Discovering Extraordinary Street Food and Immigration History in Jackson Heights

Jackson Heights taco stand

Mi Mexico Lindo, a taco cart in Jackson Heights (Photo: Art & Lemons)

This story about a Fi2W food tour of Jackson Heights, Queens originally appeared in the Arts & Lemons blog.

On Thursday, I disperse into the city slower than the rest of the crowd that ricochets like pinballs. I’m wearing two backpacks (front and back) stuffed with enough clothes, shoes, and equipment to last a month. It’s a mile to the Millennium Hotel in Times Square where I’ll spend the next five days for the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference. I walk into the hotel looking as I’m ready to conquer the whole of Manhattan with mismatched outfits, a camera, and a backpacker’s appetite.

I unearth my camera, store the packs at the front desk, and join the street food tour headed to “El Camino del Santiago” or Little Columbia in Jackson Heights, Queens. Led by tour guides Andrew Silverstien from Streetwise New York, chef Fany Gerson (who owns La Newyorkina and wrote My Sweet Mexico and Paletas), and John Rudolph with Feet in 2 Worlds, I hop on the 7 train from Times Square with fourteen others to sample beef momos, tamales, pandebono, and more from local food carts and taco stands.

We get off the train near Broadway and 74th Street for our first of seven stops at Potala Fresh Food (a Tibetan food truck) where Andrew briefs us on the history of the neighborhood and the group shares plates of Tibetan beef Momos (dumplings) with red hot sauce.

A tamale from a street vendor

A fragrant tamale from a street vendor on Roosevelt Ave. (Photo: Art & Lemons)

Over the years, the neighborhood experienced booms and busts from its early success to the economic hardships brought on by World War I, The Great Depression, and World War II.

The 1950s brought another economic boom as more families moved to the suburban neighborhood, including a wave of middle-class Columbian entrepreneurs whose culinary history remains today. The 1965 family-centered immigration law attracted a larger immigrant population to the area, many of them working-class Hispanics and Asians who traveled from California to settle in Queens.

Read the rest of this article and see additional pictures at Art & Lemons.

Follow Food in 2 Worlds on Twitter at #foodin2worlds. Click here to contact us about future Fi2W food tours.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.


AboutFeet in Two Worlds
Feet in 2 Worlds (Fi2W) is an independent media outlet, journalism training program, and launchpad for emerging immigrant journalists and media makers of color. Our work brings positive and meaningful change to America's newsrooms and has a broader impact on how immigration is reported and the ethnic and racial composition of news organizations.