If you’ve spent any time in NYC, you know that “Cocina Latina” usually means Puerto Rican or Dominican (aka “Spanish food” in local vernacular). NYC also has legit Mexican food that’s ubiquitous and easy to find. But Queens, population 2.3 million-plus, is said to be home to the most languages spoken in the world. So it’s not surprising that in this multi-culti borough you’ll also find far-flung Latinx cuisines commingling on the same block. Looking for salteñas or salpicón? For Latin food in NYC, Queens has you covered.
67-03 Woodside Ave
Bolivian food is one of those cuisines that doesn’t get a lot of love, though more New Yorkers might be familiar with salteñas, the empanada-like pastries traditionally filled with meaty stews, since Bolivian Llama Party introduced them to the Rockaway boardwalk hipsters a few years back. (Yes, there is a veg version with smoked oyster mushrooms and quinoa). BLP is no longer in Queens and now with a location in Manhattan, but Renacer in Woodside is one of the only full-service Bolivian restaurants in the city. Try the aji de lengua, stewed beef tongue topped with onions and tomatoes, served with rice and potatoes. Bolivians’ starch of choice is freeze-dried potatoes, reflecting Andean heritage, and there are two varieties at Renacer: chuño (dark) and tunta (white).
La Roja de Todos
108-02 Northern Blvd
One of the best—OK, only—Chilean bakeries in Queens recently closed (don’t worry, there’s still a San Antonio Bakery branch on Long Island). Thankfully, you can get completos, hot dogs complete with sauerkraut and fat stripes of mayo and guacamole that add tanginess and richness without being over the top, as well as sandwiches like the chacarero, filled with thinly sliced steak, tomatoes, and julienned green beans for a surprising texture, plus baked empanadas de pino, stuffed with a sweet and savory mix of ground beef, black olives, raisins, and a slice of hard-boiled egg, a few miles east at Corona’s La Roja de Todos. You can eat all three of these delicacies with pebre, a mild salsa of pureed onion, tomato, peppers, olive oil, and vinegar.
77-02 Roosevelt Ave
This street cart is open seven days a week, including Friday and Saturday nights, at 77th Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
La Perrada de Chalo
83-12 Northern Blvd
El Palacio de los Cholados
83-18 Northern Blvd
In Jackson Heights if you start walking east, South Asian businesses begin to give way to Colombian ones—from the locally famous Arepa Lady selling the namesake griddled corn cakes to La Perrada de Chalo serving hot dogs topped with curiosities like crushed potato chips and pineapple sauce to El Palacio de los Cholados specializing in shaved-ice treats smothered with syrup, condensed milk, and mixed fruit. More sit-down, Tierras Colombianas has a little of everything, and the bandeja paisa practically puts it all on one plate. This dish teems with steak, chicharrón, fried eggs, porky beans, maduros, avocado, plus an arepa, of course. From the arepas overstuffed with shredded meat to the super sweet and creamy cholados, you’ll get a sense of Colombian cuisine’s penchant for more is more.
La Puntilla Ecuadorian
91-17 37th Ave
92-12 37th Ave
If you don’t happen to catch the El Guayaquileño food truck usually parked off Roosevelt Avenue, you can get your encebollado de pescado, a tuna soup with chunks of yuca and pickled onions, at nearby La Puntilla Ecuadorian or Barzola. Most restaurants in the area have dishes from all regions including coastal ceviche, which differs from Peruvian-style in that it’s soupier, the shrimp is cooked rather than cured, and orange juice is used in addition to lime. Cuy (guinea pig) is sometimes advertised on neighborhood bodega windows, but more often than not this rodent, which is rubbed in spices and roasted whole until the skin is burnished and crackling just like a mini-pig, is a special-order item, not a menu staple.
El Chivito d’Oro
84-02 37th Ave
Queens is speckled with South American steakhouses, but El Chivito d’Oro, resembling a ’70s wood-paneled rec room, is a standout in Jackson Heights. The parrillada comes on a sizzling tabletop grill stacked with skirt steak, veal, ribs, chorizo, morcilla, and sweetbreads, and the set for two easily feeds four. Don’t forget the chimichurri on the side. Thanks to the Italian influence on Uruguayan (and Argentine) food, you’ll always find a list of pastas, so non-red-meat eaters can have their pick of gnocchi, fettuccine, ravioli, and more.
I Love Paraguay
43-16 Greenpoint Ave
Paraguayans do wonderful things with corn and cheese like putting it in fried choclo empanadas and chipa guazú, a cheesy corn cake that’s part soufflé. At I Love Paraguay there’s a rotating roster of daily soups. For something uniquely Paraguayan, show up on Tuesday or Saturday and order the caldo de pollo con vori vori, a chicken soup with deep poultry flavor and little dumplings of corn flour and Muenster cheese that you might mistake for matzo. Other unique dishes include payagua mascada, a croquette made from boiled, mashed yuca, stuffed with ground beef that looks and tastes like a tiny hamburger patty.
Bougie tip: this is the only restaurant on this list that has brunch.
84-02 Northern Blvd
84-21 Northern Blvd
Jackson Heights (to-go only)
62-30 Woodhaven Blvd
86-20 37th Ave
You’d be remiss in not trying pollo a la brasa, the charred and wonderfully salty (the secret ingredient is soy sauce) specialty of Pio Pio, accompanied by creamy, deceptively spicy aji verde, popularly known as “green sauce.” Order the Matador Combo at this NYC chainlet with a sprawling flagship in Jackson Heights, and you’ll get a whole chicken, tostones, avocado salad, salchipapas (french fries and wieners), rice, and beans. Urubamba, down the street, better suited for dates than families, has an expansive menu including traditional papas a la huancaína (potatoes blanketed in a spicy yellow cheese sauce) and a variety of ceviches. Don’t forget a pitcher of chicha morada that looks like grape Kool-Aid but gets its hue from purple corn steeped with cinnamon and cloves.