A traveler could spend years exploring the vast region of the globe known as “Latin America.” From the picturesque colonial villages and indigenous cultures of Mexico, to the caipirinhas and Amazon rainforest in Brazil, to gauchos and cosmopolitan Buenos Aires in Argentina, Latin America is a region that defies easy categorization. But what if I told you that with a 30 minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan, you could visit all of Latin America in a single afternoon?
OK, maybe I’m exaggerating (slightly). But the fact of the matter is that immigration from Latin America to the Big Apple is thriving, and visitors can reap the benefits by taking a mini-tour of Latin America in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. In just two hours along a strip of Roosevelt Avenue, one of the borough’s main thoroughfares, I had the chance to sample delicious Mexican street tacos, visit the shop of an indigenous Amazonian fortune teller and gorge myself on some Argentine sweets at a local bakery.
Tired of New York City pizza? Looking to get some Latin flavor during your trip and save you that flight down to Bogota? Join Undiscovered New York as we tour Roosevelt Avenue, New York’s “mini Latin America.”
What’s to Eat?
Perhaps the biggest attraction along Roosevelt Avenue is the authentic food. What all can you eat? There’s no simple way to answer this question – the amount of food and the countries it comes from is simply mind-boggling. Within a single block you are confronted with street trucks selling Ecuadorian specialties, Cuban lunch counters, cheesy arepas, and Mexican pastries among others. Particularly well-represented are the cuisines of Ecuador and Colombia, with numerous spots selling favorites like seafood stews with hominy, encebollado and fried plantains.
I quickly located a nearby taco stand and ordered myself a soft tortilla stuffed with spicy chorizo. After topping it with some lime and chili sauce I was enjoying some south-of-the-border snacking bliss. But no meal is complete without dessert, right? I stopped in B’Aires, an Argentine-style bakery, where I picked up some pastries stuffed with dulce de leche. Next I visited Vallecito Bakery, a Mexican pastry shop where I sipped on a bottle of lime Jarritos. I’m going to have to go back some other time for the Peruvian ceviche and Uruguayan morcilla. I was too stuffed!
What Else is There to Do?
After you’ve finished polishing off a few authentic tacos or that cup of seafood stew, you’ll probably be looking for something to do. What I found most interesting about this stretch of Roosevelt Avenue was browsing the various shops offering regional crafts and services. Day of the Dead is nearly upon us, and many of the Mexican vendors were selling brightly colored candy skulls, decorations and Pan de Muerto, the holiday’s special bread. I also discovered several shops advertising “Amazonian shaman” fortune tellers. The stores are filled with ritual indigenous trinkets and totems as well as “authentic” Amazon shamans who can tell your future. If shopping or fortune telliing isn’t really your thing, there’s plenty of bars along the strip offering nightly live music from their country of origin.
How to Get There
Though it may seem far away, making your way to Jackson Heights is not as hard as it may seem. Visitors near Times Square or Grand Central Terminal are only a short train ride away. Just grab a purple 7 train heading towards Flushing Main Street in Queens. You’ll be getting off at the 82 St – Jackson Heights. The strip of Roosevelt that runs from 80th to 90th streets is pretty much ground zero, with great restaurants, shops and bars branching off in all directions from the main drag.
Are you ready for some authentic Latin American culture? Vamos!