Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
04/18/18 10:41pm

“You got to try our Cuban,” George Landin owner of street wear boutique All The Right told me when I stopped by other week to sign his copy of my guidebook “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss.”

Landin was referring to a Cuban sandwich on the menu of his latest venture, the Corona Diner, which opened this past summer. Just as my book is a love letter to Queens so is Landin’s diner. A mural featuring a who’s who of Queens—from rappers like Action Bronson, Run-DMC, and Nas to stars like Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, and Lucy Liu—lines one wall and the doors to the kitchen mimic those of the 7 train. (more…)

04/15/18 11:20pm


My usual routine for Songkhran, or Thai New Year, involves a visit to Elmhurst’s home of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram to partake of the food and festivities. Unlike in years past the weather was quite chilly, making for less than optimal conditions for a holiday that involves plenty of water splashing.

So instead of visiting the Emerald Buddha to ring in the year 2561, I partook of some Thai rubies. Not actual rubies mind you, but rather the Thai dessert called thabthim krub, which translates to crunchy rubies. I’d just polished off three bowls of boat noodle soup at Pata Paplean, when my dear friend Cherry, the cook and ringleader of the weekend noodle popup, dropped a half quart container on my table with the gruff affection she reserves for those she truly cares about. I poured the contents of the container—rubies, emeralds, jackfruit, young coconut, and coconut milk stained red from sala syrup—into a bowl.

The sweet, cold dessert soup was quite refreshing after a few rounds of of spicy noodles. The red and green jewels consist of bits of crunchy water chestnuts encased in tapioca. Even though it was freezing outside it warmed my heart and soul to eat this dessert made by one of the older ladies in the Thai community. Best of all its available every weekend, although I did feel especially blessed to be eating on the day of the neighborhood’s Songkhran celebration. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2561.

Pata Paplean, 76-21 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 718-651-2076 

 

04/13/18 10:48am

Qing tuan, piping hot, each filled with a savory-sweet surprise.

As anyone who talks to me about xiao long bao for more than five minutes knows, my favorite soup dumplings in downtown Flushing can be had at Shanghai specialist Diverse Dim Sum in the New York Food Court. The skin is so thin as to be translucent, and the balance of savory pork and crab broth is perfect, making the little packages a staple on my Flushing Chinatown food tours.

Last week I had a guest with a gluten allergy. I knew the rest of her party would enjoy the soup dumplings, but also wanted to give the gluten-free guest a taste of Shanghai. And that’s where the trio of multihued spheres—purple, green, and yellow—come in. I first noticed them around Easter time and suspected they were a seasonal specialty. Normally I don’t chance trying new things on a food tour, but after learning they were made from rice and various sweet-savory fillings I made an exception. (more…)

04/11/18 10:09am

Half of the Hendu’s mighty chicken bolognese grilled cheese.

It’s not so easy to find—much less get excited about— a sandwich every Wednesday. Sometimes the sandwich in question is perfectly fine, but just not exciting enough to write about. And sometimes, as is the case with the unicorn of al pastor tortas, it’s not there when I go looking for it. Which is why I am glad for Hendu’s Sandwich Shop. It’s always there whenever Dutch Kills Bar is open, and it’s always good.

Last night I stopped by in the hope that Bill Henderson would have something to get me out of my Sandwich Wednesday slump. “I’ve got a chicken bolognese grilled cheese,” he said when I asked what was new. “Uh, yeah sounds good,” I stammered. (more…)

04/06/18 4:12pm

Despite the somewhat generic name Sushma Thukral’s New Asian Food Products tucked away on Cherry Avenue just of Kissena Boulevard, has a specialty, Indian food, specifically roti and such vegetarian snacks as savory samosas packed with potatoes and herbs and crunchy fresh fried pakora as well as sweets, chai, and other snacks.
Over the course of my two decades of exploring downtown Flushing, I’ve probably stopped in two or three times, but now thanks to Sixty First Productions and the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce  I’ll be stopping by more often and have even added it to my food tour itinerary. (more…)

04/04/18 9:33pm

When winter ain’t playin’, it’s time for Himalayan!

It’s been two years since Kamala Gauchan, my adopted Nepalese mother, decamped from Queens’ Himalayan Heights to Manhattan’s Curry Hill. Back when she held court in her shoebox of a restaurant carved out of a corner of Tawa Roti I ate her food weekly. These days I trek to her roomier spot on Lexington Avenue whenever I have a dental appointment. Which happened to be the case during Monday’s snow storm.
After a filling, it was time to fill my belly. When I entered Dhaulaghiri Kitchen, Gauchan and her crew had just opened for the day and a mantra to Ganesh—Om Gan Ganapataye Namo Namah—played over and over on the flat screen next to a signed photo of Andrew Zimmern. For a moment I considered jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy broth—but I knew soup was the ticket for a wintry spring morning. (more…)

04/02/18 10:32pm

Maddur vada, savory crisps of wheat and rice studded with spices and herbs.

One challenge of leading food tours of downtown Flushing is how best to showcase America’s Greatest Chinatown to Chinese guests. I still remember the day I met the Vanderschoors. Imagine my surprise when I rendezvoused not with a Dutch family, but a Chinese one. “Don’t worry, we’re from San Francisco,” they said. “We don’t know anything about Flushing, you’re the expert.” This brings me to the subject of today’s post: last Saturday’s trio of Indian clients—a lovely married couple who hail from Northern India and a young student from Chennai—and the crunchiest, savoriest Indian snack in downtown Flushing, maddur vada. (more…)

03/29/18 11:18am

As if living in New York City isn’t tough enough, now we’ve been hit by a shortage of Cheetos and other Frito-Lay snacks in bodegas. I like a good corn chip now and then, but the crunchy Cheeto is my go-to Frito-Lay snack. Thankfully the shortage hasn’t hit Queens, but if you’ve been affected and simply must have your crunchy Cheetos, you might want to watch this instructional video from pastry chef Claire Saffitz, senior food editor at Bon Appetit. (more…)

03/27/18 12:15pm

Canelé and kouign-amann, together at last!

Yesterday I found myself on walkabout in LIC and decided to pay Cannelle Patisserie a visit. Beautiful pastries—mille feuiles, opera, Paris-Brest, and more lined the case like gems—but ultimately I decided to forego the more sugary items in favor of two classics: a canelé and a kouign-amann.
I chose the canelé, because of its daintiness, and the kouign-amann because I’ve never seen one presented as a spiral. I started out with the canelé, which had a pleasant sponginess and a hint of vanilla, before moving on to its more formidable cousin, the kouign-amann. (more…)

03/23/18 2:45pm

Until very recently I’ve always thought Little House Cafe—with its yellow and red awning that reads “Bubble Tea. Bakery. Teriyaki Express. Asian Cuisine” —was just another of Elmhurst’s many bubble tea spots. Despite appearances Little House is actually a stealth Malaysian restaurant, with a very big secret, a jumbo curry chicken bun the size of my head.
I learned about it from a breathless Instagram post: “The first unique and delicious handmade ‘Jumbo Curry Chicken Bun’ in the United States- Only from us!!” The other day I stopped by hoping to try the jia li mian bao ji, as it’s known in Chinese. (more…)