Down Memory Lane on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, NY
QUEENS, New York — The long and disorganized stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens — reachable by the 7 Train — is both familiar and unusual.
Payag Restaurant at the corner of 52nd Street is now empty. Somewhere on 69th is Rosario’s Ihawan, new and pleasant-looking. Rene and I were lured by the clean, well-lighted space painted in pear yellow, as well as the Kalderetang Kambing.
A visit to Roosevelt was long overdue. Our family lived in Queens for more than three years, and while we’ve always planned on coming back just to see what’s new, it was only this week that we made it happen.
Walking along Roosevelt Av is like going on a tour of all the countries in the world, and somewhere around the corner of 69th you drift into Little Manila. There, the remittance companies, law offices, balikbayan cargo outfits, employment agencies, bakeries, and restaurants find comfort in crowding against one another like a favorite corner in Divisoria.
Tito Rad’s Grill and Kabayan sit across 49th Street and Roosevelt. If you want to get the full measure of Roosevelt’s 5.9 miles, this is where you begin. You eventually end up in Flushing amid all the Korean restaurants.
Krystal’s Café, known for its fast-selling Ube Cake, is like the grandfather on the block. We had them cater one of our family parties many years ago. I remember now: They arrived late and gave us a hefty discount. The rumored connection between Krystal’s and Engeline’s is still going around, although Engeline’s, which served the best Chicharon Bulaklak we’ve ever tasted, is long gone.
Johnny Air Cargo remains one of the steadfast businesses, together with Phil-Am Food Mart and Ihawan on 70th. My daughter was classmates with the granddaughter of the Ihawan owners, and I remember our family having lunch there and the two of them would shyly wave at each other.
These shops would be joined by big names, such as Jollibee, with no empty table when we dropped by; Lucky Money; Red Ribbon; Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill; and PNB. The beauty salons welcome you in Tagalog, and that’s when you know there is a Filipino hairstylist. The Law Office of Felix Vinluan seems to have cornered the service business because I’ve seen this second-floor firm on Roosevelt for the longest time.
The Filipino businesses have shared this multicultural space with Latino restaurants, karaoke bars, strip clubs, 99 cents stores, Catholic churches and Moslem mosques. If Queens is the most diverse zip code in America, Roosevelt is its most diverse street where it’s said that about 140 languages are spoken at every shop, street corner, restaurant, and cramped apartment.
In 2015, a Filipino family driver was killed on Roosevelt in front of Krystal’s. No one has been apprehended for the death of Robert Martirez, although then-NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton pledged his office would “actively pursue leads until investigation terminates with an arrest of a suspect.”
Walking to the bus stop, we were approached by a heavyset man wearing a sports jacket. He was asking us for money. We were conscious of personal security and at the same time didn’t want to appear rude. We said we had no money, and we’re new in the neighborhood. He then asked in a hush if we were “lllegal.” We just walked away.
You see all kinds on Roosevelt. Filipinos who have found their American Dream, and those still chasing theirs.