Rego Park, Queens
location: Central Queens bordered by Elmhurst and Forest Hills
subway stop: 63rd Drive, Rego Park [V and G lines]
Brief history: Basically farmland until the 1920s, when the REal GOod Construction Company purchased the land and built 575 eight-room homes; apartment buildings followed. Until 1962, there was a Long Island Railroad station in Rego Park.
I decided to start this series closest to home, where I live. When I say “I live in Rego Park”, I get one of two responses:
1) Where’s that? or 2) Oh, isn’t that where the mall is?…….Actually the Queens Center Mall is in Elmhurst, just over the LIE. Rego Park is becoming a shopping mall of sorts, with a little mall on the Boulevard [Sears, Marshalls, Circuit City, Bed Bath and Beyond, Old Navy], and another one to come in 2009 [Home Depot, Kohl’s, Century 21].
Bukhara-on-the-Boulevard? Rego-stan? Forest Hills’ poorer cousin? Shopping mecca? If you judge Rego Park by its hub — the corner of 63rd Drive and Queens Blvd., you’re missing something. Venture down 63rd Drive toward 99th Street, up to 108th Street, and further down to 67th Avenue, and notice a scene which looks like it could have come out of Anatevka or “Borat”. Stores have signs in Cyrillic Russian lettering, and in winter, many heads are covered with big fur hats, and in all weather, “babushkas”. Rego Park is the center of immigrants from what is now Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic, and specifically from the areas of Bukhara,Samarkand, and Tashkent. These are not the Russians of Brighton Beach. These are people of Central Asia. If you walk on the north side of Queens Boulevard up 63rd Drive past Citibank, CVS, and Dress Barn, you enter another world. Walk down the long block toward 98th Street. and stop in the delis with the signs in Russian — one is mid-block, and the other on the corner. You will see an amazing array of smoked fish, cheeses, pickles, fresh yogurts, sweets, breads, and pastry. Continue on just past 99th Street and stop into Tandoori Bukharian Bakery. Eat a samsa – the Central Asian version of the Indian samosa. If you walk to 108th Street, otherwise known as “Bukharian Broadway”, you run into even more of these Central Asian delicacy shops. The fresh yogurt is amazing, and the sweets are like nothing you have tasted before.
But Rego Park is also getting an influx of young American families, and young professionals who are sick of paying rents $3,000 a month for an apartment the size of a walk-in closet, or who are sick of paying rent at all, and want to own a co-op for less than $500,000. There is now a Starbucks at the corner of 67th and Queens Boulevard, and a new vegan place with Soho-like decor and soft couches across the boulevard [Tierra Sana]. But the old standbys are still popular — London Lennies [seafood] on Woodhaven Blvd, Ben’s Best serving up kosher deli for over 50 years, and Knish Nosh [knishes and other Jewish dishes. Other places that don’t disappoint are Avellinos [Italian] near the 64th Street entrance to the subway, Tung Shing Palace, [Chinese] one block east from Avellinos, and the Shalimar Diner on 63rd Rd. across from the library.