A day well-spent in Sunnyside – where to eat, shop, and wander

sunnyside-arch-queens

With its cheerful name, proximity to the city, and peaceful residential streets, Sunnyside has a lot going for it. The neighborhood is a mix of old and new, of Irish, Romanian, Turkish, Mexican, Colombian, Tibetan, and more. It may appear quaint at first glance – and that’s one of its charms – but if you know where to go, it’s also a destination for food, shopping, and great walks. Here’s our guide for those who want to spend a day exploring Sunnyside, from breakfast to evening drinks, and everything in between.

If you’re a coffee person, get off the 7 train at 40th Street and head to Baruir’s Coffee for the neighborhood’s most beloved beans. Coffee is roasted daily at the machine in the front of the store, and is freshly brewed in small amounts – and if you get it iced, the ice is actually made of coffee, too, so there’s no risk of ending up with a watered down version. Even if you’re not into caffeine, we recommend stopping by just to take in the aroma and to buy dried fruit and other goods. Just don’t expect to sit around and read the morning news; this is a store, not a cafe.

baruir-coffee-sunnyside-queens

For your official welcome to the neighborhood, be sure to walk under the Art Deco-inspired arch on 46th Street. It was built in 1983 by a local community group, and refurbished in 2009 as part of an initiative to restore the block and general neighborhood pride. Next door at Alpha Donuts, grab a doughnut in a seriously old-school setting. Other notable breakfast options include The Haab, an unassuming Mexican cafe with a surprisingly large brunch menu; and Molly Blooms, a new-ish pub featuring an Irish breakfast.

Next, it’s time to shop. Sunnyside isn’t well known for its shopping district; however, there are some one-of-a-kind stores that are worth a special trip to the neighborhood. Along Queens Boulevard, you’ve got Baruir’s Coffee for super-fresh-ground bags of coffee, and Superior Market for an impressive selection of craft beer. Both also have a variety of imported Eastern European foods, as does Parrot Coffee.

Another stop on Queens Boulevard is South Pole, a discount department store that puts the neighborhood’s newer 99-cent stores to shame. The inventory varies from week to week and usually includes everything from off-brand medicine to almost-expired crackers to overstock of stationery supplies. On a recent trip there we spotted such random items as NASCAR-themed air fresheners, mint-julep-flavored candy chews, tennis-ball-shaped soap, and inflatable toy fire extinguishers. Afterwards, check out the historical plaque in front of Wendy’s next door, commemorating the boxing arena that once stood there.

stray-vintage-sunnyside-queens

For more shopping, head to Skillman Avenue, where the main attraction on Saturdays is the Greenmarket (GMAP). Farther east on Skillman you’ll find the baby and children’s boutique Tiny You, which has a small selection of used clothing. Two blocks away is Stray Vintage, a beautifully curated second-hand and gift shop where you can find retro home goods as well as handcrafted pieces by local artists. Across the street, Belle D’epoque Vintage offers a more typical antique store experience – you’ll have to sift through the clutter to find your prize.

While you’re in this part of the neighborhood, take a while to wander and admire the tree-lined streets and charming houses of Sunnyside Gardens, the area between 43rd and 50th Streets, bordered by Skillman and 39th Avenues. This micro-neighborhood is like a small town where people know each other and put time into their gardens. There are even hidden walkways that cut through many of the blocks, so you can linger among the greenery and escape from city life for a minute.

walkway-in-sunnyside-queens

When it’s time for lunch or dinner, there are plenty of options. For a casual meal, we recommend De Mole, an authentic Mexican spot with dishes like huitlacoche quesadillas and tres leches cake; or Aubergine Cafe, which has a weeknight chili and beer special. For a gourmet dinner, try the New American seafood or steak entrees at Quaint (in the posher Sunnyside Gardens section of the neighborhood); or even Newer American/fusion creations at Salt & Fat, which looks a little on the hip side for Queens Boulevard.

Stay in the neighborhood for after-dinner drinks and entertainment. If you’re a wine person, Claret is the place to be, with its extensive list of bottles, including many from Long Island. If you’re more of a beer person, you’ve got your choice of pubs with cute courtyards and laid-back vibes: Molly Blooms and The Gaslight are a couple of our favorites. Sunnyside’s best performance venue is Thalia Spanish Theater, which has been producing Spanish-language and bilingual musicals, dance shows, and concerts for a diverse audience for 35 years.