London claims the oldest underground train system in the world and Boston the oldest in the Americas, but New York City is home to the most famous. The NYC subway opened in 1904, and the century-old 7 Line travels through several ethnic enclaves between the 34 St/Hudson Yard station in Manhattan and Flushing/Main St in Queens, earning the nickname the International Express. The 7 Line’s fame is such that the White House included it among the 16 National Millennium Trails honored in 2000 for historical and cultural value. The only subway line on the list sat alongside such iconic routes as the Underground Railroad, the Appalachian Trail and the Lewis & Clark Trail. The White House characterized the International Express as “a metaphor for the migration of all the world’s people to America’s shores.”
A traveler doesn’t need 80 days to go around the world on the 7 Line. Buy an unlimited-use week pass (single-day passes don’t exist) for $31 (as of December 2016), and start traveling the globe without ever leaving NYC. As this adventure includes many culinary stops, order small bites at as many spots as your belt will allow.
The Hudson Yards will truly be something when phase two of the work-live-play development is completed in 2025, but it is not there yet. Likewise, Times Square qualifies as Dante’s 10th Circle of Hell, so feel free to skip these first two stations.
The 5 Ave station is the best place to start if embarking on this journey from Manhattan. Located at West 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, the station sits underneath the New York City Library where the Ghostbusters crew encountered their first real spirit in the 1984 film. Non-locals might enjoy a stroll north on Fifth Avenue to see the legendary stretch of overpriced designer shops that start several blocks up, and the 19th-century Neo-Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral at East 50th Street kind of/sort of contrasts the materialism that surrounds it.
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Visiting a train station might sound strange, but Grand Central qualifies as a U.S. National Historical Landmark. While the original structure opened in 1871, the rebuilt Beaux-Arts style terminal celebrated its millennial anniversary in 2013. Surprisingly, the 48-acre Grand Central is home to several first-rate dining options, from the not-so-fast-food Shake Shack to the New Nordic restaurant Agern. The latter, opened by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, has superstar Icelandic chef Gunnar Gíslason manning the pots and pans.
This is where the International Express gets interesting! The first stop east of the East River is Long Island City, Queens, an industrial wasteland-turned-condo jungle with gorgeous views of midtown Manhattan. Head west on 50th Avenue for riverfront parks with front-row city views, which include the United Nations directly across the water. Hungry? Head straight to Casa Enrique, an acclaimed Mexican restaurant that scored Queens its first Michelin star.
Skip the next stop, Hunters Point Ave, which is primarily industrial.
The Long Island City Courthouse and the Master Cabbie Taxi Academy occupy the space outside the station, but head a few blocks over to MoMA PS1, the hipper extension of the Museum of Modern Art. Founded in 1971, PS1 is more exhibition space than art collection, and its curators focus on experimental trends in contemporary art. Along the way to PS1 on Jackson Avenue, you’ll pass the previous location of 5 Pointz, the graffiti mecca that fell victim to development, which inspired Brooklyn street art gilf! to hang “Gentrification In Progress” police tape across the site.
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world,” said character Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Queensboro Plaza sits atop the start of the Queensboro Bridge that connects Queens and Manhattan, and it is also the bridge from Woody Allen’s Manhattan and the topic of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” Subway riders can also see a sign for Silvercup Studios, a production facility that served as the primary filming facility for the HBO hits Sex and the City and The Sopranos, among other shows and movies. Brave souls can head west for better views of the bridge and Manhattan at Queensbridge Park, which sits next to the infamous Queensbridge Houses. Individuals who once called this public housing complex home include rapper Nas, basketball player Metta World Peace and “Shook Ones” rappers Mobb Deep, while Queensbridge residents MC Shan and Marley Marl started the Bridge Wars feud with Boogie Down Productions when they dropped “The Bridge.”
This marks the start of Sunnyside, a little neighborhood drawing lots of Manhattanites priced off the island. Just south of the station is City Ice Pavilion, an NHL-sized ice rink open to the public. Right next door, Indoor Extreme Sports offers laser tag and paintball with themes like zombies, black ops, “old school warrior style” archery and even a kidnapping experience (no, it doesn’t involve a weird Uber driver). If needing a sugar rush, the Doughnut Plant crème brûlée donut is an NYC classic—has one of its four locations near the station. The first shop, opened in the Lower East Side in 1994, was started by a third-generation baker using his grandfather’s recipes.
From Queensboro Plaza to 46 St (the next stop), the 7 train runs along Queen Boulevard, and this station is where the best of the ethnic eats starts. Among the best spots, the Chinese-Indian fusion Tangra sits just west of the station, while the family-owned Turkish Grill, which serves traditional fare to the small local Turkish community, is just east. The area also boasts a few Romanian joints, including Boon by Moldova and Romanian Garden. Generally speaking, stay on or near Queens Boulevard.
The agenda once again involves culinary exploration, this time on the sweet side. Just west of the station, Sugar Room is an award-winning cake shop that specializes in artistic design and edible characters. The shop also offers one-day workshops (e.g., learn to make ladies shoes out of sugar … for real) and full 23-week courses.
Between stations, the train veers off Queens Boulevard and starts to head northeast on Roosevelt Avenue. The 52 St stop is for all you Fear Factor fans out there. From the station, head back down Roosevelt to find Sik Gaek, a rock ‘n’ roll-style Korean restaurant that serves “fresh” octopus. Define fresh? Let’s just say the tentacles are not alive, but it doesn’t mean they’re not moving. Enjoy.
Here in the heart of working-class Woodside, the clash of cultures includes Little Manila, famous Thai food and a bunch of Irish pubs. Headlining this stop is one Irish watering hole in particular, Donovan’s Pub, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. This neighborhood staple has a solid beer list and food menu, which includes a classic hamburger and a massive shepherd’s pie. The pub also serves a bunch of frozen cocktails for god knows what reason.
