Newsstand
11/29/21 7:48pm

Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas with Chef Bimla and the belt, this year’s map, and a bowl of buffalo johl momo.

“I can get momo any time. It’s just too much of a scene for me,” is usually what I say when asked about the Momo Crawl. “I prefer to pay my respects to the winner afterwards.”

“You could say it’s the SantaCon of momos but I prefer to say it’s the WrestleMania,” tweeted Jeff Orlick founder of the annual event, which brings hundreds of fans hungry for Himalayan dumplings, to the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Woodside, in a reference to the coveted Momo Crawl trophy, which is modeled after a championship wrestling belt.

For the past four years that trophy has graced the wall of Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, thanks to Chef Bimla Hamal Shreshtha’s piping hot momos, served in a fiery jhol broth humming with ginger, chili and other spices.
This year though not only did I pay my respects to the winner, I attended the crawl itself, and I’m glad I did. I ran into many dear friends old and new and frankly felt a sense of liberation despite my general distaste for crowds.

I tried only four of the 29 places on the crawl and couldn’t make sense of Momo Crawl mastermind Jeff Orlick’s map. “It’s a real Jeff Orlick special,” my pal Drew said with a chuckle. Later we sampled the winning momos from Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, which proved to be the hottest and freshest of the ones I tried, with lots of variety. I went for a trifecta of beef, buffalo, and goat with plenty of broth. The broth proved too spicy for my sweetheart Hannah’s daughter Vera, but that didn’t deter her appetite for more of the dumplings. In fact if she had her way I think she’d have done at least a half dozen more stops.

“They try very hard to win, and that makes a huge difference,” Orlick said of this year’s winner. “People seemed very happy to be there. Being outside also gave people some relief from being so concerned about coronavirus.”

This afternoon I took a long walk through the Heights to work up an appetite for a bowl of Chef Bimla’s momo. I opted for the buffalo. With a nip in the air and the second snow of the season falling it seemed like a perfect choice. Congrats again to Chef Bimla and Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, but most of all to Jeff Orlick for showing this sometimes jaded culinary king the joy of community in action.

Nepali Bhanchha Ghar, 74-15 Roosevelt Ave., (917) 745-0533

11/22/21 11:37am


The chef recommended I try the No. 12 at the newly opened Burmese bites, shown here unmixed.

Myo Lin Thway and his family who run Burmese Bites at the Queens Night Market, a specialist in palata—airy stuffed roti like bread made by Myo himself—and other goodies like ohno kaukswe, a wonderful coconut chicken noodle soup, have long been one of my favorite stands. I almost always get their noodles or palata on every visit to the market. There’s only one problem; I wish there were more options as well as the ability to get their Burmese cuisine year round. Well, thanks to the crew’s new location, which opened about a week ago in the Queens Center Mall Food Court, a venue better known for Panda Express than Burmese delicacies, both of these problems have been solved.

“What do you have that’s not at the Night Market?” I asked, looking at the roster of more than a dozen dishes. “You should get the Number 12, the shan kaukswe,” he said. “I know you’ll like these noodles because you appreciate Burmese food.”

In addition to the noodles I ordered tea leaf salad, or laphet thoke, a riotous blend of textures and flavors that along with the fish soup mohinga is considered by many to be the national dish of Burma. Just as Myo handed me my food who should I spy taking photos but none other than my dear friend Dave Cook of Eating in Translation. (We have been running into each other in my various Queens stamping grounds for years now and Dave joked that we need to develop a bat signal so we can know when an impromptu eatup is about to occur.)



Each dish came in a cardboard takeout box, the components waiting to be mixed. The shan kaukswe container simply labeled “Shan” held rice noodles topped with ground chicken and peanuts surrounded by pea shoots, scallions, pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and a little cup of dried chili. I started to mix the lot with fork and spoon, but quickly realized that closing and vigorously shaking the box—albeit carefully—would be more effective. This newly created Shan shake didn’t work so well for the tea leaf salad, which I tossed with utensils.

I’m glad I took Myo’s recommendation. The combination of the noodles along with the salty pickled vegetables, chili, garlic, and other components was utterly transporting. Dave ordered the shrimp curry and mango salad and subbed in tea life rice for white rice. All in all it was a great first meal at Myo’s new digs.

For a long time I’ve groused that the mall’s food court, known as the World’s Fare Café, was hardly deserving of the moniker since it didn’t reflect the delicious diversity of Queens. Now thanks to Burmese Bites along with its newly opened neighbor C Bao, a purveyor of Chinese pork and duck buns, it’s on its way to becoming a food court worthy of the World’s Borough.

