03/21/18 2:08pm

There’s something about shawarma—a Middle Eastern exclamation point of rotating meat basting in its own juices—that is absolutely fascinating. Like my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky who once gushed, “Just the outer edge of the meat is sliced, so essentially the sandwich is just the sizzling brown surface of a lamb roast,” I am fascinated with shawarma in all its forms.
Until very recently I have only had the chicken version, but lately the lamb variety—really a blend of lamb and turkey—has come on my radar. Most recently at Tov-Li Shawarma & Falafel a newish Israeli spot that opened on the Bukharian Broadway that is 108th Street in Forest Hills. (more…)

03/19/18 2:07pm

Kanom jeen ngaew features pork blood, pork ribs, and ground pork.

Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is so robust that it can support everything from boat noodle popups to dessert cafes. The latest entrant is Lamoon, the hood’s sole specialist in Chiang Mai cuisine, from Chef Arada Moonroj who learned to shop at local markets and pick lemongrass and kaffir lime from her mother and grandmother back home in Northern Thailand. A profound dislike for the use of MSG in New York City’s Thai restaurants led her to teach herself how to cook by watching Youtube videos.
After cooking for friends she decided to open Lamoon, which is both a play on her last name and a Thai word that is perhaps best translated as subtle, or better yet, soigné. It took over the old Ploy Thai space about two weeks ago and features a decor that combines a feminine sensibility with Thai street art. (more…)

03/13/18 1:39pm

Sariling’s belly lechon is only available on weekends.

Yesterday an article by food writer Ligaya Mishan positing that bagoong—a funky fermented shrimp paste—and other Filipino foods have entered the American mainstream dropped in New York Times Food. No doubt Mishan, who cut her teeth on Filipino food, knows more about it than I ever will, but bagoong being mainstream is a bit of a stretch. As for me, I’m still far too distracted by all of the cuisine’s glorious pork dishes. Which is exactly the position I found myself in on Sunday at Sariling Atin, a Filipino turo turo in Elmhurst.

My jaw dropped when I saw the twin cylinders of porcine goodness—encased in burnished crackling skin—sitting above the steam table. “How much,” I asked once I’d regained my composure. “Sixteen a pound,” the gal behind the counter responded as I stared transfixed at the rolled belly lechon whose inner folds held lemongrass and other aromatics. After forking over $15 for a combo platter—I chose laing, or taro leaves, from the steam table—I took a seat.  (more…)

03/12/18 12:06pm

Edible Americana meets Japanese culinary tradition.

Those unfamiliar with Keizo Shimamoto, the man behind the Smorgasburg sensation known as the Ramen Burger—which sandwiches a beef patty between two noodly buns—might think the Japanese chef is no ramen purist. Anyone who’s been to Ramen Shack, his modest restaurant hard by the Queensbridge, Houses can attest to Shimamoto’s ramen reverence though.

Shimamoto serves what he calls “ramen inspired ramen,” and the other day I came really close to having a steaming bowl of his classic shoyu. With spring somewhat in the air though, I flipped the menu over to the B side where I spied Burger Ramen ($12), a soupless bowl I’ve been meaning to try for some time. (more…)

03/08/18 9:49pm

I walked into Old Tang—a new spot just off the bustling corner of Main and Roosevelt in downtown Flushing—at least three times before finally trying the noodles. The first time they were under construction, but the other times I eyed the mise en place and upon seeing minced pickled green beans and fried soybeans asked the same question in my fractured Mandarin Chinese “Giulin ren ma?” And each time the kids behind the counter would patiently respond, “No we’re from Sichuan.” “Ah so, the workers are from Sichuan, but surely the food is from Giulin,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have to come back and try it when I’m not already full from leading a food tour.”


03/06/18 3:55pm

The menu calls it a salted pancake, but it’s really fried rice roll.

My earliest Chinese food memories center around Cantonese chang fen slurped at the counter of Mei Lei Wah in the mid 1970s with my father who taught me all I know about Chinese food. Beef roll, as he called it, awash in sweet soy sauce, was his go-to and mine was shrimp.

