Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
09/06/18 8:33am

Fish cakes from Bronx-based Vendy finalist CaSpanish.

Back in 2009, when the Vendy Awards were held in the shadow of the Unisphere, there was only one food market game in town: Smorgasburg. LIC Flea & Food came along in 2012 and a few years later Queens got its very own night market. Well these days it does and so does the Bronx. The finalists for this years Vendy Awards are a lineup of vendors from the street and from the markets that is almost as diverse as Queens itself. Puerto Rico, the Domican Republic,Trinidad, Italy, China, Indonesia, Japan, El Salvador, India, and Romania are all represented. What’s more, six of the nine finalists have a connection to Queens.This year’s Vendy Awards will be held on Governors Island on September 22. Click here to get tickets. Ladies and gentlemen, we present your 2018 Vendy Awards Finalists for Best Market Vendor and Best Dessert Vendor.

CaSpanish
These Bronx Night Market stalwarts take their name from a blend of Caribbean and Spanish cuisines as reflected in a menu that features straight up Dominican fare like mangu—a trifecta of salami fried cheese, and eggs—and fusion specialties like jerk chicken empanadas. Husband and wife duo Keith and Judy were in the middle of planning their wedding in 2015 when they could not find a caterer that offered the varied menu they were looking for. Keith is Trinidadian-American and Judy is Puerto Rican and Dominican. They wanted a reception spread that included each of their favorite foods reflecting their Caribbean-American backgrounds. Unhappy with what they found they decided to cater their own wedding reception, and thus was born CaSpanish.

D’Abruzzo NYC took top honors at this spring’s World’s Fare.

D’Abruzzo NYC
Tommaso Conte started D’Abruzzo NYC in August 2017, and now sells his arrosticini, succulent roasted lamb skewers, at Smorgasburg and other markets. While growing up on Long Island, Tommaso’s family, in particular his nonno, or grandfather, instilled in him the values, traditions, and work ethic that he learned in Abruzzo a rugged mountainous region is southern Italy. Early on Tommaso grew tomatoes, helped make wine in his Cantina, and turned the soil in his nonno’s garden. This connection to the land at an early age has inspired Tommaso to pay homage to his roots with D’Abruzzo NYC.

Hometown Spring Pancakes
Founder Annie Ye hails from Wenzhou, China and got started in the food market game with CBao Asian Buns, which can still be found at Queens Night Market, beside her new venture, Hometown Spring Pancake, which showcases a lesser known Northern Chinese snack. Each flaky pancake is made fresh to order and then filled with such meats as stewed beef or roast pork. (more…)

09/05/18 11:34am

Bellwether’s  patty melt is lovely, but it’s more of a cheeseburger.

Sometimes I wish my dear departed friend and meat maven Josh Ozersky was still with us. Partly so I could take him to dodgy Chinese restaurants, but mostly so I could ask him questions about burger lore, like the one in the headline.

I came to the patty melt late in life. I didn’t try one until my late forties. And I suppose that the one I tried, which I believe was at Tower Diner, formed my impression of what a proper patty melt should be. It was composed of a medium rare patty swaddled between two crisp pieces of rye bread along with melted Swiss and caramelized onions.

It was more of of a grilled cheese than a hamburger, and I have it on good authority that that’s how it should be. Most of all it was a messy sandwich oozing an amalgam of beef drippings and fat from the Swiss, what Ozersky would have lovely called “greeze.” (more…)

09/04/18 4:33pm

King Benfareremo says, “We do not mix,” but peanut butter and chocolate belong together.

Since we are apparently in the Dog Days of September, I decided it was as good a Tuesday as any to splash around in the fountain at the Unisphere and then pay a visit to the Lemon Ice King of Corona.

Lemon may be the King’s claim to fame, but I opted for something less traditional, some might even say sacrilegious, a super cup of peanut butter. It’s not the peanut butter itself that was blasphemous, but rather the fact that I also ordered a small chocolate, with the intent of breaking the King’s edict against mixing flavors.