Burmese Bites, Queens Center Mall, 90-15 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst

11/08/21 4:24pm
This Colombian style burger was not created by the Arepa Lady, but rather her daughter-in-law, Nelly.

Back when I first moved to Queens in the late 90s, The Arepa Lady—aka Maria Piedad Cano a former administrative judge from Medellin, Colombia, turned street food legend—served precisely two things from her cart outside a nightclub on Roosevelt Avenue. The first, arepa de queso was a puffy disc of corn flour sweet and gooey with crisped edges from a griddling in margarine and topped with salty quesito cheese. The second, arepa de choclo, was made from a sweeter corn enfolding cheese.

Both are equally delicious and both are still served at Areperia Arepa Lady, which her son Alejandro Osorio opened with her in 2014 to return the favor of his mother supporting him and his siblings through street food for decades.

“She’s old school,” Osorio says of his mother. “We can add new things, but we can’t mess with her recipes. Those things include arepas filled with shredded beef, the fried plantain sandwiches known as patacones, and most recently, a Colombian style hamburger.

Osorio’s wife, Nelly, who runs the Jackson Heights restaurant with him came up with the idea for the burger because many diners had been asking for a burger. For Colombians though the hamburger is quite a different animal than the somewhat austere version served at cookouts in America. In Colombia, the patty and the bun are a canvas for a carnival of fruity sauces, other meats, and other textures. Arepa Lady’s Colombian burger does not disappoint. It consists of a patty topped with American cheese; ham; and crisp fried bacon topped with a fistful of crunchy potato sticks, and finally crowned with a trio of sauces green garlic, pink sauce (a mixture of mayo and ketchup), and pineapple. (My waiter, Brandon, who hails from Cali told they are fond of the tart, sweet pineapple sauce in his hometown.) For an extra few dollars you can add shrimp, which I did.

Despite all those ingredients, this was no Frankenburger, but a seemingly restrained study in excess. (It was, however messy, and you may well want to remove bracelets and other jewelry to eat it.) All the flavors—juicy patty, salty ham, and smoky bacon—worked well together and the potato sticks and sauces completed the picture, though next time I’d skip the baby shrimp.

Dining across from me in the otherwise empty restaurant a maroon robed Tibetan monk and a young friend enjoyed some chicharron and an arepa. As I was leaving I almost told them they should try the burger next time.

“My Mom hasn’t tried it yet,” Osorio told me when I asked what the family matriarch thought of his wife’s creation.

Areperia Arepa Lady, 77-17 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, 917-745-1111

11/02/21 9:07pm
Why, yes that is a bag of fruit flavored Lay’s potato chips.

As many C+M readers know, I love Asian snacks and chips—some more than others—and some less. There’s even a Chinese Lays potato chip taste-off on my food tours of Flushing Chinatown. We walk down the third snack aisle—yes there are three—of the vast Jmart Chinese supermarket until we hit the Lay’s lineup.

“Does that logo look familiar?” I ask as everyone’s eyes go wide with wonder over flavors like numb & spicy hot pot, pickled fish, spicy crayfish, and beef noodle soup.

Usually we’ll pick three or four to try, some savory and/or spicy and some downright strange, like the one I like to call “mystery fruit.” My friend Daniele and her husband, Christian who run Arthur Avenue Food Tours, know a thing or two about Italian food, so when they joined a recent adventure, I insisted they try the “Italian Red Meat Flavor,” .

Daniele didn’t dig Italian Red Meat Flavor.

“It tastes like barbecue sauce,” Daniele exclaimed after a few bites. Everybody really liked the Sichuan-inspired hotpot crisps, which sung with the signature ma la flavors of Sichuan peppercorn and chili. (For the record Sichuan peppercorn is listed on the ingredients, along with sesame and artificial flavors.)

“It tastes like bubblegum,” said another guest who gave a thumbs up to the mystery fruit, but I think he was just goofing around for the camera.

I’ve always suspected that the mysterious fruit was some type of berry. When I sent her a picture of it my Chinese speaking IG pal heyheyyuchen excitedly told me that it is yangmei or Chinese bayberry and that the packaging reads sheng jin yangmei or “mouth watering Chinese bayberry.”

Truth be told, these pink speckled treats are no more mouthwatering than other potato chip, perhaps even less so. I think they taste like Sweet Tarts, which I rather enjoyed as kid, but not so much in a chip. The only potato chip stranger than this one that I’ve tasted is Lay’s Do Us Flavor Cappuccino.

