Where can you get great Greek food in NYC? Check out these spots in Astoria.

Farideh Sadeghin is a Brooklyn-based writer and recipe developer. In this series, she explores New York City neighborhoods through their food and histories.

Just before the official start of spring, I hopped on my bike and ventured to Astoria, New York’s premier destination for all things Greek.

The neighborhood became home to a large Greek immigrant population starting in the 1960s, according to the Hellenic American Project at Queens College. While Astoria has changed considerably over the years, it’s still a destination for Mediterranean food and culture.

Greek food is generally unfussy and unpretentious, full of fresh ingredients such as lemon, dill and olive oil as well as cheeses and seafood. Many restaurants in Astoria reflect that tradition by serving homestyle favorites and grilled seafood. I was excited to check it all out.

Greek restaurants and businesses are found throughout Astoria, specifically along Ditmars Boulevard and 23rd Avenue and further south along Astoria Boulevard, 30th Avenue, 31st Street and Broadway.

As I biked into the neighborhood, which is also accessible via the N and W subway lines, I noticed various Greek-themed murals painted on the walls outside (and, later, inside) businesses and underpasses.

Outside of To Laiko.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

I began my day at To Laiko, a coffee shop on the corner of 23rd Avenue and 31st Street. The Greek cafe, or kafenio, is a staple for Greeks. It’s not only a place where you can grab a coffee and run, but it’s also a place where you can sit down and socialize.

When I arrived at To Laiko, I was greeted by a blue awning and a walk-up window. A group of older men sat in folding chairs lined up against the establishment’s brick exterior, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and quietly conversing in Greek.

Inside, the tiny shop had display cases filled with a variety of both savory and sweet pies among other baked goods, while the counters displayed Greek cookies and biscuits. Next to the register were little cups containing stuffed grape leaves and chocolate wafers.

I ordered a freddo cappuccino (a foamy, iced coffee), koulouri (a large, circular bread coated in sesame seeds), bougatsa (a phyllo-wrapped, semolina cream-filled pastry), and spanakopita (a spinach and feta phyllo-wrapped pie). The coffee was dusted with cinnamon, the koulouri was soft and savory, and the bougatsa was sweet and flaky. The spanakopita came in a big slab, so I got a large square of it. I sipped the coffee and snacked while I stood in the street and planned my day.

Around the corner on 31st Street is Christos Souvlaki Stand. Owner Christos Boutris opened the food stand 11 years ago. He moved to the United States from Greece in 1989 because, he said, there was no future in his home country. He’s seen Astoria undergo vast changes during his time living and working in the neighborhood. Although it’s still home to a large number of Greek families, restaurants and shops, other communities such as Colombians and Egyptians now call Astoria home.

I ordered the chicken souvlaki, which is grilled chicken served on a skewer, but Boutris insisted on also making me a wrap. Boutris grills his meats on wooden skewers, then dips them in lemon juice and spices. He then removes the skewer and wraps the meat in a grilled pita with chopped lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and hot and white sauces. The chicken was tender and lemony, and together with the pita and everything else, it was the perfect street food to enjoy on the go.

Souvlaki Lady owner Elpida Vasiliadis.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

From there, I headed over to the famous Souvlaki Lady on the corner of 33rd Street and Ditmars Boulevard. Owner Elpida Vasiliadis moved to the United States from Greece about 43 years ago and took over the stand because it was on the block where she was living, making it a convenient location to check on her daughters while she worked. She never quite named it and everyone just referred to her as “the souvlaki lady.” The name stuck.

I ordered the pork souvlaki with Vasiliadis’ famous mayo-based “souvlaki lady sauce,” whose ingredients she adamantly refuses to disclose. It was grilled and handed to me on a wooden skewer alongside a hunk of bread, and was another great bite as I made my way down the block.

My nest stop was Stamatis, located a couple doors down from To Laiko on 23rd Avenue. Stamatis Bililis and his wife Ioanna originally opened the restaurant across the street in 1971, but moved to the current location in 1990. Stamatis has been a neighborhood fixture ever since. Even Boutris worked there before he opened his souvlaki stand.

Murals that evoke Greece’s Cyclades line the walls as you enter the seating area. Painted dolphins leap from the water and white buildings mark the sea’s edge. The tables are blanketed in white cloths, and each one topped with its own jug of olive oil.

I ordered some meze, or snacks: stuffed grape leaves, the antipasto platter and fried saganaki (a semi-hard cow cheese). I also ordered a pastitsio (a baked pasta dish with a meat sauce and béchamel). The stuffed grape leaves are the best version I’ve ever had. They’re perfectly salty, flavorful and taste like they’re freshly made. The pastitsio is creamy and filling, but what impressed me most was the assortment of dips that arrived on a plate divided by cucumber slices, kalamata olives and endive leaves.