The culinary King of Queens doesn’t need to abide by the two foot high sign that reads, “WE DO NOT MIX,” I thought smugly to myself.

“Enjoy, boss,” the dude behind the counter said as he handed me both. I wonder if he knew that I was going to slink away to Spaghetti Park to commit a cardinal sin and concoct an ungodly Italian ice speedball?

The King’s spumoni is a much better combo.

Once there I ate a bit of the peanut butter ice which is as good as everyone says it is, with bits of peanut and and peanut butter flavored chips, and a bit of the chocolate. The chocolate couldn’t stand up to the peanut butter. That didn’t stop me from plopping the small chocolate ice atop the jumbo peanut butter one and digging in. The combo was good, but not great, largely because the peanut butter ice is so much better than the chocolate one.

“Should have got a spumoni, I mused to myself. That combination of pistachio, chocolate, and almond mixed by the King’s minions is one that works just fine. Which goes to show you that even culinary royalty needs to follow the rules sometimes.

The Lemon Ice King Of Corona, 52-02 108th St., Corona, (718) 699-5133

08/29/18 11:56pm

This late night la pastor cart in Jackson Heights is culinary catnip for a food nerd like me.

In this era of clickbait and “eating for the Insta” it’s all too easy to lose sight of my joy for food exploration, which is why I’m grateful to be what my pal Andrew Zimmern calls a “food nerd.” And, I am especially grateful for fellow food nerds, like my good friends Greg and Jumi of Food & Footprints, whose Instagram page continues to be an inspiration. Without them I would never have have known about the late night al pastor torta man who sets up at the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue outside a check cashing store.

If my memory serves I first tried to visit the much-heralded street food icon in the winter. While I eagerly waited for Greg, the al pastor man gamely sampled me a taco, after seeing me snap photos and listening to me gush about trying his spit roasted pork. When Greg arrived I eagerly told him about how the guy sampled me a taco, only to learn that this was the wrong al pastor cart. That didn’t stop us from ordering a torta though. It was good, but Greg was quick to tell me that the other guys was even better. (more…)

08/21/18 10:30pm

The best, and only, sea urchin I had in CDMX was a daily special at Contramar.

Earlier today I ran into some C+M readers while eating lunch at Warung Selasa, and I had to apologize for my recent lack of posting. You see folks, I was in Mexico City for a week celebrating my 50th birthday. I did my level best to eat every taco in town. There will come a time to speak of tacos, but now is the time to speak of the best two bites of seafood I had on my trip.

“D.F. is 1,500 miles from the sea,” a pal pointed out, when others recommended I book a table at Contramar, a white tablecloth seafood specialist in La Condesa. I did not let my friend’s commentary on D.F.’s geography deter me. Everybody suggested that I try the tuna tostadas, but when I found out that there was a Spanish language specials list, I promptly ignored that advice, and peppered several of the patient waitstaff with translation requests. And that’s how I wound up with a gorgeous plate of ceviche de erizo, or sea urchin ceviche from Ensenada. Served with chips, it was the best sea urchin I ate in Mexico City and not just because it was the only one I ate. (more…)

08/06/18 5:26pm


Karl Palma, the jovially brawny dude behind Karl’s Balls, a takoyaki stand that can be found at the Queens Night Market among other places around New York City, has been trying to get me to eat Sichuan food with him for at least three years.

“You gotta come with me to this place, it’s me and my wife’s favorite,” he would crow about Szechuan House, and I would say, “Yeah sure,” while thinking,  “I’m a Chengdu Tian Fu man myself.”

I finally caved in. I don’t know why I waited so long. Karl and I ate there a few weeks ago and I’ve been back several times with different friends to try at least a half dozen items, but there is one particular dish that has become the very stuff of my Sichuan food fever dreams, shredded fried beef. (more…)

07/31/18 4:01pm

A trio of cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle House.

