You haven’t experienced Asian culture in NYC until you’ve been to Flushing. The neighborhood on the end of the 7 line feels like an entirely different world: The jam-packed streets appear three times busier than they do in Times Square; 24-7 bodegas and newspaper stands are replaced with Chinese medicine shops and Korean beauty boutiques; and pizza is topped with the notoriously pungent durian instead of your typical pepperoni. Even after frequenting the international zone dozens of times now, I still manage to stumble upon hidden gems every time I step out of the Flushing-Main Street subway station.
I make the trip so often because it’s a mission impossible to eat your way through the neighborhood in one go. Heck, it’s difficult to do it in 10 trips. The best way to try is to hit up one of the area’s food courts. Aside from their locations—some are tucked below street level, some are three stories up—the meccas of Flushing cheap eats look strikingly similar to one another. I’ve sampled bites from all of them, but the one stretch of stalls that still makes my mouth water is located in the basement of the Golden Shopping Mall (41-28 Main Street). Sure, it’s cramped to the point where you have to grapevine your way through the halls, but where else are you going to get customizable dumplings, hand-pulled noodles, savory crepes, bone broth, pig’s feet, and ox tongue under the same roof?
For some neighborhood history with your Szechuan duck necks, take a walkabout through the Queens Historical Society’s mile-long Flushing Freedom Mile. Go one block and you’re at Flushing Town Hall, where the (still alive to some) abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at the tail end of the Civil War. At the next, you’re in front of the city’s first public high school, built in 1875. One particularly bucolic stretch leads you through the nation’s first living landmark (the Weeping Beech Tree), the city’s first house of worship (Friends Meeting House), and the last house standing from the 18th century (Kingsland Homestead).
Strolling down the hurried sidewalks here might come as a culture shock if you’re not from the area, but there are still shops, bites, and activities you’d find in your usual stomping grounds. Image-NY (135-16 Northern Boulevard) is a sneaker consignment store, home to a vending machine filled with hard-to-find kicks and one of the biggest collections of rare Air Jordans I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of Air Jordans in my day…that’s what you get for hanging out with a bunch of sneakerheads). Billiard halls like Blue Storm (135-41 37th Avenue) and Prince Billiards (35-11 Prince Street) were made for date nights on the cheap. And make sure to have a plastic bib and baby wipes at the ready for the N’awlins-inspired Naked Crab (39-16 College Point Boulevard). Its menu boasts offerings that naturally scream “Flushing Chinese”—lobster salad with a lingering yuzu vinaigrette, caviar-topped uni pasta—but the crawfish boil is mandatory if you want the most authentic Cajun experience.
New Flushing Bakery (135-45 Roosevelt Avenue) is brilliantly located a mere five steps from the Flushing-Main Street entrance, so you have no excuse not to pick up a flaky nibble for your trek back. The four-for-$5 deal on custard tarts gives you enough wiggle room to sample the sweets most tickling your fancy. While I’d happily recommend trying out the sesame and green tea varieties to complement your Flushing adventures, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t order the same one every time: the caramelized Portuguese egg tart, which tastes like a handheld crème brûlée if you had your eyes closed. Who knew you could be such a gourmand on the 7?