The area of Jackson Heights on 73rd and 74th streets in Queens, while small in size, is large in demographic. Indian shops started sprouting up here in the 70s, followed by the famous Jackson Diner in 1980, sari shops, and Indian food markets. This foundation of Indian culture laid fertile soil for future waves of South Asian immigrants to the neighborhood.
History keeps repeating itself. As Indians progressed toward the American dream and moved to the suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey, Pakistanis moved in adjusted the cultural flavor of the neighborhood. Bangladeshis also made their way here and became one of the largest immigrant populations in the area. Today, Bangladeshi businesses easily outnumber Indian ones in Jackson Heights.
Since the turn of the 21st century, another wave of immigration has begun: Nepalis and Tibetans have made Jackson Heights their home away from home, thanks to their familiarity with Indian culture and access to South Asian supermarkets like Patel Brothers and Apna Bazaar. They bring with them the exciting flavors of the Himalayas, which are finding a place alongside the extremely diverse subcontinental dishes already established in this area.
Thanks to the high concentration of immigrants and immigrant businesses from all over South Asia, Jackson Heights has become more than a local’s neighborhood: it’s a mecca for South Asians from the entire tri-state area. 74th Street is the destination for 22 karat jewelry, clothing, and imported goods for holidays, weddings, and other special occasions. When you walk past these stores, you’ll be encouraged by employees in turbans to stop in, so feel free to do some wide-eyed shopping as you eat your way across the neighborhood (and the globe). Believe it or not, it is touristy – Indian-American tourists from the suburbs.
Little Bangladesh is mainly just one street, dense with shops within shops, and growing outward from 73rd Street. It’s great to snoop around there, and inside the buildings are more businesses, which are mostly clothing, religious stuff and jewelry – but surprises always happen. For a bite to eat, check out Khaabar Baari.
It’s important to realize the Nepali population in the neighborhood. I definitely recommend eating a thali plate while here. You really can’t go wrong anywhere. If you want a very small bite, you can get it at Digiplus on 75th street south of Roosevelt, otherwise you can get full meals at Dhaulagiri AKA Tawa Foods on 72nd Street, the basement of Delhi Heights where you can have nigar which is a fermented rice drink. The most proper Nepali place is Woodside Cafe on Broadway/65th street. For paraphernalia, Look at Himalaya Connection or Nepal House, which is on Broadway, west of 73rd Street, on the south side, in the basement. Isn’t this fun?
Finally, you have to experience Tibetan culture while in the area. This is the biggest Tibetan population anywhere outside of South Asia. The easiest, most accessible, most popular thing to eat are momos – Himalayan dumplings. Everybody loves momos. For a quick bite on the street, hit up the Amdo Kitchen truck. For a more proper meal, try Little Tibet.