New York Magazine

The UNDERGROUND GOURMET GOES OUTDOORS

THE BEST THINGS TO EAT ALFRESCO AND WHERE TO EAT THEM RANKED
NO. 1 A little bit of everything at Queens Night Market.

FOOD TASTES BETTER OUTDOORS. No one really knows why. Something to do with happy childhood memories of summer vacations, camping trips, and Mister Softee? Or heightened organoleptic senses, and the ecstatic effect of ozone molecules on neural colonies, as an article we once read in a food journal suggested? Whatever it is, everything tastes pretty great when seasoned with sunshine, fresh air, and blue skies. New York, however, is not exactly known as a mecca for outdoor dining. We have sidewalk garbage mountains, after all, plus strutting pigeons, pizza-eating rats, chronic horn honkers, and ambulance sirens competing on a regular basis with sunshine and blue skies for the attention of our neural colonies.

Which is not to say that outdoor dining in New York, especially during the high season, isn’t a worthwhile pursuit. Sometimes you just have to adapt to the situation at hand, as we did the other day while eating lunch at one of Greenwich Village’s most popular sidewalk cafés. When a Cat 277D multiterrain loader began doing donuts in the construction site ten feet from our table, and generally behaving as if it were auditioning for the demolition derby, we simply tightened the straps of the hard hats and goggles provided to us by the maître d’, adjusted our Bose noise-canceling headphones, and ate our burrata.

But dining alfresco in New York is no joke. Where else, for instance, can you nosh a hot dog in the place (the Coney Island boardwalk) where hot dogs originated? Or slurp an Italian ice from a 75-year-old ices outfit while watching a serious bocce match in an outdoor public space called Spaghetti Park? Or tuck into some West African fufu by a body of water known as a meer, which means “little sea” in Dutch? In the pages that follow, we’ve listed and ranked alfresco eating experiences, both new and old, factoring in not only the deliciousness of the food but also the summery excellence (or at least distinctiveness) of the environment in which you eat it. Because when it comes to dining outside in New York, context is like umami: a major flavor enhancer.

1 A Little Bit of Everything at QUEENS NIGHT MARKET

47-01 111th St., Corona queensnightmarket.com

Five years in, this Saturday-night food fair has established itself as a bona fide rite of summer in the city, like the Coney Island Mermaid Parade or Shakespeare in the Park. Thanks to the vision of founder John Wang, who wanted to conjure the excitement and abundance of Taiwanese night markets in New York’s most diverse borough, there is now not only a Queens Night Market but copycats in Jersey City and the Bronx. Queens is still the one to beat, though, on account of the serene setting (behind the Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park), the crowd (diverse in age and ethnicity), and especially the food—a belt-loosening lineup that ranges from favorites Burmese Bites and Joon Persian rice cups to hopeful newcomers like Berg’s Pastrami, which smokes its own meat and slings first-rate half-sandwiches on Tom Cat Bakery rye. While it’s true that many vendors display a street-fairish predilection for frying (Puerto Rican rellenos de papa, Czech langosh, Taiwanese popcorn chicken, Twisted Potato’s spiralized spuds), everything tastes great. And the market’s distinctive atmosphere derives as much from the magical transition from day to night—enhanced by live music, beer and wine, and actual grassy hills seemingly devised by nature for lounging—as from

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