seasoned pro at cooking Indian food or a curious foodie just looking to try something new, this mega-supermarket chain at 37-27 74th St. has everything you could possibly need to make the perfect South Asian dish. Eggplant, okra and bitter melon are among the variety of fresh produce you'll find there, spilling out of bins placed strategically across the shopping center floor. Walls of boxed spices, chutney jars and South Asian snacks (pictured) span as far as the eye can see.

Patel Brothers also has a sizeable frozen foods section for those too busy to make samosas (vegetable- or meat-filled pastries) or palak paneer (cubed cheese in puréed spinach) from scratch.

Get some Tibetan goodness from a truck

Photo Credit: Facebook / Momo Bros

The Momo Bros truck, which specializes in jhol momo, a traditional Nepali soup dumpling, travels all over the city, but you can often find it parked near the intersection of 73rd Street and Broadway in Little Tibet.

Founder Pasang Thinlay is a Tibetan refugee who grew up in Nepal and immigrated to the United States in 2008, at age 15. He launched his food truck after finishing high school and working at a series of Japanese restaurants. Momo Bros won Best Rookie Vendor in 2017 in the Vendy Awards, so don't pass it up.

Leave room for dessert

Photo Credit: Esha Ray

Don't let the inconspicuous storefront fool you. Maharaja Sweets & Snacks at 73-10 37th Ave. is an absolute treasure trove of South Asian sweets and pastries.

The bright rainbow of colors from the display case hits you upon entering. Pick from the tray of gulab jamun (deep fried doughnut holes doused in syrup), burfi (milky, fudge-like bars) or cham chams (oval-shaped sponge cakes garnished with coconut flakes) to satisfy your sweet tooth.

If you're looking for something savory, a small restaurant in the back of the shop offers light vegetarian meals like papri chaat (a sweet and sour mix of yogurt, chutney, chickpeas and crunchy noodles) and vegetable pakora (lightly fried assorted vegetables).

Soak in live jazz at a one-of-a-kind venue

Photo Credit: Terrazza 7

Terrazza 7, at 40-19 Gleane St., is somewhere between a music venue, a bar and an activist space, making for a one-of-a-kind experience that you're unlikely to find anywhere else in Jackson Heights.

Most nights, South American folk and Afro-Peruvian jazz fill the air from the second floor loft while customers chat animatedly, craft beer in hand, below. During the day, owner Freddy Castiblanco has used the space to hold rallies, fundraisers and meetups on behalf of local small businesses and immigrants.

Eat a lot for cheap

Photo Credit: Jackson Diner

A neighborhood mainstay since the 1980s, Jackson Diner at 37-47 74th St. is legendary for its massive yet cheap buffets. Sample everything from tandoori chicken (pictured) to dosas (rice-based crepes) to keema mutter (minced lamb with green peas) with a side of buttery naan.

Fun fact: Hillary Clinton popped into this restaurant during a stop on her presidential campaign tour through New York City. Apparently she didn't eat anything, but with options this good, you definitely will. The portions here are quite large so make sure to come on an empty stomach.

Sip and snack at Addictive Wine and Tapas Bar

Photo Credit: Addictive Wine and Tapas Bar

If you like wine, good bites and a cozy atmosphere, don't skip this wine and tapas bar at 87-01 Northern Blvd. It's an experience that goes beyond the wine -- "flight" pours give you the option of having about a glass and a half, rather than a bigger serving, and its tapas are created with imported Mediterranean ingredients. You'll also never get cut off on its delicious, toasted bread. Sommelier Francisco Diaz himself oversees the tapas, too.

If you just want to do a tasting, Addictive owns a space across the street that holds events on the weekends, which is a good way to spend time while you wait for a table.

Dance the night away at Club Evolution

Photo Credit: Club Evolution

Formerly called Club Atlantis, Club Evolution at 76-19 Roosevelt Ave. is the king of Latin gay clubs in Queens.

Dance the night away to pop and Latin hits in the club's massive main hall or sneak away with friends to one of two VIP rooms for a more intimate experience. Club Evolution features fabulous drag shows, themed parties, karaoke and special guest DJs every night.