Photo by Suzanne Parker
Astoria Seafood offers a variety of fresh fish for sale.
By Suzanne Parker

Astoria Seafood can only be described as one of those good news bad news places.

The good news — which is very, very good — is that they serve first-rate fish and seafood at amazingly affordable prices. The bad news is that you have to have a fairly high tolerance for bedlam to get it.

Business always seems to be brisk, and during peak hours, often chaos.

Astoria Seafood is essentially a seafood market with a few tables, and a haphazard nod toward a nautical decor. The clientele could have been sent by Central Casting to portray the crowd at a UN mixer.

The drill is that you approach the open display of fish and seafood, take some plastic bags, and help yourself to as much of it as you please. You then take your catch to the counter to be weighed, and you tell the counterman how you want it prepared — grilled or fried — and what sides you would like. You then approach the waitress, who will assign you a table if there is one, or take your name for the waiting list if there isn’t.

Once you’ve secured a table, you’ll probably start thinking about drinks.

A liberal BYOB policy allows you to bring in your own wine or beer, and a stack of flimsy plastic cups is kept on the counter for just this purpose. The waitress will serve you soft drinks. We made the mistake of asking for water. “Bottled?” the waitress inquired. “Tap is fine,” we responded. The waitress gestured, with her head, toward the hand washing sink outside the restroom. We amended our order to bottled water.

The first part of our order to arrive was a freshly made, wildly abundant Greek salad that could have fed three or four diners as a first course. Definitely order the salad, not only because it’s great, but also because you could be waiting a long time for your fish. Ask the waitress for some bread when it comes. We didn’t know to do that, and as our meal was just about finished, we noticed other diners with baskets of enticing looking garlic bread.

We had ordered some raw oysters, but the next items to arrive were a basket of French fries and a portion of spanakopita. The quality of both lived up to our expectations, but the timing did not.

We considered both items side dishes, not a second course. We were torn between not wanting to let the fries get cold, and not ruining our appetite for the main event.

The oysters never showed, but the other items eventually started arriving. Fried cod, battered and crumbed, was a perfect marriage of crispy exterior and juicy interior. The rest of the seafood followed in fairly rapid succession. A divine lobster tail, heavily studded with chopped garlic.

Even garlickier grilled monkfish. Gently seared grilled salmon. Grilled sardines, not bad, but a mistake not to have ordered them fried. All manner of aquatic life here is impeccably fresh and simply, but expertly prepared.

When we returned to the counter to settle up, the counterman said, “You never got your oysters, did you?” This was true. He scratched something from his hand-written bill and announced our total, without proffering anything in writing.

The total was so modest that we handed over our plastic without pressing the point.

The Bottom Line

Astoria Seafood is a great place for seafood lovers not too picky about ambiance. The seafood on display is reassuringly constantly being replaced. Nothing hangs around long enough to smell. Fine dining it’s not, but great eating it definitely is.

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Astoria Seafood

37-10 33rd St.

Long Island City

(718) 392-2680

Price Range: By the pound, $3.99 — $19.99

Cuisine: Grilled or fried fish and seafood

Setting: Seafood market with a few tables

Service: Harried

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.— 9 p.m.

Reservations: No

Alcohol: BYOB

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual to ethnic

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded. Competes with ambient noise.

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Noisy to earsplitting.

Handicap accessible: Yes

WIFI: No

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