Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
07/26/19 3:51pm

Now that’s what I call a Thai happy meal!

The Thai desserts at Elmhurst’s Khao Nom are so good that there’s a bit of a running joke between the ladies at the counter and me that all I eat is sweets. Truth be told, my Southeast Asian Elmhurst food tour usually ends there with dessert, but every now and then I find myself at Khao Nom alone craving something savory.

Such was the case last week when I tried the shrimp paste fried rice (khao klup kapi) with sweet garlic pork. The mound of rice—stained brownish-red from being fried with the funky kapi—was topped with two fried chilies and ringed with diced shallots; strips of omelet; chopped green beans; slices of fresh chili pepper; a wedge of lime; dried shrimp; cucumbers; and, of course, the bowl of sweet and garlicky stewed pork.

This DIY fried rice is one of my favorite ways to eat. Mix it all up and as little or as much of the dried peppers—in my case both—to the lot. The combination of sweet pork and shrimp infused rice shot through with veggies and burst of spice and the crunchy brine bombs of baby shrimp is particularly restorative on a hot summer’s day. Plus it comes with a sidecar of broth. Not a bad deal for $10.

Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst

07/21/19 11:29am

Behold El Guachito’s mighty mixed grill laden with short ribs, blood sausage y mucho mucho mas!

Summer’s the perfect time for grilled beef and cold beer, but sometimes it’s just too hot in New York City to do it yourself, which is why the boys at Queens Dinner Club and I have decided to hold an Argentine style feast for carnivorous kings and queens at El Gauchito, one of our favorite steakhouses, on August 13.

Situated in Corona’s Esquina Argentina neighborhood, this temple to Argentine gastronomy—i.e. sumptuous grilled meats served with plenty of garlicky chimichurri—got its start as a butcher shop in 1978, which Mario Civelli named for the mascot of his home country’s football team in that year’s World Cup. The butcher counter—filled with special Argentine cuts like vacio or flap steak and homemade blood sausage—is still there as is El Gauchito or the little cowboy. These days the restaurant that started as little more than a butcher shop with a grill in the front window has expanded to take up two storefronts with two dining rooms, each a museum of Argentine culture lined with pictures of vaqueros (Argentine cowboys), accordions, and tango dancers.

Antipasto El Gauchito features creamy beef tongue.

Our carnivorous feast kicks off with an antipasto featuring creamy beef tongue, a terrine of pig feet, eggplant, and matambre. The name of the latter specialty—a rolled veal breast stuffed with spinach, olives, and cheese—translates to “hunger killer.” The real hunger killing though will be done by the special mixed grill loaded with skirt steak, vacio, short ribs, Argentine sausage, and blood sausage. All this meaty fare will be balanced out by Gauchito Salad with arugula, artichoke hearts, and Parmesan. Save room for traditional flan for dessert! Cash bar includes beer, wine, sangria, and, for those who have overdone it, the Argentine version of the digestif Fernet Branca.

Tickets for this Argentine feast are $45. Seats are very limited for this one so make sure to sign up for our mailing list to get your early ticket sale notification that will be sent on 8/1.

07/18/19 3:41pm

Downtown Flushing’s Chinese nougat man plying his wares on a hot summer’s day.

I can count the number of times I’ve added unknown foods to my Queens culinary walking tours on the fingers of one hand. This reticence to try new things with guests stems not from a lack of adventure, but rather the “all killer no filler” approach I take to the foods I showcase on the tour. Most of the time, unknown quantities prove to be severely lacking, but every now and then I come across a gem. Such a diamond in the rough appeared in the form of a streetside sweet on yesterday’s Flushing Chinatown food tour.

My guests and I were en route to the subterranean Golden Shopping Mall food court when I spied a Chinese gentleman with a streetside stand with a bunch of other Chinese folks surrounding him. I peeked over their shoulders, to see what I first thought was dragon beard candy because of the clouds of confectioners sugar, then I realized it was giant spiral of stretchy, sweet nougat. For a buck a pop the gent, who turns about to be from Fujian Province, stretched out the elastic peanut-filled sweet and then cut a fat finger sized length off with kitchen shears. It’s pretty tasty, but truthfully I was more amazed by finding a new street food than the flavor per se.

