12/30/16 11:41pm

C+M’s 16 for 2016

With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.

MRCRISPY

1. Best Grilled Cheese
Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.”  The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in  mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588

 

whitspie

2.  Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and  Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar

 

HakkaHotChicken

3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298

 

4. Best Breakfast Sandwich
I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ,  and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629

Loukomades

6. Loveliest Loukoumades
Cafe Boulis a shoebox sized spot in Astoria specializes in Greece’s answer to Krispy Kreme, freshly fried loukoumades, tiny doughnuts produced by a machine behind the counter. Sold by the half dozen ($4), dozen ($8), or two dozen ($15), the little golden brown rings are traditionally served with honey, cinnamon, and powdered sugar. Nontraditionalists may wish to opt for Nutella and powdered sugar. Cafe Boulis, 30-15 31st Ave., Astoria, 718-806-1014

Java Village's bubur ayam features fried chicken.

7. Best Tuesday Javanese Popup

Back in May one of my favorite purveyors of Indonesian soul food, Chef Dewi formerly of the sadly closed Java Village, returned to the Elmhurst scene. Find her every Tuesday at Indo Java Grocery, where she cooks up bubur ayam, Indonesia’s answer to congee complete with with fried chicken and a salted egg. Indo Java Grocery, 85-12 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 718-779-2241

patningsoo

8.Sassiest Cinnamon Shaved Ice
Soo jung kwa patbingsoo. or cinnamon shaved ice, takes the classic Korean frosty treat, which typically has sweetened beans as its base and give it a nutty spin.  At Ye Dang it comes in a brass bowl to keep the whole affair well chilled. Dried persimmons, rice cake, jujubes, pine nuts, and cinnamon powder top the frosty treat. Ye Dang, 210-03 Northern Boulevard, Bayside, 718-631-0088

kapitam

9. Crabbiest Indonesian Comfort Food
Mie ayam kepiting or crab meat egg noodles is a deconstructed Indonesian noodle soup fit for captains and kings. Find it at Sky Cafe. The bowl of buckwheat colored noodles—topped with crab meat, fried fish cake, wontons, greens and squishy fish balls no bigger than my pinky nail—comes with  a sidecar of mellow lean chicken broth. Sip the soup separately or combine it with the noodles; the choice is is yours. Sky Cafe, 86-20 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, 718-651-9759

 

strawberrythai

10. Most Surprising Thai Salad
Fruit salad is a summertime staple, but I never thought it would get the Thai treatment until I visited Auttharos. There amid a roster of more than a dozen permutations of papaya salad I spied a few I’d never seen before: cucumber salad with boiled egg; long bean salad with pickled fish; corn salad with salted egg, and strawberry salad with salted egg. The latter substitutes plump red strawberries for the papaya. They’re joined by salted eggs, long beans, dried shrimp, lime, tomato, and birdseye chilies. Sweet, fishy, salty and possessed of an assertive heat, Auttharos’ fruit salad is lovely.  Auttharos, 71-28 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-426-7992

ASSAMLAKSA

11. Loveliest Asam Laksa
As many C+M readers know, I’m a big fan of late night and early a.m. kari laksa runs to Flushing’s Curry Leaves.  Lately though I’ve come to appreciate kari laksa’s sour sister, asam laksa. My favorite place for this bracing bowl of tamarind-infused broth brimming with flaked mackerel is a joint called Pulau Pinang. The vibrant lemongrass and tamarind-scented bowl topped with pineapple and singing with chili heat and unabashedly fishy mackerel is perfect for summer- or winter-time slurping. Pulau Pinang, 82-84 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-672-7380

 

fullhimalayan2

12. Best Fusion Brunch
You won’t find the Full Himalayan on the menu at Dawa’s, a Sunnyside spot that turns out a lovely brunch menu along with such Himalayan favorites as Bhutanese stewed pork belly and Tibetan momo dumplings. That’s because I created it, and you can too. Simply place an order for baked eggs ($9.50) along with one for Bhutanese pork chilly ($9) and the Tibetan sausage known as gyuma ($7). Rustic links of gyuma are lovely with the baked eggs as is the wobbly pork belly, which has plenty of fire from chilies and an unabashed funkiness from the fermented bamboo shoots. The Full Himalayan includes two carb options: puffy steamed Tibetan tingmo that comes with the Bhutanese pork and a piece of sour dough toast that comes with the baked egg. Use either to sop up the rich ragu of pork fat, chilies and shards of belly meat that remain in the bowl of Bhutanese pork chilly.  Dawa’s, 51-18 Skillman Ave., Woodside, 718-899-8629

Violetsbanhmi

13. Best Old School Bánh Mì
The House Special bánh mì at Violet’s Bake Shoppe in Forest Hills is quite simply the best old school Vietnamese sandwich currently available in Queens. The Vietnamese ham, Vietnamese salami, and crumbled roast pork married well with the demi-baguette daubed with Maggi sauce, and the pickled veggies. The secret behind Violet’s Vietnamese sandwich is family friend Kim Nguyen, thew one-time bánh mì Queen of Broome Street. For years her sandwiches at Manhattan’s Bánh Mì So 1 were a go-to lunch. I count myself lucky that she has come to Queens. Violet’s Bake Shoppe, 72-36 Austin Street, Forest Hills, 718-263-3839

 

purplecold

14. Most Colorful Cold Skin Noodles
I haven’t been this excited about cold skin noodles—aka liáng pi—since I first tried them at Xi’an Famous Foods. Lǎo Luòyáng’s purple sweet potato cold noodle ($6.50), zǐshǔ liáng pí is excellent. Sweet potato lends more color than flavor to the slippery strands of wheat noodles and squidgy blocks of gluten. The sauce is astonishing, hitting many points of the flavor matrix: chili, garlic, vinegar, but above all, a beguiling blend of tahini and aromatics like cloves. It’s so good you might find yourself slurping it up with a straw. Old Luoyang, New World Mall, Flushing, New York, 136-20 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing

 

cfruitpizza2

15. Most Delightful Durian Pizza
Leave it to Hong Kong-based dessert chain C Fruit Life to bring durian pizza to downtown Flushing’s Chinatown. Oddly enough it works, the garlicky funky of the king of fruit is quite nice with the pie. My one complaint has nothing to do with the odiferous fruit but rather the quality of the pie itself, which is on the order of something one might find in a bowling alley snack shop. Jin zheng tou liu lien pi za or “Golden Pillow Durian Pizza,” might just be the strangest pizza available in Queens. C Fruit Life, 135-29 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing

 

ricecracker

16. Most Addictive Thai Rice Cracker
Khao greab goong or rice crackers with shrimp might very well be the most craveable Thai snack I’ve ever encountered. Each discus is studded with dried shrimp and herbs. Sweet and shatteringly crunchy with a wallop of fishy funk and notes of nuttiness it was all I could do to save some to photograph and write about. In the end I had only one piece left, a strong argument for purchasing doubles of any junk food i plan to write about in the future. Find them at 3 Aunties Thai Market in Woodside. 3 Aunties Thai Market, 64-04 39th Ave., Woodside

 

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