Astoria, New York, the neighborhood in New York City where I've made my home the last three years, has been considered "up and coming" for at least a decade. And it never quites achieve its potential.
In the last 12 months, a number of restaurants and shops have opened in the area that gave residents here more hope than ever before that this Queens borough neighborhood would finally take off and become more attractive to 20-somethings, who would make it a livelier place to live. Demographically speaking, Astoria mixes young and old, immigrant and multi-generational New Yorkers. It's one of the things I like best about this neighborhood. But it could use a little more new blood, for sure.
Two restaurants have really given Astoria a boost: The Queens Kickshaw, my personal new favorite of the year, and Pachanga Patterson.
The Queens Kickshaw
The Queens Kickshaw is, to oversimplify it, a small restaurant serving fancy grilled cheese. Now, grilled cheese is not something I order when I'm out. I resent paying upward of $7 for sliced bread, cheese, and butter at a restaurant. Furthermore, I don't even like grilled cheese sandwiches enough to make them at home.
Queens Kickshaw takes everything I just said and throws it out the window.
First, the decor deserve bragging. The location is a bit out of the way, over on Broadway, just east of Steinway Street. That side of Astoria tends to attract a more... how to put it nicely?... crowd of people who wear gold chains to the gym. Nevertheless, The Queens Kickshaw sports a spacious interior with charming exposed brick, tables made of reclaimed wood, and little flower centerpieces on the table. A windowsill garden of potted succulents decorates the front.
If the space didn't steal my heart, the menu sure did. Every sandwich has ingredients that call out my name, from roasted eggplant to ajvar to grilled pears. Even if you're not into cheese, something on this menu will jump out at you. For me, it's all of it, which makes it hard to order. If you have as hard a time deciding what to order as I do, the sides don't help. Salads with pickled blueberries or jalapeno vinaigrette, or a tomato soup — the choices are too good to make a decision. I've eaten at Kickshaw at least three times now, always with friends, so I've tasted most of the menu, and I have yet to wrap my lips around a Kickshaw sandwich that I didn't like. The egg sandwich on brioche with ricotta and a gruyere crisp and maple hot sauce ($5) is on the small side, so it's okay to order two.
When The Kickshaw first opened, it didn't have a license to sell alcoholic beverages. But that's all in the past, and the rotating craft beer list that takes over four taps ($6 to $8 per glass) is reason enough to visit. A solid bottle list has even more exceptional choices, with most 12oz-or-so pours in the $9 to $11 range.
In my two visits to Panchanga Patterson on 30th Avenue, the restaurant gave off two totally different vibes. Pachanga's menu is fusion food, focusing on mostly Asian ingredients made with Mexican style.
On my first visit, Boyfriend and I stopped in for a drink and small late-night dinner around 11:00pm. The room was bumping, but there were two seats open at the dimly lighted bar. We squeezed in at the end. Two bartenders twirled around each other. A swinging door gave us intermittent whiffs of the kitchen: fishy, cheesy, oniony. One of the waitresses stopped by to say hello, a young woman who happens to also waitress one night a week at our local pub. She assured us that what we ordered—mussels and moo shu duck tacos—were spot-on choices. We downed our beers and chowed through the food. It was fun, hip, eclectic.
The second time around, we went with two friends, sat at a table in the back of the restaurant, and ate at a much earlier hour. The atmosphere wasn't the same at all. It felt more like a mediocre Mexican restaurant than a hip, new secrete spot in Astoria. We ordered Tex-Mex dishes this time as well, chips and salsa, gaucamole, and I think everyone at the table ordered some kind of tacos as an entree.
Sizing Up Astoria's Newcomers
No doubt about it, Pachanga Patterson and The Queens Kickshaw are the two most impressive new restaurants in Astoria. For what it's worth, I could go back to Kickshaw any day, morning, noon, or night. in fact, they have a cold-brewed iced coffee on draught that I've been meaning to try during the daytime, a perfect excuse to return sooner rather than later.
Pachanga was more fun when we went on a whim, late, and sat at the bar. Arrive there before 9 p.m., and the place just doesn't have any pick-up to it yet. Go late, order some of the most adventurous-sounding dishes, and gab with the staff. That's the kind of vibe Astoria needs more of anyway.