After my guests and I said our goodbyes, I hung out for a while and watched him ply his craft.When asked him his hours he shrugged and said he didn’t know. I bought a few more pieces to give my friends at Chengdu Tian Fu. I emerged from Golden Mall on to the street and went to say goodbye to the taffy master, but he was gone.

“Wow that was quick,” I thought giving myself a healthy mental pat on the back for having tried it. As I made my way northward on Main Street who should I see but my new friend posted up underneath the Long Island Railroad Station, with a small crowd around him. He hadn’t left, but had moved on to a busier spot. My new motto  is Carpe Via Cibus—Seize The Street Food—for you never know when it’s going to be gone.

All of this brings me back to the titular question of this post, what’s your favorite Queens street food these days? Let me know in the comments.

07/11/19 12:30pm

Despite appearances, this isn’t a veggie burger with monumental French fries.

For all the eating I’ve done at various incarnations of Whitney Aycock’s cheffed up Rockaway pizza parlor Whit’s End the only seafood I’ve ever eaten is the little neck clams on the salciccia e vongole pie. His Instagram shows him to be an avid fisherman, but I suppose the lure of pizza is sometimes stronger than that of the sea.

The other day pescatarian appetites prevailed, so I gave Whit’s “quick ass ceviche” a try. I love ceviche on a sweltering summer day and the menu’s terse description—dayboat catch, charred pineapple, lemon verbena—was intriguing. The catch of the day turned out to be black seabass or as Whit called it “knuckleheads, one of the best fish ever,” so nicknamed for the bump on the back of their skull. (more…)

07/01/19 6:14pm

As in Bangkok, so in Elmhurst, well sort of . . .

As a white dude who’s made a career eating through the many Southeast Asian eateries of Elmhurst, Queens, I lack the same perspective on the food as those born in Thailand, or in this case Indonesia, and sometimes stay away from what I mistakenly perceive to be boring homestyle dishes. When I saw a picture of “Thai scrambled eggs” on the Instagram feed of my friend Nigel “Moon Man” Sielegar, who hails from Indonesia, I knew I’d be heading to Teacup Cafe soon to try this classic Thai comfort food. Sielegar and I are so likeminded or likestomached that our respective Instagram posts often spur one of us to try a meal—Southeast Asian or otherwise—that the other has posted. (more…)

06/10/19 9:50pm

A refreshing bowl of Korean sea squirt at Murray Hill’s newest seafood spot.

Saturday was the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdains’ death. As is the case with many Saturdays lately, I had a food tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown scheduled. What I like to call America’s Greatest Chinatown remains my most popular culinary adventure. It’s a good thing I love the neighborhood and its food, although leading tours does present such challenges as navigating crowded streets and the occasional guest who arrives an hour late because they thought the tour was in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At the end of most tours I treat myself to a dessert, sometimes even a full meal.

After Saturday’s tour I was in need of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what, maybe dessert, maybe company, maybe an answer to why Bourdain and others are no longer around, so I took a long walk down Northern Boulevard.

(more…)

06/05/19 1:21pm

Lobster rolls have come to Jackson Heights, thanks to Farine!

I’m not typically a brunch guy, but I’ve been known to make exceptions. M. Wells for one with Hugue Dufour’s decadent creations like foie gras and oatmeal, and now Farine. I’ve been meaning to try the lobster roll from the brunch menu, but I’m averse to weekend crowds.

On Monday night I stopped by to introduce a friend to Michael Mignano, the man behind the hot new Jackson Heights eatery. I’d forgotten it was the last night of Ramadan and the last night of Farine’s Iftar dinners. Every table was filled with joyous Muslim families all tucking into spicy fried chicken sandwiches and fruit plates.

“We’re going to have it tomorrow as part of an EID brunch,” Mignano told me when I asked about the lobster roll, which I’d been seeing on the gram for weeks.

(more…)

05/30/19 1:02pm

Kin Khao’s Pretty Hot Wings.

