We spent our Saturday afternoon wandering through Astoria today, creating a mini food-tour of sorts with stops at Venezuelan, Vietnamese, and Chinese-ish spots. It’s crazy to see how much this neighborhood had changed since the last time I had visited; a corner produce market that I remember buying vegetables at had changed quite a bit. Its prices had risen, and the clientele was completely different. The area overall has become a lot more trendy and… well, White for lack of better words. The area used to have lots of Greeks, Egyptians, Middle Eastern restaurants, bakeries, delis, and grocery stores. They still exist, but it seems like their influence is less obvious now. Now, it’s a lot more brunch, fusion, and expensive bars and eateries with flashy signs, single menus that have a mind-boggling variety of dishes from bibimbap to al pastor tacos to grain bowls (talk about trying to appeal to EVERYONE), and brand-new condo buildings.
It’s not all necessarily a bad thing. There are a number of great places that have opened in this area. The arepas we enjoyed were hearty and delicious, and the Vietnamese place that was on my list had the most unique and creative version of pho I’d ever tasted. On the menu, it was called herb and wood-smoked brisket pho. When it came to the table, it was piping hot, revealing a crystal clear, pristine broth that my mom would have been proud to drink (she hates the floating fat that is oftentimes found in broths served at restaurants and assiduously removes them all before digging in). The first thing I always do when I am ordering a noodle soup at any restaurant is to take a taste of the broth. I took my soup soon, dipped it into the soup, and slurped. And inhaled it. It was exactly what the description said: it tasted herby, smokey, woody, in addition to all the complexities you expect when you have a truly delicious, multifaceted beef-based pho: beef, coriander, charred onions, star anise, cloves, LOVE. And the cuts of brisket were like the brisket you’d get at the most delicious barbecue house, just with a hint of Vietnamese flair. Every last bit of that bowl, we devoured until we couldn’t stomach any more liquid. It was so delicious.
If more places like this opened in Astoria, or in any neighborhood for that matter, I’d be really excited about it and happy to support them. It’s the generic places that try to cater themselves to yupsters and Gen Z people that I cannot stand — the ones that want to have Korean AND Thai AND Japanese AND Chinese AND… hey, let’s throw in some fish tacos, too! Those are the ones I despise and want to leave. Specialize in a certain area and go with it. Don’t be a generalist with food at a restaurant — it just makes you forgettable.