Over the years I’ve tried many versions, including yim shui cheung fen, which stars cilantro; one stuffed with fried crullers; and my current obsession the gossamer thin version made from freshly ground rice at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll. The other day I encountered a kind I’ve never had, a deep fried version, listed on the menu at Congee Village as sweet or salted pancake ($6.50). (more…)

02/14/18 11:01am

One of the things I heard most from my editors when I was putting together 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss was “Joe, there’s too much food on your list.” To which I mentally responded, “Don’t they know who they hired? I am the guy who ate Queens for chrissake!” Somehow I still managed to mention food and drink more than 40 times in the book. Herewith are seven of my favorites. To find out the others, you’ll have to score a copy. A great time to do so would be next Wednesday, February 21 when 111 Places in Queens Comes to Jackson Heights at Espresso 77. Ace photographer Clay Williams and I will even autograph your copy. Can’t make that? Come celebrate Chinese New Year at Leaf Cocktail Lounge with us on February 22nd.

1. Lhasa Fast Food
I’d love to take credit for discovering this gem of a Tibetan restaurant tucked behind a Jackson Heights cell phone store, but I can’t. Momo maven Jeff Orlick turned me on to it years ago. There’s nothing fast about the momo making here though. The reward for your patience? Juicy steamed beef dumplings that are amazing as is the thentuk soup featuring hand-torn swatches of dough. It’s such a special place it merited its own chapter! 37-50 74th St, Queens, NY 11372, 646-256-3805

2. Falafel slice at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar
This marvelous Middle Eastern mashup can be had at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar. It combines two great street foods New York City pizza and Israeli falafel. Topped with half a dozen falafel balls, I like to eat it with tahini and hot sauce. In case you are wondering, this novelty slice did not get its own chapter. It appears as a tip at the end of the chapter on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s gravesite. 72-72 Main St, Flushing, 718- 268-0791 (more…)

01/31/18 12:38am

Triple cooked Sinaloan style pork via Elmhurst enriched with chilies among other things.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to try Queens’ only Mexican restaurant specializing in foods from the Northwestern state of Sinaloa, a state that hitherto I’d only known as the birthplace of Mexican drug lord El Chapo. We only tried one dish from the aptly named Sinaloense, but what a dish. Chilorio estilo sinaloense is a heap of pork that’s been slowly cooked down for hours, then fried in lard, and lastly cooked in a ruddy concoction of chilies and other herbs and spices. The result is some of the most amazing Mexican pork I’ve ever had on Roosevelt Avenue. It had a glorious texture—not quite crunchy and not quite soft—and an amazing depth of flavor with notes of cumin, garlic, chilies and a not unpleasant vinegary acidity. “I’m coming back here for a torta estilo sinaloense,” I said to my pals as I perused the takeout menu between bites. (more…)

01/29/18 10:27pm

Fried calamari Indonesian style.

It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quite often and write about it almost as often. Here’s the thing though, I’ve become so used to ordering off the specials menu, that I’ve been missing out on some glorious dishes on the regular menu. Dishes like cumi goreng sauce telor asin ($9) or fried calamari in salty egg sauce.

Fried calamari isn’t necessarily the first thing I think of when it comes to Indonesian fare and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “salty egg sauce,” but after a friend talked it up on Instagram, I knew I’d be trying it. Turns out that salty egg sauce is actually bits of golden salty egg yolk mixed in with the fried garlic and shallots that’s interspersed with the fried nuggets of squid.

The menu listing for this wonderfully salty and crunchy Indonesian take on fried calamari sports two chilies, but only because of the accompanying sambal. It’s great mixed in with the calamari itself as well as the accompanying nonsalty egg.

Awang Kitchen, 84-05 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 347-492-9264

01/25/18 1:13pm

Whose ramen is this? It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine . . . 

Winter’s cold and the attendant coughing and sniffling always call for a good bowl of spicy soup, and Thai noodle soup always fits the bill. Today a look at two of my new favorites: one a Japanese take on Thai green curry and the other an everything but the kitchen sink Thai pork soup.

First up the Queensmatic Green Curry ($17) from Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, which is an ajitama’s throw away from where Nas came up in the Queensbridge houses. Shimamoto learned to make a similar green curry ramen while working at Tokyo’s Bassanova Ramen. His curry paste hums with the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and bird’s eye chilies. At first I considered adding some chili oil, but as the heat pleasantly mounted I decided against it.  (more…)