I have been friends with Pim Techamuanvivit on Facebook for years, so I had a feeling that on a recent trip to visit family in the Bay Area I’d wind up at her one-star Michelin restaurant Kin Khao in San Francisco.

I had a rather sizable lunch at Cambodian spot Nyum Bai in Oakland, when fellow food nerd Yamini Eats, a recent S.F. transplant, told me I needed to have a second solo meal at her favorite Thai spot, Kin Khao.

“You should go,” she said spurring me on when I groused that they closed for lunch at 2 p.m. Soon enough though I was on the BART and even sent Chef Pim a note that I might be stopping in. Truth be told I was feeling the need for a long walk and the restaurant was a little too close to the BART to fit that in.

Nevertheless I bit the Thai birdseye chili and made my way over to the restaurant in the Parc 55 Hotel to find it still hopping at 1:30 p.m. Soon I was seated at a communal table perusing Kin Khao’s menu and eying the chicken wings in front of the couple next to me. “They’re really hot,” the dude said of the trio of meaty flappers that the menu dubbed “Pretty Hot Wings.” Moments after that Chef Pim herself stopped by to say hello. (more…)

05/27/19 8:42pm

Korean blood sausage soup at Tang.

The other day I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal piece on the staggering diversity of Asian fried chicken now available in New York City. Besides Korean, there’s now Filipino, Taiwanese, and Thai, to name just a few. The reporter and I talked about how most everybody loves fried chicken, but how their are other Asian dishes that aren’t as easily accepted by Western palates.

“Korean Fried chicken is an easier sell than Korean blood sausage,” I quipped. You don’t have to try too hard to sell me on soondae though. I like the Korean blood sausage shot through with dangmyeon or glass noodles plain with salt and red pepper as it’s served at many Korean takeout spots in Murray Hill. I also like it in the hearty pork bone soup soon dae gook, which I enjoyed for dinner last night at Tang.

Like fried chicken though, in Queens there’s a blood sausage for almost every culture: Argentine morcilla, Irish black pudding, and Tibetan gyuma are among my favorites. So here’s what I’d like to know what’s your favorite way to enjoy this delicacy?

05/14/19 12:14am

Fare from Tibet, Xinjiang, and Thailand make it the most diverse food court in New York City’s most diverse borough.

Like many of my fellow Queens food nerds I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of HK Food Court in Elmhurst. It’s been in the works for so long, that I didn’t think it was going to happen especially since the owner also operates a less than stellar food court in the basement of Hong Kong Supermarket in downtown Flushing.

Then last Saturday my buddy Ron and I poked our heads in to see almost all the booths set up. “Come back Monday,” a worker told us. So I came back. In fact I’ve been back four times so far. You might expect to find HK food, but the name refers to the fact that the culinary wonderland is built on the former site of Hong Kong Supermarket’s Elmhurst location.

The Chinese name “xiang gang mei chi cheng,” actually translates to “Hong Kong Gourmet Food Court.” Even thought it’s not even fully occupied I haven’t been this excited about a food court since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Shopping Mall. “It’s one thing to have to go to Main and Roosie for something like this, but to have this around the way is amazing,” I overheard someone say to their tablemate. Indeed! Here’s a look at what I’ve eaten so far.

Lamb ‘polo’ by way of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region and Elmhurst.

Xinjiang House (No. 17) sits between one of the food court’s numerous Thai vendors and the sole Vietnamese outfit. It specializes in fare from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese name “Hui Wei Xinjiang” translates to “Xinjiang Muslim taste,” and the bill of fare features plenty of lamb. I tried a lovely Xinjiang lamb pilaf ($7.99), or polo as as the gent behind the counter called it. The fat grains of rice were shot through with fatty chunks of lamb, raisins, and barberries and just enough carrot for sweetness. Next time, I’m getting the spicy lamb feet ($15.99).

On the day I tried Xinjiang House I took a peek at Khao Ka Moo NYC, a Thai pork specialist to the left. A burnished pork shank redolent of five spice and other aromatics sat luxuriating in a steam table with eggs and greens. I was already full, but plotting my return.

(more…)