11/01/21 3:39pm
Filipino breakfast of champions featuring a whole smoked milkfish, two fried eggs, eggplant, and tomato salad.

It’s been a while since I logged on . . . by that I mean posting on C+M, but more specifically filing a dispatch about Filipino breakfast. Many restaurants in Woodside’s Little Manila and elsewhere in Queens offer various silog platters including longsilog, which features sweet and fatty pork longganisa sausage, and tosilog, which highlights sweet cured pork. Today was the first time I saw tinapsilog ($11.20) on a Filipino breakfast menu though.

“It’s a smoked fish,” the waiter informed me. “Is it like dasilog?” I inquired further. “Yeah, but smoked,” he responded.

Not entirely sure what to expect, I decided to give tinapsilog a try, if only to better understand how they arrived at the price $11.20. I was absolutely floored by what landed on the table. I’ve seen plenty of whole fish before, but this milkfish was absolutely beautiful. A thin sheet of golden amber skin stretched over the flesh. Best of all, that skin was shatteringly crunchy and smokey, almost like a fish bacon. The platter came with two sunny side up eggs; some Chinese eggplant; tomatoes; the requisite sinangag, or garlic fried rice; and some vinegar to dip the fish into.

I’m not quite sure of the prep beyond the smoking, but I’m going to guess it was fried because every bit of skin and bone including the head and tail was super crunchy.

A lot of people ask what inspires me when it comes to food writing and my stock answer is usually something like: “Look, if I eat something absolutely amazing, I’m almost physically compelled to write about it immediately.” In case you are wondering today’s breakfast met that criteria.

Amazing Grace, 69-02 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, (718) 335-7036

10/06/21 4:34pm

Even before I moved to the World’s Borough I’d often receive culinary gifts from abroad. In the 90s I befriended a Peruvian lady who sold ceviche out of a cooler. She bought me back a brick of King Kong, a famous and comically huge dessert of short bread slabs alternating with fruit spread and manjarblanco, or Peruvian dulce de leche.

These days things are no different. One of my favorite culinary gifts is a very special Indonesian bread called Matahari Roti that my friend Fefe Ang of Elmhursts fabled Indonesian Food Bazaar has given me on several occasions. Ask any Indonesian—go ahead I’ll wait—and they’ll recount fond childhood memories of this rich and sweet treat infused with rombutter, or Dutch style churned butter. Somewhere along the way I thought someone called it toast, so I’ve been toasting it and having it with my morning coffee. Turns out that might actually not be the right way to enjoy this very special loaf.

“You’ve been toasting it?” my friend Nigel Sielegar who hails from Surabaya, Indonesia exclaimed in mock surprise when I paid him a recent visit at the Queens Night Market. “It’s supposed to be gooey and buttery, just microwave it for like 30 seconds.”

Sielegar runs the wildly popular Moon Man stand at the Queens Night Market where he sells delectable Indonesian coconut pancakes as well as kaya jam, a coconut based confection. I purchased a jar of the pandan flavor, which is just delightful on the gooey properly cooked Matahari bread.

Incidentally not only did Sielegar teach me how to enjoy this childhood Indonesian treat, he helped me translate the verbiage on the packaging. Turns out Matahari is not named for the Dutch spy/exotic dancer but rather means “sun” in Indonesian, hence the rising sun on the packaging.

I have four slices left in my package of Matahari Roti and will try to dutifully eat them the proper way, but might experiment with microwaving then toasting. A cursory Google search reveals that may be possible to score this childhood treat online. Moon Man’s kaya jam is far easier to come by and can be bought here, or at the Night Market. Best of all its delicious on any kind of bread, toasted or not!

09/06/21 1:00pm

Like many a good eater, I’m a fan of crispy pork belly. Here in Queens, Colombian chicharron and Filipino lechon kawali abound. And in my little corner of the World’s Borough—Elmhurst’s Thai Town there’s moo krob—Thai style crispy pork.

At its best, it is shatteringly crisp, and last night I was quite pleased to have the best version I have ever eaten at Sabay Thai Cuisine. Run by Chef Busaya Jeamjenkarn, Sabay is a sleeper of a restaurant, better known in the local Thai community than by foodies. It boasts a vast menu, including lots of Isan specialties. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’d never set foot in the place until I moved into the neighborhood last summer.

Until recently those Northeastern dishes like Isan style beef tartare and an excellent, well-balanced pad Thai were the sum total of my experience with Sabay’s menu. The other night I had a hankering for Thai style crispy pork though. “Is it really crispy?” I asked before ordering, since there’s little worse than soggy fried pork belly.

