By Jacob Kaye
Last week, the editorial staff of the Queens Daily Eagle simmered on a seemingly simple question: what is the most famous restaurant in Queens?
Like inside a kitchen on a Saturday night rush, the conversation was lively, passionate and, at times, bordering on aggressive.
We were hungry for answers.
But rather than throwing restaurant names at each other in an endless, hungry loop, we decided to dig into the question like any good journalist would – with deft research, exhaustive interviews and an eye for nothing. other than cold hard facts.
We all agree, there is no shortage of great food in Queens. The borough is home to many enclaves of cultures from around the world, all of which have brought their country’s dishes, their grandmother’s recipes, and their unique perspective on food to the culinary life of the borough. You can have breakfast in Guyana, lunch in Greece, and dinner in Guatemala, all without leaving Queens.
However, this is not about the quality or diversity of the district’s gastronomic landscape. It’s a question of notoriety. Is the restaurant known to you, your mother, the newcomer from New York?
A quick search online would suggest there’s seemingly no end to famous restaurants in Queens – there’s Elmhurst Famous Pizza, Famous Rotisserie and Grill, Xi’an Famous Foods and Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices.
But fame can’t just be given by name – it has to be earned.
There are the borough’s iconic restaurants – if it’s famous, it’s probably iconic, and if it’s iconic, it’s probably famous.
Anyone flying to or from LaGuardia Airport and traveling along Grand Central Parkway will know the Jackson Hole restaurant, marked by its neon cowboy riding his wild steed to the great unknown — and a hearty breakfast. And what about Eddie’s candy store in Forest Hills? It’s the oldest ice cream parlor in New York, which means it’s known not to just one generation, but to many. And it has the iconic look to match. This is what fame is made of! But alas, according to most people, ice cream is not a meal and therefore Eddie’s cannot be the most famous restaurant in Queens.
And what could be more iconic than having a place on the big screen? A number of Queens restaurants and watering holes have been featured in film and television over the years, putting them in serious consideration for the response we crave.
In 1989, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta – may he rest in peace – got together at Neir’s Tavern to film some scenes from “GoodFellas”, which has since been recognized as one of the greatest gangster films all time. Neir’s Tavern’s fame only increased when Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the bar in 2020 to broker a deal between the bar’s owner and the building’s landlord, who planned to evict his tenants from long time.
Even Queens Borough President Donovan Richards told the Eagle that Neir’s should be considered the most famous spot in the borough. But a visit to Neir’s website tells you all you need to know about his fame – “The most famous bar you’ve never heard of,” reads his website. No cigar.
The Lemon Ice King of Corona was featured in the title sequence of “The King of Queens” – may Kevin James’ fallen ice rest in peace. And don’t overlook the small screen – Jack’s Fire Department, formerly known as Jack’s Ale House, was featured in an episode of ‘Bar Rescue.’
However, perhaps the most famous of Queens Hollywood dishes is the one that doesn’t exist. McDowell’s, which unlike McDonald’s is home to the Big Mick and his seedless bun, is featured in “Coming to America”. The Queens Boulevard fast food joint offers Prince Akeem Joffer, played by Eddie Murphy, a chance to start his American life and get to know his future princess. But we can’t give the title to a fictional restaurant, especially with so many non-fictional restaurants deserving of it.
With our question still unanswered, we turned to our readers, who in many cases were just as torn and argumentative as we were.
A number of names were thrown around – Taverna Kyclades, one of Astoria’s most popular Greek restaurants, was mentioned several times; as does SriPraPhai, Woodside’s Thai restaurant, Lenny’s Clam Bar and New Park Pizza, both in Howard Beach. Park Side, Corona’s classic red sauce restaurant, has been considered one of the best Italian restaurants in town for decades.
And yet, our readers have given us no definitive answer, no final course to sate our appetite. We were left hungry, hungrier than when we started our search.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s this: there’s no better place to go hungry than Queens.