Located in the borough of Queens in New York City, South Ozone Park is home to a longstanding Italian-American population and various immigrant groups from south Asia, Latin America, the West Indies and the Caribbean islands. A range of restaurants scattered throughout the neighborhood offers unique tastes of various cultures, from the spiciness of the West Indies to the sweet tanginess of east Asia.
A Queens favorite, Don Peppe is the kind of family-style Italian eatery you imagine but rarely find amongst the city’s more pretentious Italian neighborhoods. This modest, one-room space has walls brimming with pastoral oil paintings as well as the only menu in the entire restaurant, giving it an old school New York look and feel. The simple décor is quickly overlooked as an assortment of familiar favorites are presented in gigantic portions packed with flavor. Diners rave about the Don Peppe’s linguini with white clam sauce, which was featured on The Food Network’s television show, ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate.’ Other favorites include succulent baked clams sprinkled with crunchy bread crumbs and a simple salad served in a refreshing vinaigrette. Although credit cards are not accepted here and liquor is not served, Don Peppe surely makes up for it in spades with the delicious food and excellent service provided. This restaurant is inevitably packed on weekend evenings, so reservations are advised.
This family-run business first opened in Brooklyn in 1976 and has since expanded to four locations, one being just beyond the welcome sign that greets visitors as they cross into South Ozone Park. It is one of the first edifices that newcomers see as they enter the neighborhood; its bright, canary-colored exterior distinguishing it as an iconic landmark and the go-to place for Guyanese cuisine. Made from scratch with local ingredients, Sybil’s offers a fresh take on Guyanese staples such as stew oxtail, curry chicken and pepper pot—a meat stew seasoned with cassava juices, molasses and cinnamon sticks. It is even more famous for its West Indian breads and pastries such as salara—a red-colored coconut bread—cassava pone, and chicken and beef patties. Sybil’s is not the classic sit-down-and-dine restaurant but rather an ‘order-and-go’ bakery. It does, however, offer limited seating. When it warms up in the summer, a small dining section is assembled outside where customers can look upon the bustling streets of Queens while being transported to Guyana with a bite of one of Sybil’s traditional dishes.
Veggie Castle II, New York | Image Courtesy of Nanking
Veggie Castle II
Nestled between brick buildings and just two doors away from Sybil’s is Veggie Castle II, an all-vegan restaurant that carries Caribbean soul food such as curried tofu, macaroni pie, fried plantain, collard greens and other plant-based island delights. As customers enter through the castle doors (the architecture literally resembles a castle), they are greeted by the sweet tune of reggae jams and the sight of autographed images of reggae artists plastered on the walls. Posters of upcoming reggae and soca concerts also cover the interior and are surrounded by photographs of Michael Jackson and President Barack Obama. Veggie Castle II is famous for its richly flavorful vegan/vegetarian dishes that are presented buffet-style and served in huge portions at affordable prices. Although raw desserts and green salads are not offered here, customers can expect to find patties, a vegan grill menu, soy meats, and a lengthy list of smoothies and fresh juice.
Nanking’s dimly lit red interior and elegant décor creates a soothing ambiance and intimate experience for diners. Comfortable leather cushions line the wine-colored walls and beautiful Manak pendant light fixtures hang from the ceiling to add an ethnic charm to the place. Nanking offers an extensive menu of Indian, Thai and Chinese platters, making it the perfect eatery for those indecisive food junkies who want to try various types of dishes all at once. Crowd favorites include the chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan from its Indian-fusion menu; spicy Schezwan chicken from its Chinese menu; and Thai fried rice which can be infused with chunks of succulent chicken or served vegetarian. It is minutes away from John F. Kennedy International Airport and therefore a great spot for flyers experiencing unexpected delays or layovers.
Both a restaurant and bar, Crazy Willy’s offers the best of Latin American cuisine. This is the perfect spot to explore if one desires a fun night out, for the place explodes with the sights and sounds of the Latin American and Caribbean culture. Crazy Willy’s cultivates a lively environment for its customers to feel inclined to dance and socialize, so don’t expect this to be a place for a quiet sit-down dinner. The restaurant offers a delightful mix of authentic Latin American and Caribbean food with one of their signature dishes being the Pechuga de Valle, or chicken breast stuffed with plantains and served with mashed yuca and a house salad.
