The Taste of Sunnyside returned for it’s ninth season to once again showcase some of the best food the neighborhood has to offer — this time with a whole new format.
On Sunday, Oct. 3, Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District welcomed more than 500 guests to the revamped restaurant crawl, which featured a diverse set of 34 restaurants, bars and other food businesses that served up samples of their unique and delicious offerings to eager guests.
Attendees chose between a $50 general admission ticket or a $75 VIP ticket (which included a few extra perks, like a fast pass in the event of long lines and discounts of up to 15 percent for some of the participating eateries for a return visit). Upon arrival, guests received a printed map as well as a badge with the names of all participating businesses to check off after visiting them.
A QR code also led guests to a website with maps, directions, routes for specific flavors (like Taste of Sazón, Taste of Yum! And Taste of Spirits) as well as a WhatsApp group chat where attendees shared photos of their bites while others showed off their nearly-complete or fully marked badges.
Years prior, the tasting and social event would be held at a set location, like at the P.C Richards parking lot for their eighth annual festival in 2019. But this year, foodies got to stroll along Skillman Avenue, Queens Boulevard, 47th Avenue and 43rd Avenue — or wait for one of two trolleys making stops along the way to scoop them up and drop them off at their desired destination.
Chakra Café, located on 44-01 Queens Blvd., offered chocolate baklavas and other pastries during the crawl. Sunnyside resident Cengiz Yildirim became the owner of Chakra four months ago, and said the festival proved to him that it was the right decision.
“Our goal today is to unite with our neighborhoods, with our customers, [and] with our future customers, hopefully,” Yildrim said. “We’re doing our best to go through these tough times.”
Guests and business owners were in bright spirits during the sunny afternoon, despite the challenges brought on by more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate disasters.
The extensive Taste of Sunnyside selection gave way for a little taste of (quite literally) everything: Atomic Wings and sliders paired with Singlecut Brewing beer at 43 Bar & Grill; pollo a la brasa with sangria at Riko; white rice and lamb with hummus at Mangal Kebab; rasta pasta jerk BBQ chicken by Caribbean Cuisine; arepas and empanadas at Firefly Petite Bistro; sushi at Ariyoshi; vanilla cupcakes with flower-shaped frosting by Cakes by Claire; and refreshing canned margaritas by QNSY.
While most of the participating businesses had storefronts, there were also new or fairly new brands showcasing their food, such as The Boiis Co., a Filipino owned mochi-based dessert shop.
Their stand stood out with an elegant design of light wood and a selfie-ready mirror that read “What is up mochi fam!”
Rivy-Major Oponda, Kert Lasdoce and Aaron Troy Ortega, all Queens residents, began the dessert shop in 2019 in Elmhurst, and while they mainly take online orders and attend pop-ups, their headquarters is in Long Island City.
What they’re best known for are mooks — soft and chewy mochi-filled cookies that come in several different flavors.
At Taste of Sunnyside, they offered their ube (purple yam originally from the Philippines) with ube mochi filling, apple cider with cran-apple mochi filling (with a taste reminiscent of apple pie), and matcha with ube mochi filling. They also offered gluten free (yet incredibly rich) basque mochi cheesecake.
Oponda said they were grateful to be a part of the event as they try to become more involved in the Sunnyside community.
“With being a small business, the key is really just pushing and being consistent and being active on social media — telling everyone, ‘hey, we’re still here,’” said Oponda, adding that while the COVID-19 pandemic almost stopped their business, it actually helped them come up with their mooks, which are their best sellers.
Resilience was one of the overarching themes of the popular event, as Jamie-Faye Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, noted the tremendous hurdles that all of the business owners have endured in some form during the past year.
“The crawl was a way for residents to rediscover the neighborhood and it’s businesses but it was also a celebration of our small business community’s resilience,” Bean said. “This event provided a way for these businesses and more to come back and increase their profile among local residents.”
Kelly Connolly, a Sunnyside resident who’s attended the Taste of Sunnyside festivals since it began, said that although the prior festivals gave them more opportunities to socialize, the new crawl format was “really fun.”
“I love it, I always look forward to it,” Connolly said.
Connolly introduced several friends to the event, including Max Matthews, who lives in Jamaica and works at a nearby school.
“This is my first year, I’ve never done this before,” Matthews said. “I really like the format because after five restaurants I felt really full, but the walk really helped. Overall it’s just a really fun experience. I can’t wait for next year.”
In terms of their favorite food of the day, the consensus of the group was clear: Big Shane’s Ice Cream.
“The honey comb [flavor],” Ali Ramataur, another Sunnysider with the group, said. “It’s a great bonding experience with your friends, and you get to try everything that’s around here.”