Last Tuesday I was on my way back from my weekly foray to Warung Selasa when I noticed a smiling Chinese man waving to me outside Broadway Food Mart. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. Then I realized it was Soybean Chen, the cheery face behind Flushing’s only spot for fresh creamy dou hua—silken tofu—and fresh flowers. The creamy, comforting pudding like tofu has long a staple of my food tours. I was curious what brought Uncle Chen to Elmhurst.
Soon he and his son Jimmy told me that they were opening a tofu stand in Queens’ second smaller Chinatown. Just like the original Flushing location, Soybean Chen’s Elmhurst satellite offers sweet ginger syrup and Chen’s spicy topping of pickled veggies, baby shrimp, and chili. It’s also added a few new toppings, including boba in ginger syrup, which I tried the other day.
I’m so glad that Uncle Chen’s tofu is now a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment. It’s sure to become part of my breakfast rotation as well as my Elmhurst food tours. By the way I have started giving tours to small groups once again. Please click here for more details.
As the No. 1 food fan in Queens, I was very pleased to learn tennis fans have some Queens-based dining options at this year’s U.S. Open. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop, Elmhurst’s JoJu is slinging classic bánh mì as well a bánh mì inspired hot dog and Helen You of Dumpling Galaxy is serving up her signature lamb with green squash dumplings and other goodies. It’s nice to see China and Vietnam represented, but Queens offers food from all over the world so here’s a globetrotting list of 7 of our favorite places from an Argentine steakouse and the borough’s only Burmese to one-of-a-kind only in Queens street foods like Peruvian doughnuts and amazing Tijuana style tacos.
1. Tijuana style Birria tacos at Beefrr-landia
Dozens of taco trucks and carts line Roosevelt Avenue as the 7 train rumbles overhead transporting tennis fans to the Open, but there’s only serving Tijuana style tacos: Beefrr-landia. The truck’s signature beef birria taco is filled with a ruddy beef stew scented with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, cloves, and a good dose of chilies. For a real treat get a side of consomme—a heady scarlet soup featuring more beef—and dip your taco into it. Beefrr-landia, 77-99 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 347-283-2162
2. Burmese at Asian Bowl
Despite its generic name and a menu that features such American Chinese standbys as General Tso’s chicken this spot run by Kyaw Lin “John” Htin and his wife, Aye Thida, has the distinction of being the only Burmese restaurant in the World’s Borough. Among the list of 13 thoke find the famous latphat thoke, or tea leaf salad, as well as the lesser known gin thoke. The latter is a tangle of shredded cabbage, ginger, and tomato shot through with briny dried shrimp and crunchy broad beans resulting an explosion of texture and flavor. It’s great paired with the crispy beef, which has been fried with onions and chilies until it shatters. Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-275-1888
3. Chinese Breakfast at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
This breakfast specialist whose Chinese name translates to Stone Milled Rice Roll King, is located just one subway stop away from Arthur Ashe Stadium. It’s a well-deserved moniker, owner Joe Rong and his crew make the lightest rice rolls around thanks to the fact that the grind their rice in a stone mills to create fresh batter daily. Fillings include shrimp, pork, beef and an assortment of veggies. The crown jewel at the King Joe’s though is the shrimp and egg topped with curry fish balls, soy sauce and peanut sauce. It’s even better with the complex homemade chili oil. Best of all Joe’s is open all day not just for breakfast. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
Leading culinary excursions through Flushing, Queens, is often hungry work, so I like to reward myself with a post food tour treat, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. Last Sunday, I shepherded a largish group of 10 folks through the bustling streets of America’s Greatest Chinatown and found myself hankering for something substantial afterwards. Which is how I wound up at the neighborhood’s newest fried chicken purveyor: Bone Man.
Despite the joint’s name I opted for boneless nuggets instead of the bone-in options, including regular old wings, chicken wing roots (wing tips), and chicken middle wings. I didn’t ask whether the folks behind the bird here are Taiwanese, but Bone Man distinguishes itself from most of the hood’s yen su ji joints by making a bird with a craggier, crunchier crust. The juicy chunks were sprinkled with red pepper and an aromatic spice mix that I’m pretty sure was just five spice, salt, and MSG. (more…)
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.
Top row: raw puerh tea from 2017, bottom the prized 1976 raw puerh.
Fang Gourmet Tea is one of my favorite places to take food tour guests when exploring the bustling neighborhood that is downtown Flushing. It’s a great way to get to know my new friends. Plus, they’re always surprised to find the oasis of calm lying at the back of a minimall, just steps away from the often chaotic energy of America’s Greatest Chinatown. The puerh tea that I typically order—Little Brick—is great for the digestion, and it’s always neat for my guests to see the bullion-sized break expand over the course of five steeps. (more…)
Chen Du Tian Fu, the stall that lies at the bottom of the stairs of Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall has been my favorite Sichuan spot for more than 10 years. I’ve even taken such luminaries as Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop and Anthony Bourdain there and once ran into Mission Chinese founder Danny Bowien and his staff.
I’ve tasted tremendously good cold noodles, fiery water poached fish, and superb ma po tofu, along with many, many other specialties from the vast menu. There’s one dish that never appeared, kung pao chicken, or gong bao ji ding as it is known in Chinese. (more…)
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.
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.
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…)
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.
Among all meats, lamb particularly the fatty ribs, might just be my very favorite. In my Rego Park stamping grounds, I’m especially keen on Uzbek style lamb rib kebabs, but as many of you know my favorite lamb ribs of all were the Muslim Lamb Chop as served by the now defunct Peng Shun Spicy Pot.
The other week my hopes were raised when my buddy Stanford and I saw a dish on the menu of Alley 41 listed as cumin roasted lamb chops. “Can you ask the waiter if it’s fried fresh?” I queried of my pal whose Chinese is way better than mine. Eventually after a phone call to his father, the question was put to the waiter in a sufficiently delicate fashion. It’s a question of crucial importance too, because the restaurant that brought the dish to Flushing, Fu Run, chooses to fry the whole thing beforehand and then reheat it, an unconscionable disservice to both the diners and the lamb itself.
I walked into Old Tang—a new spot just off the bustling corner of Main and Roosevelt in downtown Flushing—at least three times before finally trying the noodles. The first time they were under construction, but the other times I eyed the mise en place and upon seeing minced pickled green beans and fried soybeans asked the same question in my fractured Mandarin Chinese “Giulin ren ma?” And each time the kids behind the counter would patiently respond, “No we’re from Sichuan.” “Ah so, the workers are from Sichuan, but surely the food is from Giulin,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have to come back and try it when I’m not already full from leading a food tour.”