I opted for moo krob kra pow, a preparation made with a spicy Thai basil sauce. Soon a plate piled with golden brown pieces of pork belly along with blistered bits of skin all shot through with basil, chilies, garlic and onions appeared. I could hardly wait to eat it! I snuck a piece of crunchy skin to munch on before taking the requisite photo.

Ordered medium spicy, Sabay’s moo krob kra pow still packed respectable heat thanks to a trifecta of dried chilies, fresh Thai birdseyes, and long green hots. Typically I like to add a few spoonfuls of chilies in fish sauce, but not this time.

“You are making me hungry,” Chef Busaya said as she heard me happily crunching away on her creation. “How do you get it so crunchy?” I asked. “Do you pour hot oil on it?” “No we just boil and then let it marinate in vinegar and lime overnight,” she responded. “And then we bake it the next day. It’s easy.”

I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect that Chef Busaya’s moo krob recipe is slightly more complex than she makes it out to be. I’m absolutely certain that I will be eating much more of her crispy pork in the near future though.

Sabay Thai Cuisine, 75-19 Broadway, Elmhurst, (718) 424-9054

08/22/21 10:17pm
Gai yang, corn salad, and pork tongue made for a great late summer meal.

One of the best things about living in the heart of Elmhurst’s Thai town is that I have a front row seat to all the goings on in New York City’s hotbed of Thai culinary culture from the bad—like the closing of northern Thai stalwart Lamoon—to the good surprises like fresh durian at Thai Thai Grocery and new restaurants like Eat Gai, the Elmhurst outpost of the critically acclaimed Essex Market khao man gai specialist.

I’ve been eagerly watching the development of the Eat Gai space, which used to be Indonesian restaurant Upi Jaya, for months. I’m pretty sure owner Bryan Chunton and his partners got tired of me and every other neighbor stopping by to ask “You open yet?” Well, this Saturday as tropical storm Henri sidled into town Eat Gai opened its doors for a soft opening dinner. As a rule I don’t write about restaurants when they are in soft opening mode, but I made an exception, especially since I was eager to try what Chunton had described to me as Thai style rotisserie chicken. I’m a big fan of pollo a la brasa—whether Colombian or Peruvian—but I’d never had Thai style rotisserie chicken.

I found the specialty of the house gai yang or “roast chicken” just below and to the left of the menu’s tag line “Thai Chicken Specialist.” I opted for a half bird ($16.95), rounding it out with a Thai corn salad ($9.95) and roasted pork tongue ($7.95). The bird itself was fragrant, juicy, and tender. Chunton told me the restaurant uses smaller birds because they’re tastier. Something about really good roast chicken always makes me want to eat like a caveman and Eat Gai’s version was no exception.

The bird is served with two variations on jaew sauce, one is only slightly spicy the emphasis on tamarind, the other fairly vibrates with salt, chili, and lime leaf. I prefer the spicier version, but really chicken this good needs no adornment. The corn salad, a summery take on tom yum, rounded everything out making for a great meal on a rainy night.

Chunton was kind enough to introduce me to his chef, Mukda Sakulclanuwat, who hails from the town of Mukdan in Thailand’s Isan region. She shared a few of the secrets of her glorious chicken with me. For one thing she marinates it for two days in a mixture of lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and coconut milk, rendering it tender and fragrant.

“I grew up with this food in my neighborhood in Isan,” she recalled. “Every day I helped my friend make this. After we would finish here Mom would let us go play.”

When asked whether she brushed it with anything while it was cooking, she thought for few beats and said, “Oh yes pork fat.” And that folks is why I always seek a specialist when it comes to street food.

Eat Gai, 76-04 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst

08/17/21 6:12pm


A trio of refreshing mariscos: aguachile mixto rojo, ceviche mixto, and the mighty chaparrita.

“There were no good places for mariscos,” Alonso Guzman told me when I asked why he and his wife Amy opened Mariscos El Submarino. Located in the heart of Mexican Jackson Heights, the seafood specialist with a yellow mustachioed submarine logo, is in fact a great place for mariscos–or Mexican style seafood–specifically as prepared in Sinaloa.

I first learned about Mariscos El Submarino from Professor Steven Alvarez, an expert’s expert in all aspects of Mexican culinary culture who teaches a course called “Taco Literacy” at St. John’s University. As part of an epic four-hour crawl of of the neighborhood’s best Mexican spots, we tried a torre or tower ironically called La Chaparrita ($20)—or the shorty—a stack of diced cucumber, octopus, shrimp, and avocado, surmounted by two teetering fried shrimp sitting in a lake of spicy cold broth accented with soy sauce. It was over the top and refreshing. Upon eating it, I immediately began plotting my return to this wonderful seafood emporium.