A few years back, Zagat ranked SriPraPhai the top restaurant in Queens, calling it the “holy grail of Thai food,” while The New York Times described visiting the restaurant as a “pilgrimage.” What started as a bakery is now a massive space with authentic dishes typically in the $10 range. Izalco across the street is one of the top places in Queens to enjoy Salvadoran pupusas, i.e., thick, stuffed, handmade corn tortillas. Oddly enough, these restaurants both reside in Little Manila, which in theory stretches along Roosevelt Avenue from 63rd to 71st Street, though most restaurants and shops are closer to 69th Street. Don’t expect to feel transported to the Philippines as the area is ultimately a mishmash of different Latin and Asian cultures.
Speaking of mishmash, the Jackson Heights neighborhood around 74 St is home to both Little India and Little Colombia. Head north up 74th Street for a wide variety of Indian shops, markets and restaurants selling jewelry, garments, Bollywood DVDs and groceries. Opened in 1980, the Jackson Diner might not sound South Asian, but it is a popular Indian restaurant whose fans include Hillary Clinton. For a South Asian mash-up, Delhi Heights serves dishes that fuse Indian cuisine with Nepali, Chinese and Afghani influences.
For Little Colombia, head east on Roosevelt Avenue, though the Colombian food is rather poor with one stellar exception: The Arepa Lady. Maria Piedad Cano is the queen of Colombian street food in Jackson Heights, serving arepas (i.e., pancake-think corn patties stuffed or topped with cheese, meat, etc.) on a street corner late night on the weekend. A few years ago, she and her sons opened a brick and mortar location at Roosevelt Avenue and 77th Street that’s definitely worth a visit. Skip the rest, unless you like chewy, lukewarm chicharrón.
Little Colombia also surrounds the 82nd Street station, but the most interesting sight at this stop is architectural. Jackson Heights dates back more than a century as a planned community, and about 30 blocks of co-op homes (north of Jackson Avenue between 76th and 82nd Streets) earned Historic District status in 1993. Among the 1920s-built highlights, the French renaissance-inspired Chateau and Italian-style Towers can be found between 80th and 81st Street at 34th Avenue.
The next two stations (combined here) encompass pan-Latino communities, and the sounds on the street can range from cumbia to ranchera. Restaurants situated among these overcrowded streets serve Argentine pastries (Buenos Aires Bakery), Ecuadorian (12 Corazones, Barzola), Mexican (Molcajete), Dominican (Quisqueya), Cuban (Rincón Criollo) and even Cuban-Chinese fusion (Mi Estrella). Unless you have a hankering for one of these cuisines, skip these two stations.
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Jazz legend Louis Armstrong lived in Corona, and his modest house (above) is now a museum. Head up 104th Street, turn right on 37th Avenue and then turn left onto 107th Street. Since moving into this home in 1943, Louis and Lucille Armstrong spent the rest of their days here, and no one has occupied the space since, so the home and its furnishings are largely the way they left them. A Japanese-inspired garden out back sometimes hosts live jazz music.
Most people should skip this stop, but those willing to walk a dozen or so blocks can visit the Lemon Ice King of Corona at 108th Street and 52 Avenue. Opened in what was then an Italian neighborhood in the 1950s, the shop serves dozens of Italian ice flavors, including bubble gum, rum raisin, vanilla chocolate chip and of course lemon. The King of Queens has had various opening sequences, but in one version of the TV series, Doug (Kevin James) and Carrie (Leah Remini) are getting ices at the King.
This station is home to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, home of the New York Mets, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the Queens Zoo, an ice skating rink, the Queens Theatre, the New York Hall of Science and the Queens Museum, the latter of which housed the United Nations General Assembly from 1946 to 1950. Slightly bigger than Central Park, this complex also hosted the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. Obviously there is a lot to do here, including a visit to the 140-foot-high Unisphere globe, which was fictionally destroyed by a spaceship in the final battle of Men in Black.
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Flushing was Dutch colonial town four centuries ago, but today it is the largest of NYC’s many Chinatowns, and it includes several other Asian populations, notably Korean. Most of the action takes place on and around Main Street, and these patience-trying sidewalks are among the most crowded you’ll find anywhere in NYC. This is the place to find authentic Asian markets, groceries, herbs, cookbooks, gardens, performance art and bubble-tea cafes. Flushing Town Hall, which houses an art gallery and live performance theater, is an architectural outlier built in Romanesque Revival style in 1862. The space, now dedicated to supporting the arts, actually featured P.T. Barnum sideshows in the 19th century.
Nevertheless, downtown Flushing’s main draw is authentic ethnic cuisine from China and other parts of Asia. The Queens Crossing Mall features all kinds of culinary options, from an Asian food court on the ground floor to the high-end Mulan with an indoor waterfall at the top. Likewise, the New World Mall bills itself as the east coast’s largest Asian mall with its own food court, restaurants and shops. Further down Main Street, the Golden Shopping Mall offers more restaurants and shops, including the original Xi’an Famous Foods, which grew to 12 locations since opening in 2005. Throughout Flushing, the options are seemingly limitless: Head to Nan Xiang Xia Long Boa for soup dumplings, to Spicy & Tasty for Szechuan dim sum, to Corner 28 for peking duck sandwich buns or to any of a dozen other exceptional food spots.
Consider it your dessert as you’ve reached the end of NYC’s famed 7 Line.
Top image: NYC & Company/Joe Buglewicz
David Jenison is a Los Angeles native and the editor-in-chief of PROHBTD. He has covered entertainment, restaurants and travel for more than 20 years.