In my perambulations around America’s Greatest Chinatown, aka downtown Flushing, I encounter many, many cold appetizers. One of my favorites can be found at Chengdu Tianfu. Liang ban san su—cold salad three vegetables—consists of seaweed, julienned carrots, and chewy noodles showered in cilantro dressed with roasted chili oil, black vinegar, and a healthy dose of garlic. The other day though I took a dive into the 42-item roster of special cold appetizers at Wenzhou Noodle Restaurant and discovered a trio of new favorites.

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07/23/18 9:37pm

Early last month I had the distinct honor of being filmed for a profile on Great Big Story for my expertise on Queens’ diverse and delcious food scene. “When this came up in my Youtube feed, I was like this better be Joe,” more than one person remarked to me on social media when the video dropped last Thursday.

I’m very grateful that Soybean Chen Flower Shop, Pata Paplean, and Lhasa Fast Food were featured in the video, but you’ll notice that there are lot of shots of me eating with no further description. All my Queens people know the spots, but here’s a breakdown for those unfamiliar with New York City’s most delicious borough. At the 16-second mark, you’ll see Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, which makes exquisite Cantonese chang feng. If you haven’t been you should go, right now. Why are you still reading this? Get on the 7 train! (more…)

07/20/18 12:34pm

When it comes to Taiwanese cuisine I hardly ever think of bread or buns unless it is in the context of gua bao, the pork belly bun topped with sweetened crushed peanuts and pickled greens that’s as popular a street food, in Taipei as it in Flushing. And I almost never think of sweet buns, but all that changed at Elmhurst’s Happy Stony Noodle last night when I tried a Taiwanese specialty called zhá yín sī jüǎn, or deep-fried silver thread roll, that I honestly can’t stop thinking about. (more…)

07/17/18 11:54am

Spot Dessert Bar’s Baked Alaska, fire and ice!                                     Photo: @spotdessertbar

Now that summer is here in full sweltering force it’s time for a listicle that’s as chill as an icicle. Herein, seven of my favorite frozen treats ranging from traditional Thai and Mexican icees to some decidedly highfalutin ice cream and other treats. Feel free to chime in with your favorite frozen treat in the comments!

1. Baked Alaska, Spot Dessert Bar
There’s something about fancy pants ice cream that calls for skipping the cone. It’s as if there is a voice in my head saying, “This Tahitian vanilla bamboo charcoal swirl is for grownups. You can’t let it dribble down your chin, plus how will you possibly get a photo of it?” Which is why I’m glad that Spot Dessert Bar’s Baked Alaska comes in a cone. It’s not ice cream either, it’s sorbet, your choice of mango or raspberry. I opted for the latter. “Would you like to do a video?” the waiter asked as he brought over the meringue topped cone over to the table with a torch. Just beneath the browned meringue sat the tart refreshing sorbet. “I should really eat more ice cream cones,” I thought to myself as I munched happily away. Midway through came a surprise, fluffy bits of chiffon cake followed by more sorbet. I definitely should eat more ice cream cones, especially when they have cake inside. I’ll be back for the mango. Spot Dessert Bar, 39-16-39-98 Prince St., Flushing, 917- 285-2187

2. Tao tueng, Khao Nom
I’m a big fan of shaved ice whether Dominican frio frio or Korean patbingsu, so when I saw that this Thai dessert specialist offered two kinds, I had to try them both. Tub tim krob, which features crunchy jewels of water chestnut coated in chewy jelly, in a sea of coconut milk syrup is strictly for the coconut fans, while tao tueng features longan fruit, barley, tapioca pearls, dates, and of all things potato. Somehow, it manages to make shaved ice seem healthy. Whichever one you choose, you’ll be glad that the brass bowl keeps it ice cold and even happier when the gal behind the counter offers a sidecar of extra shaved ice. I know I was. Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108 (more…)