You can go to Paris for beauty school, and the Philippines for lunch. You can find your dream Diwali dress and a 200lb Ganesh statue on one block, then put your feet up at one of the best Chinese food emporiums in the world. The glory of New York has always been its diversity, but nowhere is it as dizzyingly, colourfully concentrated as it is beneath the belly of the line 7 train in Queens, which locals have crowned “the International Express.” It’ll take you from Grand Central to just about anywhere in the world (in a matter of speaking); the enclaves of these rich cultures have stood their grounds since the early 1900s amidst a rapidly changing city. We hopped aboard the Express for ourselves, and whipped up a little itinerary of places you can’t miss…
First things first: you’ll be riding the 7 Flushing Local train. Hop off at 46 St-Bliss Station in the aptly named neighbourhood of Sunnyside to start your exploring.
Be sure not to miss the station’s stained glass windows by Korean artist Yumi Heo, called “Q is For Queens”, installed in 1999:
As you walk along Queens Blvd towards Roosevelt Ave., you’ll notice that the scale of things is a little different over here. The houses are low-slung, often 100-yr-old cottages sandwiched between your usual string of bodegas, questionable bail bond stores, and coffee shops.
You’ll also start noticing little nods to the area’s Irish history in the architecture and abundance of pubs. The one you’re headed to for a nice kitschy pint is Donovan’s Pub, est. 1966 by the Woodside-61st St stop. Don’t be fooled by its quaint exterior: the dimly lit bar and restaurant offers 6,300 square feet of dark linoleum, fake garland splendour. And a solid Shepherd’s Pie.
And in the blink of an eye, you’ll leave Ireland for spicier territory. For Filipino food, you can’t go wrong at Kabayan at 69-12 Roosevelt Ave.,where the cheerful staff serves up helpings of fried, and unrecognisable fish, and a pile of hand-wrapped treats sits under a TV — always playing soap operas, we’re told — while locals chow-down.
More in the mood for Salvadorian? Head to Izalco at 6405 Roosevelt Ave. for your fill of pupusas, tamales, and plantains galore — and for pennies, of course:
Ok, now it’s time for something sweet, so put your feet up for a second in Colombia with a little help from La Dulce Bakery at 6710 Roosevelt Ave. It’s a hole in the wall treasure with checkered walls, and all the pan fruta you could hope for:
Now you can walk about 25 minutes, or hop back on the train to get to Little India at 74th and Broadway. You can practically smell the curry from the train…
Stroll up 74th street amongst the street vendors, and pop into Jackson Diner at 37-47 74th Street — practically at the foot of the train — for some seriously good paneer in a cantine-like setting.
For some technicolour dessert, head to Al Neimat at 37-03 74th Street. In the words of patron Andrew Kahn, “If I could marry someone besides my wife, I’d marry the food from Al Naimat.” ‘Nuf said.
For everything from Bollywood movies, books, vitamins, herbs, and floral garlands as long as a jungle python, you’ll want to head to Butala Emporium at 132 E 28th St. This place is two floors of everything you can dream of, and a great place to pick up a souvenir:
For shopping in general, there are basically two overwhelmingly present options: those that sell your dream Diwali dresses, and those that sell jewellery. For the former — and if you’e ready to seriously shell out for a bejewelled gown to wow during wedding season — head to Perfection Bridal at 37-23 74th Street, where the team has been importing fine dresses from Bangladesh for over 20 years.
Finally, it’s time for our last stop “South of the Border” as they say, to a place where dreams come wrapped in plastic and you can find a lifetime supply of cowboy boots in the Corona neighbourhood. Hop on and off the train again, this time at 90th St-Elmhurst Ave for a lesson in Pan-Latino cultures…
What you’re eating? Anything from a taco truck or pop-up taqueria with names like Sabor Mexico and Delcias Puebla. “You can’t really go wrong around here,” said one local when asked, “Yellow rice is yellow rice, y’know?”
If you do want to try something a little different, head to the Torta Neza truck (usually at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 111th Street) for the famous La Torta Pumas sandwich. At $14 it’s definitely the pricier food truck option, but it could feed a small army.
This baby is a laundry list of delicious ingredients, with layers of sausages, jalapeños, a chorizo omelette, cheese, ham, more cheese — you get the idea.
If you’re stomach isn’t exploding yet, pop into the green, pinstriped heaven of Nieves Tia Mimi at 89-14 Roosevelt Ave for watermelon and mango flavoured ice cream. There’s no real menu, and no price listing — you just have to ask. The same goes for the build-your-own-nativity section of the parlour, where you can buy a saran wrapped baby Jesus for a dollar, and all the Wise Men for just a few more (we cracked bought a papier-mâché cactus):
Just like Little India, this area is buzzing with its own breed of sounds and smells: mariachi music crackles out of barber shops and into the streets, while trolleys of freshly fried churros seem to follow you everywhere. One of the greatest treats for the eyes is back up the 7 line, by the 46th st. Bliss station stop in Sunnyside, at Thalia Spanish Theatre (41-17 Greenpoint Ave), the first and only bilingual theatre in Queens.
Over the years, they’ve “produced more than 215 productions of the best Spanish plays, zarzuelas (Spanish operettas) and folklore shows of music and dance,” explains their team, “Every month is Hispanic Heritage Month at Thalia Spanish Theatre.”
You’re going to need some new threads for a night on the town, of course, and for that you’ve got to walk past the party stores and music shops by 90th st. to get to heaven on earth for the modern day cowboy…
This is Zapateria Mexico ( 8807 Roosevelt Ave), a.k.a. where your dream, cherry red cowboy boots have been hiding all your life. The staff is incredibly friendly, helpful, and they’re one of the rare stores that’s authorised to sell Stetson gear. Personally, we walked out with a sparkly, $3 mini-sombrero.
Now then, our last stop on the Express? China. Hop back on the train until you reach the Main St. Station stop, and head straight for The Golden Shopping Mall at 41-26 Main St. It won’t look like much from the outside it’s foodie heaven…
Some menus may have English translations, but for the most part this is what you can expect:
Pretty wonderful, right? Well it only gets better. Head back outside and creep down the door to the right of entry, into the underground emporium, where things get even more serious…
There’s a reason Anthony Bourdain declared this place a deep-fried slice of heaven. You’ll have your pick of a handful of vendors, but we suggest going to Lanzhou Handmade Noodles. They’re stretched by hand before customers’ eyes, plopped into a savoury boiling broth, and sipped in silence. Did we mention the average price is $4.75?
To it’s left of it is what we’ll just call Chinese Blockbuster. Here, you’ll find a bootleg, $1 version of pretty much every Chinese movie and TV show ever made. They even have quite a few anglophone titles dubbed over in Chinese:
Ok, back above ground and inspired to cook up your own feast? Head to Sparkling Supermarket at 41-22 Main St. You’ll find live crabs, sea cucumber and salted deep sea fish; buckets of tofu, green tea candies, and a million other things you never knew you needed. But if you’d rather sit down for meal on the fancier (and by that, we mean not in a basement) meal, head to Congee Village. Think Liberace-meets-Xiang-Dynasty:
On the menu? Everything from noodles and lotus flowers (below) that can serve about three people for just under $30. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can always go for the $988 prix fix menu, which includes a fruit and lobster salad, abalone, goose web, sea cucumber, clams, baby lamb chop, a roasted young pigeon, and more.
And that’s where our journey ends — for the day, at least. We recommend getting an early, pre-lunch start on your international tour, because it’ll take a few hours (and several stomachs) to experience all the line 7 has to offer, before it sweeps you off your feet and back into Midtown Manhattan…
Last but not least, a special shoutout to Queens’ Eiffel Tower at the Midway Paris Beauty School, offering day and night classes in hairdressing and cosmetology.