Starting at 5:00 p.m. this Saturday, and again every Saturday from May 7 through the end of August, hawkers will be setting up shop in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and feeding thousands of food fans an array of dishes from all over the world, all priced low enough — usually $5 or less — to encourage hours of eating.
"We continue to be New York City's most affordable and diverse community space," John Wang, the founder of Queens Night Market, told Gothamist at one of two preview events (last week and this week). "That's what really drives all of our decision-making, and everything we do."
The vast market-wide menu changes a little every week, and Wang hopes to keep adding new booths as the season goes on. But you can always expect more than 50 different food vendors, serving everything from Afghan mantu (the delicious beef and onion dumplings at the peerless Nansense) to Ukrainian Pirozhki (a new item at the popular Blintz Box booth).
I mostly stuck to the first-timers last Saturday, a list that includes Carlos Varella's excellent Beach Bistro 96, formerly at Rockaway, currently at The Deco in the Garment District, and still making the best Feijoada — Brazil's beefy, bean-y national dish — in town. And at six bucks a bowl, it's a ridiculously good deal. Definitely get at least one of those Pacoca peanut candies while you're here, too.
Also very good among Night Market newbies: the Greek food at Avli (charred octopus, some well-seasoned meatballs called Keftedakia, and a terrific phyllo-wrapped feta honey dish that looks like it might be sweet, but is decidedly savory); the Indonesian street snacks at Mas Budi (the chicken Satay Ayem get most of the attention, but don't miss their crisp-fried pastries stuffed with beef and egg); and the tart, jiggly bowl of passion fruit Sichuan ice jelly, laden with treats like pop boba, red bean, peanuts and hawthorn.
The jerk chicken at Treat Yourself attracted long lines all night, as did the palata at Burmese Bites, the steak sandwiches at Brazilicious, the marinated fish at Don Ceviche, and the pork buns at C Bao. Moon Man's delightful Indonesian pastries and Janie's amazing pie crust cookies were also on hand. The Twisted Potato booth remained Queens Night Market champion of making a mess of kids' faces, though the Romanian chimney cake ice cream cones at Twister Cake were a close second in that department.
As always, the best strategy to avoid getting stuck waiting on line the whole time is to get here early, order as much as possible from the most popular booths in the first half hour or so, then hit less familiar places as the night goes on, many of which are just as good or better than the perennial crowd-pleasers. And while feasting is certainly the main point of this particular night on the town, there are other diversions to be had between face stuffings.
Artist's row has a great deep-Etsy vibe to it, with Queens locals like Gregory Valentine, who makes fantastical sculptures constructed entirely of wadded-up masking tape, and Issa Ibrahim, whose works have explanatory titles like "Super Villains Eating Chinese Food and Plotting World Domination in a Seedy Motel." Ricky Brown is back with his reliably hilarious, drawn-to-order Really Bad Portraits (Only $5 each! They're terrible!). Baseball fans of a certain age will definitely want to check out the Theobucket booth, which among other sure-fire nostalgia triggers, sells unopened packs of Topps cards from the late 1980s.
Performances by DJs and live bands make it easy to linger and chill, and if you need some liquid courage to get out on the dance floor, there's beer, hard seltzer and wine available, as well as boozy gummy bears from Di Lena's Dolcina.
At its most basic level, though, what makes the Queens Night Market special is its unforced sense of community. Once a week the asphalt and scrubby lawn in the shadow of the Hall of Science becomes a welcoming gathering place for some 15,000 people, effortlessly embracing the diversity of the borough in which, famously, more than 800 different languages are spoken.
Last Saturday was technically a "sneak preview," with a $5 admission fee, and the same will be true on April 23rd; then, after a week off, free admission kicks in for the rest of season starting on May 7. Make sure you buy your tickets in advance if you want to go this Saturday; last weekend's opening sold out, and I saw multiple people turned away at the gate. Note that Queens Night Market donates at least 20% of these sneak preview ticket sales to charity.
The Queens Night Market is located next to the New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and will be open from 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight on Saturdays through September. Visitors are strongly discouraged from driving to the venue, as parking is extremely limited. Instead take the 7 train to 111th Street and walk four blocks. The Q28, Q58, and Q48 buses also get you close.