Queens doesn’t exist. Or maybe it just disappeared one day while everyone was checking their smartphones and being social. There’s a giant void between Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau County. Woodside… felled. Flushing… down the toilet. Jackson Heights… sunk. Only the quickly gentrifying Astoria remains, visible from the Upper East Side on the rare occasion someone looks east and wonders, “what’s over there?”
I suspect the rest of Queens might still be here too, somewhere. I manage to leave and get back to my apartment everyday. None of the many trains that stop in Jackson Heights resemble the Hogwarts Express. Besides, whole boroughs don’t just disappear, at least not literally. We New Yorkers do ignore the parts of the city we don’t visit. We forget about them, go about our lives in blissful ignorance. What other explanation could there possibly be for Queens’s poor showing in New York Magazine’s recently published issue covering the City’s best cheap restaurants?
No one who’s ventured across the East River to the outer borough that’s not Brooklyn could argue that the food sucks. Queens is anything but a culinary wasteland. Jackson Heights alone has some of the City’s best Thai and Indian food as rated by other reputable food resources, not to mention Colombian and Mexican and Vietnamese. Hipsters make pilgrimages to my neighborhood to sample the street food; I see them under the 7 train with their pegged jeans and printout maps every weekend. And everything in Queens is cheap, cheap, cheap. Wifey and I can eat out for less than $25 total. We smile when we pay the check, because it feels like stealing. And then we walk home.
In New York Magazine’s rundown, any entree under $25 qualifies as cheap. The whole bill at many of the restaurants mentioned would be much higher…$60 or $70 for a couple who shares an appetizer, orders two entrees and washes it down with tasty beverages. Not everyone can afford that price for dinner. And even fewer people would call that cheap. Of course, all the individual food items covered are less than $25. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But calling them cheap eats can be a little misleading.
The $25 dividing line is also an important clue. New York Magazine’s readers are professionals, with a certain income and standard of living. Or at least they aspire to those things. I read the magazine (translation: look at the pretty pictures) to seem smart on the train once it crosses out of the Land that Food Forgot. And because the colors make me happy. The Magazine is an excellent source for commentary on local, national and international events. It’s also known for its informative restaurant reviews. When I need a recommendation for a nice place to take wifey for her birthday, that’s where I turn. Many of my friends do the same, which is why wifey gets a lot of expensive free meals around her birthday.
The restaurants covered in this issue are mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn, because the Magazine’s readers are mostly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. A few restaurants in Astoria – the Queens neighborhood where priced-out Manhattanites and Brooklynites go – are mentioned. Now more than ever, magazines, like politicians, have to pander to their base. I get it. Times are tough for a printed publication in a digital world. And I don’t begrudge New York Magazine trying to serve its readers. A media company needs to make a buck, lest its paying customers go elsewhere and its writers and editors find themselves on the fair-trade, organically baked bread lines.
But the Magazine is named after the whole city. And the last time I checked, the City had five boroughs. Claiming to represent the best cheap food in New York is just plain misleading. I eat some of the best cheap food in the city all the time. And it’s not in Manhattan or Brooklyn. It’s in Queens… usually Jackson Heights for me. The borough is home to some of the best cheap eats anywhere. How else could an unemployed guy and his wife afford a decent meal out? By failing to show the whole picture, the Magazine does its readers a great disservice.
Maybe it just doesn’t give them enough credit. Queens, outside of Astoria, probably seems like a foreign country, something to pass through on the way to the airport or the U.S. Open. It feels strange to me sometimes, and I live here. People generally gravitate to the familiar, in this case familiar foods close to home. But New York Magazine readers are a smart and curious lot. They know there’s a bigger world out there. And they want to learn about it. Sooner or later they will see that big void across the East River and wonder what’s there. If New York Magazine doesn’t tell them, somebody else will.