The five dips were tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber dip), eggplant (puréed eggplant), skordalia (garlic and potato dip), taramasalata (salted and cured cod roe with mashed potatoes or bread), and tirofakteri (a roasted red pepper and feta dip). The taramasalata was my favorite. I made little bites of the dip with pita, cucumber slices, and the pickled cabbage that was also brought to the table. It was perfect with a glass of white wine.

Pastitsio at Stamatis.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

From Stamatis, we walked down 23rd Avenue to the next block and arrived at Telly’s Taverna, which was opened by Joanna “Nana” Loiselle in 1990. It’s now run by her daughter, Dianna, and takes pride in being one of the first restaurants to bring fresh whole fish to Astoria.

A display case of fresh seafood and whole fish on ice greets you as soon as you enter. We sat outside and ordered the whole snapper, as well as avgolemono (a lemony chicken and egg soup with orzo), feta ravasaki (feta wrapped in filo pastry and sprinkled with sesame seeds, then baked and drizzled with honey), Nana’s salad (finely chopped romaine, scallions, dill, and crumbled feta), and moussaka (a layered dish of eggplant, ground beef, and tomatoes, topped with béchamel sauce).

The fish arrived and our server deboned it tableside. I squeezed on some fresh lemon juice and tucked in. Together with the salad, it was so fresh and flavorful. The moussaka was comforting and the soup was light. I couldn’t believe I was going to go to at least three more spots after this. Despite the amount of food, I was still feeling good and ready for more.

Whole snapper at Telly’s Taverna.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

From Telly’s, I popped into Kiryakos Grocery two blocks away on 23rd Avenue. The refrigerator inside was full of cheeses and the buckets in back overflowed with olives waiting to be ladled into containers and taken home. The shelves were lined with cookies, olive oil and coffee. After wandering through, I crossed the street to my next stop.

Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna is one of those charming, homey neighborhood institutions. Greek flags wave both inside and outside the restaurant. Framed, knitted scenes telling the story of life in Greece decorate the walls. The spot was crowded and bustling, but warm bread and olive dip landed on the table as soon as I sat down.

Our server (who has worked at Gregory’s for 18 years) gushed about the shrimp ouzo, a dish she helped create after a trip to Greece with her husband years ago. I ordered it and the grilled octopus. The energy fuels me for the 10 to 15 minute walk to our next stop. I definitely needed to stretch my legs, as I was beginning to fill up.

Greek salad at Neptune Diner.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

Neptune Diner is located on Astoria Boulevard and 31st Street. It’s been around since the 1950s and changed hands several times.

Like many diners across the city, Neptune is Greek-owned. It has an extensive menu with the classics – mozzarella sticks, burgers, salads and pastas – and a Greek section. I cozied up to the bar on a stool, flipped through the extensive menu and ordered coffee and a Greek salad.

The salad arrived, along with some oil and red wine vinegar. Stuffed grape leaves and anchovies were draped over the top of chopped iceberg, along with chunks of green bell pepper, red onion, tomatoes, and thick chunks of feta cheese. Warm pita arrived on the side.

The day’s last stop was a place I’ve been wanting to check out for ages: Astoria Seafood, located a 15-minute drive away on 33rd Street and 37th Avenue. Its owner and manager Spyro Christakos comes from a seafood legacy; his grandfather owned a fish market in Greece and his dad had a wholesale fish shop in Jackson Heights.

Gregory’s 26 Corner Taverna.

Heami Lee for Gothamist

Astoria Seafood is BYOB. You arrive, walk past the tables and open kitchen, and head toward the back, where you grab plastic gloves and select your fish. Some popular options include cod, snapper, branzino, shrimp and octopus.

Once you’ve made your choices, get in line and wait to have your selection weighed or counted. You’re then asked how you’d like it all cooked. I got the clams baked and the shrimp (giant, head-on!) and scallops grilled. I also got a Greek salad because it looked great (spoiler: it was).

Indoor and outdoor seating are both available. I grabbed a table inside and popped open a bottle of white wine. The place was packed and I was right in the middle of it, getting bumped by people in line, by people trying to leave and by the server as he brought plates and plastic cutlery. It was perfect.

The food arrived quickly and the combination of fresh seafood, salad and wine left me even fuller. While I dreaded my bike ride home, I was also glad to get my body moving again.

I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that extra stuffed grape leaf at Stamatis or taken that last bite of octopus at Gregory’s. But I can’t wait to go back to all of the spots and try some new ones … maybe just not all in one day next time.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *