Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
10/27/20 11:28pm

Two years ago I celebrated my 50th birthday with a weeklong trip to Mexico City. I stayed in the very chill neighborhood of Colonia Roma Norte on Tehuantepec. I ate and documented as many tacos, tortas, and other specialties as I could, took a couple of food tours and even ran into Rick Bayless. But there’s one experience I didn’t document, maybe because I wanted to stay in the moment, or maybe because it caught me so off guard.

On my last night in Colonia Roma Norte I took a walk down to the other end of Tehuantepec to check out the street food by the Metro. There were several stands with tacos, tortas, and some sort of soup, but none of them called to me. By this time I’d eaten tacos pastor de arrachera con queso at Taqueria Dos Parados where I ran into Bayless and enjoyed stellar seafood at Contramar, so perhaps my standards were higher than they would have been at the beginning of the trip, but I like to think that the food gods were guiding me toward a more special experience.

As I walked down Tehuantepec back to the apartment I noticed five EMTs jumping out of an ambulance and running toward a small shop. Wondering what was going on I ambled over and realized that rather than a medical emergency it was a street food pit stop. (more…)

10/07/20 10:13pm

Breakfast of chubby champions!

Breakfast is usually a simple affair at Chez Joe. A strong cup of coffee with a sweet Chinese bun and perhaps a banana works just fine. The other day though I paired my potassium booster with a savory Chinese bread, péigēn miànbāo, the infamous “bacon bread,” from New Fully Bakery. The wedge of spiral bread is filled with a double dose of pork in the form of salty, smokey bacon and slightly sweet pork floss.

On that particular morning said spiral was getting stale, so I warmed it up in the toaster oven. Then I remembered I had a jar of sweet Lily’s Filipino peanut butter. Thus was born the Filipino Elvis sandwich. It was a salty sweet, and, I suppose marginally healthy way to start the day. Since I now live around the corner from New Fully I’ve begun to wonder if they’ll sell me a whole loaf and whether I should make a gigantic bacon bread grilled cheese.

New Fully Bakery, 82-24 45th Ave., 718- 446-9058

10/05/20 11:20pm

Spicy and herbaceous, a contender for Elmhurst’s best chicken feet.

Pata Market, located in the heart of Elmhurst’s Thai Town is many things to many people: a community bulletin board for those seeking apartments and jobs; a source for Thai snacks, including Lays chips; and a place to score bespoke tom yum and prepared foods.

A month ago I moved into the neighborhood and now I find myself at Pata Market more and more, which is how I found the subject of today’s post. When I saw the container marked kanom jeen nam ya pa on the counter whose ingredients included rice noodle and chicken feet, I was wondering where the noodles were, but my friend behind the counter pointed out another takeout container filled with noodles and all manner of herbs. (more…)

09/25/20 1:32pm

BapBap’s rolls include one featuring grilled squid with peanut sauce, another sporting smoked brisket, and a DIY bowl that features Angus short rib, brisket, and summer corn.

There are so many places in the further reaches of Flushing to score Korean BBQ and kimbap—the sushi-like rolls that feature ingredients like spicy tuna and cheese—I like to call it K-tropolis. BapBap, the latest Korean spot in the nabe, takes it cue from these classic Korean specialties as well as Manhattan’s temples of gastronomy. That’s because it was created by two fine dining vets, Nate Kuester—who was a sous chef at The Cecil and cooked for three years at Aquavit—and Jason Liu, who was Aquavit’s service director and was most recently general manager at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.

While at the Cecil Kuester learned to smoke brisket under the tutelage of Chef JJ Johnson. At BapBap, he smokes brisket and features it in a Bap Roll. Other rolls include spicy tuna and squid, a trio makes make a nice lunch for $12. That smokey meat is excellent in the roll, and even better when combined with angus  short rib, in the grilled kalbi ssambap, which also features grilled summer corn all over a bowl of rice. It comes with sheets of roasted seaweed, so you can roll your own ssam just as you would at a Korean BBQ joint. The combination of Korean BBQ and low and slow American cue is a tasty homage to Kuester’s Korean-American heritage. (more…)

09/03/20 12:49am

A spread from Don Irwin, clockwise from left: a mighty steak cemita, tacos al pastor, and tacos arabes.

Irwin Sánchez, a cherubic taquero from La Resurección in Puebla who started operating out of a window in front of the now moribund Cevicheria El Rey two weeks ago is passionate about his craft. I know this from talking to him, tasting his food, and getting a recommendation to try his comida from none other than Steven Alvarez.

At the recommendation of the specialist in taco literacy I went with a pair of flour tortilla wrapped tacos arabes and a corn tortilla with cochinita pibil. Don Irwin points out  a lot of cooks rely on spice mixes when making the Yucatán pork specialty. No such shortcuts are taken at Tlaxcal Kitchen where the meat is seasoned with clove, cinnamon, allspice, and bitter orange, among other things. Excellent on its own the cochinita pibil is even better with pickled onions and habanero that have just a whisper of clove.

Don Irwin is passionate about his craft!

For a guy who’s been covering food in Queens for more than 20 years I am woefully late to the tacos arabes game. “Taqueria La Oriental in Puebla City was one of the first places to serve tacos arabes,” Don Irwin schooled me as I happily munched on the flour tortilla wrapped pork whose origins lie with the Lebanese. “I tried to recreate the same flavors.” Those flavors include sumac that Sánchez sourced with the help of his son’s Lebanese music teacher and a fermented chipotle sauce. The fermentation was a happy accident. He couldn’t quite get it right and then he came upon a jar of it that he had accidentally let sit for two weeks.

Don Irwin is especially proud of his cemitas and makes the bread for the Puebla City style sandwiches from scratch several times a day. Listening to him wax rhapsodic about the sesame studded bun made me realize it is as important to a cemita as the right demi-baguette is to a proper Vietnamese sandwich.

Sánchez seemed disappointed I didn’t get a cemita so I promised to try one on my next visit. He wanted me to have the steak version, a gigantic well-fried slab that overhung the bun, which was smeared with refried beans and packed with quesillo cheese, pickled chipotles, and just the right amount of papalo, a lemony herb that is a must for cemitas.

My only complaint about the sandwich is that it was much bigger than I expected, leaving me jealous of my dining companions sumptuous looking tacos al pastor. I guess they will have to wait until my next visit.

It bears pointing out that like Dr. Taco, Sánchez is also an educator who has taught cooking classes and is as passionate about preserving Mexico’s indigenous Nahuatl language as he is about tacos arabes and cemitas. In facy his outfit’s name comes from the Nahuatl for tortilla.

Tlaxcal Kitchen c/o Cevicheria El Rey, 85-16 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights

08/23/20 10:29pm

The newly opened Yun Café, situated beneath Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, serves excellent Burmese fare, including tea leaf salad (left), something of a culinary ambassador, and a less commonly known seafood salad.

They don’t call the open space above the Jackson Heights subway station Diversity Plaza for nothing folks. Upstairs there’s plenty of Tibetan, Indian, and Bangladeshi food to be had, in addition to the S & R Travel Agency, which predates the plaza itself, where one can book a passage to India. For a real gastronomic journey though, head down the subway stairs to Burma. Yes, Burma! Just past the Tibetan handicraft shop, the barbers and across from Jinme & Phuntsok of NYC, which sells lucky bamboo and candy, sits the newly opened Yun Café, surely New York City’s only Burmese restaurant located in a subway station. (more…)

08/16/20 10:03pm

I’m not sure whether the catfish pad prik khing from iCook Thai Cook falls under what’s sometimes referred to as Thai Royal Cuisine. What I do know is I can’t resist a punny headline. Nor can I resist Boonnum “Nam” Thongngoen’s vibrant Thai cooking. So I was very happy to hear her Elmhurst restaurant, which shares a space with the hotpot restaurant iCook, reopened on Friday for outdoor dining.

Like a lot of things these days, P’Nam’s menu has adapted. The major change is the addition of a half dozen $15 set menu items that I call Thai happy meals, each served with soup and rice. That’s where I found catfish pad prik khing.

“I have order envy,” my dining companion said eying the translucent fried basil leaves and curlicue of green peppercorns adorning the ruddy catfish. It tastes even better than it looks, thanks to the curry paste that hums with the warmth of chili and ginger and the perfume of galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves. The fried catfish is lovely, and, like the paste itself, unabashedly spicy. So I was glad for the rice as well as a mellow bowl of kai pa lo, egg and tofu in a sweet five spice broth.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that in addition to offering extra rice, the waiter encouraged me to finish my soup. Welcome back P’Nam and company!

iCook Thai Cook, 81-17 Broadway, Elmhurst, 929-522-0886

07/29/20 1:46pm

The signature roast beef sandwich topped with cheese sauce and raw onions is worth a trip to Sheepshead Bay, Brookyn.

Even though I’ve made a career out of hating on Brooklyn in favor of Queens, my roots lie in the County of Kings where parents grew up. Perhaps my DNA makes me a sucker for the borough’s old-school neighborhoods and their culinary institutions. Today’s post is not about a certain antediluvian steakhouse in Williamsburg, but a rather another purveyor of meaty marvels: Roll ’n Roaster, a 50 year-old establishment that built its reputation on a rather sumptuous roast beef sandwich.

I was two years old in 1970 when Buddy Lamonica founded the Sheepshead Bay roast beef sandwich specialist whose slogan “We’re not so fast, Roll ’n Roaster,” became a staple of New York City late night TV in the 1970s. I didn’t grow up eating Lamonica’s creation—a glorious sandwich of thinly shaved roast beef drenched with gravy and topped with cheese sauce—that one of the restaurants many, many signs touts as “PERFECTION ON A ROLL,” but I wish I had. Instead we had Roy Rogers Roast Beef with horsey sauce. Imagine the greatness I would have achieved had I cut my teeth on Roll ’n Roaster instead of Roy’s! (more…)

07/21/20 10:25pm

Taco trio from Mi Dulce Mexico left to right: arabe, machaca, and birria.

I’ve been trying to meet up with Dr. Taco since this past spring, when we began exchanging Instagram messages. Finally on Saturday the stars, especially the one that’s been baking New York City, aligned and we set a rendezvous for one of his favorite foods, tacos at Mi Dulce Mexico. And not just any tacos, Sinaloense style ones from Northwestern Mexico.

Dr. Taco, whose real name is Steven Alvarez is an English professor at St. John’s University, where he teaches a course called Taco Literacy  that explores the foodways of Mexican immigrants in the United States. He’d originally suggested we meet for Colombian burgers, but I insisted on tacos, which is how we wound up at Mi Dulce Mexico. I’ve passed by the bakery/taqueria numerous times and never thought to eat there, but Alvarez told me that since February it’s been the new home of América Rodriguez, the chef of Taqueria Sinaloense, which closed a while back.

Since I skipped breakfast and am at root a glutton I was seriously considering a plate of machaca con huevos, a Sinaolense beef jerky cooked with eggs and tomato that is a typical breakfast, or chilorio, another specialty of the Nortwestern state. The latter is a life-changing 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. When you’re dining with a professor of taco literacy though, tacos are the way to go. So we each got three: a machaca con huevos, birria de res, and tacos arabes. (more…)

07/20/20 8:35am

These Korean cold noodles are one of my favorite forms of edible air conditioning!

When the dog days of summer have got me panting I seek cold noodles: chilled Japanese soba, Chinese liang pi, Chengdu liang mian, and the chillest noodles of all, Korean naeng myun.

Think of the slippery buckwheat noodles as edible air conditioning. There’s a soup version, mul naengmyeon, which consists of the greyish noodles along with chilled beef broth, often with a small glacier of beef stock; cooling fruits and veggies like sliced Korean pear and cucumber; thinly shaved beef; and a hard-boiled egg. And then there are soupless varieties like hwe naeng myun, topped with raw fish.

I’ve never had the fish version and was eager to try it at New Hae Woon Dae in Elmhurst during what seemed like day 1,024 of quarantine and day 99 of New York City’s heat wave. “We don’t make it anymore,” the server told me, so I opted for the bibim naeng myun, or mixed naeng myun.

So much chili sauce blanketed the noodles that I could barely see them. Slices of daikon, Korean pear, shaved beef, and an egg were relegated to the side of the silver bowl, as if scared of the chili drenched strands.The server used her trusty noodle shears to deftly divide the bowl in four and advised me to add hot mustard and vinegar.

New Hae Woon Dae’s bibim naeng myun comes with a cold bowl of soup on the side to add. Slippery spicy noodles, crunchy vegetables and fruit, and that little bit of meat combined for a satisfying and refreshing summer lunch.

I still can’t wait to try the seafood version though. I’d love to know about your favorite cold noodles and soups. Let me know in the comments.

New Hae Woon Dae, 75-32 Broadway, Woodside, 718-397-5834