Next visit I tried Don Alonzo’s version of ceviche, specifically the restaurant’s signature Submarino. While I waited for my food, I attempted to translate the slogan on the wall “No hay mal que duran cien años ni cruda que un buen marisco no cure.” Soon I was digging into a plastic takeout container filled with shrimp, octopus, and fish topped with avocado. Thanks to plenty of lime juice and red onion the marinade was bracing and refreshing, good medicine for a hot humid afternoon. “I could get used to Mexican style ceviche,” I thought to myself not at all missing the potato and corn that grace the dish’s Peruvian cousin.

On a subsequent visit, I asked Don Alonzo what his favorite dish on the menu was and he immediately responded aguachile, a favorite from his home state of Sinaloa. As Norteño music blared from the sound system I eagerly awaited yet another restorative and refreshing dish from El Submarino. Soon Amy brought over the aguachile rojo mixto, a stone molcajete filled to the brim with shrimp, octopus, and fish in a fiery red sauce. The combination of lime, chilies, and cooling cucumber was just what I needed on a hot humid Queens afternoon. Don Alonzo told me that the cold broth is flavored with three types of chili peppers—Sinaloan chiltepin, red jalapeño, and chile de arbol—as well as tomato juice.

As for the slogan on the wall Amy translated it thus for me: “There’s no pain that lasts for a hundred years nor a hangover that good seafood can’t cure.” I would add dog days of summer malaise to the things that mariscos can cure!
Mariscos El Submarino, 88-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-685-2780

08/10/21 5:02pm
The mighty wontons in chili oil at Beijing Dumpling House.

A case could made for my performing meaningful civic duty for the World’s Borough of Queens, New York City. After all what higher service is there than spreading the word about all manner of diverse Queens delicacies from Mexican birria tacos and seafood cocktails to Tibetan momo dumplings and subterranean Burmese hotspots? When it comes to more conventional civic duty I vote and have even served on a grand jury for several weeks. Despite having literally written the book on Queens I’ve never done jury duty service at Queens Civil Court in Jamaica, until today that is.

The main question I had was are they really going to send me to jail or fine me thousands of dollars if don’t show up where to eat? I vaguely recall a pupusa place and I know that the Hillside Avenue location of Sybil’s Bakery is nearby, but beyond that I was at a loss. So I turned to the newest expert on Queens cuisine my good friend Drew Kerr, who has been documenting chefs and their beloved objects from Rockaway to St. Albans since February, for The Queens Chef Project, a truly uplifting photographic and audio tribute to the chefs and food workers of Queens, who have made it through some of the most difficult times, that debuts this fall. Drew’s counsel was to hit up Beijing Dumpling House, an authentic Chinese spot just steps from the courthouse.

As I sat in the Room 173 straining to hear and see the video about jury duty service, I was eagerly thinking of lunch. And then they dismissed us at 10 a.m., making it my shortest jury duty stint.

“I guess I’ll have to eat at Beijing Dumpling House another time,” I mused as I exited the building to walk to the subway. It’s a good thing I looked up, I might have missed the fact that Bejing Dumpling House was open. After introducing myself to Pei Na “Sabrina” Zhang and learning that she and her mother, Yan Mei “Amy” Zhang, the head chef, hail from Guangzhou I started peruse the menu. Fried and steamed dumplings are a focal point, along with more than three dozen dishes, including noodle soups and the Sichuan specialty dan dan mian. I almost ordered the latter, but decided on another Sichuan delicacy, hong you shui jiao, listed on the menu as “wontons with spicy sauce.” Sabrina told me that the plain are spicy already, but for an extra buck I doubled down with the addition of garlic, cilantro, and more chili.

In a few minutes Sabrina presented me with a bowl packed to the brim with wontons showered in garlic, cilantro, and red chili. There were so many wontons into the plastic soup bowl that for a minute I couldn’t see the red oil beneath. Each dumpling was packed with pork, shrimp, and vegetables. Unlike traditional wontons, whether H.K. or White Bear style, these were huge. I don’t know if the size is due the fact that Chef Zhang makes hundreds of crescent-shaped jiaozi dumplings a day or her generosity. I suspect it is a combination of both.

It was the best Chinese breakfast I’ve had in some time and the certainly the best and only jury duty breakfast. I don’t have to do jury duty for another six years, but I plan to return to Bejing Dumpling House well before then.

Beijing Dumpling House, 88-38 Sutphin Blvd., Jamaica, 718-297-2935