This traditional Italian pizzeria was established in the summer of 1984 and has been family-owned and operated ever since. Romeo’s Pizza and Pasta is a local favorite for its wide range of tasty Italian bites and three generations of hospitality. The food is prepared fresh daily with top quality ingredients, and their original recipes are said to reflect the culture and origins of Naples and Sicily. This small eatery is famous for its Sicilian slices that are topped with a choice of meat or vegetables and baked to perfection. It also offers specialty pastas that include homemade lasagna, stuffed shells and gnocchi sorrentino, potato gnocchi in the style of Sorrento that is mixed with tomato sauce, fresh basil leaves, mozzarella and pecorino. Romeo’s Pizza and Pasta is easily accessible from the A train, which stops at the intersection of 104th Street and Liberty Avenue where the venue is located. It sports a relatively modern décor and has spacious seating inside.
‘Food, family, fun’ is the motto at this inconspicuous but time-honored dessert hub. It is one of those small joints you may stumble across during a leisurely walk around the neighborhood; a hidden gem, in other words. Aesthetically, it does not boast or demand attention. Its green awning humbly proclaims in white block letters its ‘Fine Italian Ices.’ Underneath, scribbled in yellow, it is revealed that hot dogs, knishes, pretzels, soda and other snacks are offered as well. Nevertheless, what My Mother’s Place lacks in appearance is definitely made up for by the delicious taste of its famous ices and gelatos. Customers rave about the wide variety of homemade flavors (over 75 to be exact) that are offered for as little as $2. Some popular favorites include spumoni and java chip, which are so rich in taste and consistency due to the ample amounts of pistachio and chocolate chip chunks, respectively. My Mother’s Place has been in operation for over 50 years, adding a sense of nostalgia for locals who have been frequenting this place since childhood.
The owners of Flavor-Fi describe this relaxed Indian restaurant as a ‘tribute to the inspiring food culture of masala grills.’ It offers exquisite platters of Indian cuisine within a modestly decorated environment. Flavor-Fi is notable for its wide variety of filling combo meals. Customers can choose either a rice bowl platter, roti wrap, katti roll or salad and top it with vegetables, chicken tikka, lemon herb, grilled chicken or lamb masala. Additional toppings such as masala beets, potato and channa are offered. At the entrance of this two-story restaurant, a spacious seating area composed of granite table tops and cushioned bar stools welcomes customers. The bar sits on the upper level where a magnificent light show of colors illuminates the room.
This is yet another West Indian restaurant to make it on the list of South Ozone Park’s top cultural restaurants. However, unlike Sybil’s, which delivers delicious Guyanese cuisine, and Veggie Castle II, which serves food inspired by Jamaica’s traditional dishes, Trinciti Roti Shop and Restaurant offers the best of Trinidad and Tobago. Three white menu boards mounted on the restaurant’s lime green walls lists Trinidadian staples such as fish cake, dhal puri, doubles and aloo pie—a soft, fried pastry filled with boiled, spiced and mashed potatoes along with chickpeas. On Saturday and Sunday, the restaurant offers a ‘Bake and Shark’ special since this is a popular street food sold in Trinidad and Tobago. Bake refers to fried dough mixed with flour, baking powder, salt and water; it is rolled into flat discs and fried until it swells, making the inside hollow. The shark they serve is skinned, deboned and filleted; it is mixed with green seasoning, salt and pepper.
This small Peruvian restaurant specializes in rotisserie chicken and seafood. It hosts a variety of dishes that reflects the exquisite taste of South American cuisine. It is most popular for its combo platters, one of which includes rotisserie poultry marinated to perfection in a special green sauce. Another signature dish is its lomo saltado with a subtle Asian twist; it consists of soy sauce, stir fried onions and tomato wedges served on a bed of rice with French fries. El Pollo Inka Peru is another hole-in-the-wall restaurant that passerby stumble upon by accident. Those who are lucky enough to find it on their own will surely be blown away by the delicious flavor packed into authentic Peruvian food.