Haven’t you heard? Queens is hot right now, so hot it’s poised to unseat Brooklyn as the coolest, most sought-after New York borough. Because I always have my finger on the pulse of the latest fads and am plugged into the zeitgeist, whether I like it or not, I moved to this diverse and sprawling borough last year. Driven in part by the rent being too damn high in Manhattan and only growing more exorbitant year after year with the proliferation of high-end luxury rentals, the shift may be fueled by a post-Covid desire for more spacious living quarters and access to green space. The borough, named after an actual queen – Queen Catherine of Braganza, where Houdini is interred and home to legendary New Yorkers like the Ramones, Cyndi Lauper, and Nicki Minaj also has bragging rights as one of the nation’s most exciting and multi-faceted culinary scenes.
From Ecuadorian to Tibetan, to the authentic Korean and Chinese food courts in Flushing, Greek, Spanish and Egyptian eateries in Astoria, to every regional variation of Mexican, Thai and Indian in Jackson Heights, Queens is primarily known for traditional and ethnic offerings. The same culinary scene also boasts finer dining spots that will satiate and indulge the palette of any Manhattanite, many of which are participating in Restaurant Week. One of my fave such destinations is the Great Eats 2023 Awards recipient Off The Hook Raw Bar & Grill.
In the heart of Astoria, the quaint restaurant, opened 10 years ago by alums of the chicest Manhattan hot spots, is an ode to seafood with a few exciting twists. The shellfish and fish-heavy menu serves up lobster rolls, hot or cold, raw clams and oysters, clam chowder, broiled lobster, and lobster mac and cheese for those craving traditional East Coast preparations. In a nod to the borough’s multiculturalism and international population, Off the Hook incorporates the flavors and techniques of the Caribbean, South America, the American South, and Asia in starters and mains.
For lovers of Jamaican fare, there are Jerk wings. If interested in Puerto Rican dishes, Shrimp Mofongo and Tostones will be tempting. Cajun-spice addicts will gravitate to the Crab Boil and Cajun Mac and Cheese. If Asian flavors are on the list, Ahi Tuna Nachos with seaweed salad, General Tso Cauliflower, and Festival Mussels in a light curry broth will not disappoint. Crabmeat Guacamole, Octopus Tacos, and Fish Tacos round out the menu for lovers of Mexican fare. Of course, a wide selection of Mediterranean salads and vegetarian sides complete the lunch and dinner menus.
For Restaurant Week 2024, manager Glen, a veteran of the Jean Georges restaurant empire and Executive Chef Iglent Feizulla created a moderately-priced, 3 course, $45 dinner menu to highlight their love of both traditional and ethnic-inspired seafood. Starters include Lobster Bisque, Cajun Baked Clams, Classic Caesar, with Grilled Salmon, Jerk Chicken and Fish & Chips for mains, in addition to a dessert course and coffee.
Cozy and inviting, the interior of Off the Hook Raw Bar & Grill is equal parts industrial and charming. The bar, converted from a garage, is an intimate setting for a pre-dinner Campari and soda. The main dining area, filled with plants and tasteful decorative touches, feels like an East Village trattoria, perfect for a date. For ample seating and larger parties there are three patios, two with heaters for the cooler months. A quick, 6-minute jaunt from the 30th Ave N/W stop, Off the Hook Raw Bar & Grill is open for Restaurant Week reservations until February 4th.