The year that just drew to close was a year of personal challenges—coping with chemo via congee—and achievements—publishing a guidebook to Queens—all while eating my way through New York City’s most delicious and diverse borough. Herewith, are 17 from 2017.
1. Most Super Soup Dumplings
I’ve been a fan of Helen You’s dumplings since long before she became the empress of Dumpling Galaxy. My favorite at Tianjin Dumpling house in Golden Mall remains the lamb and green squash. Yang rou xiao long bao, or lamb soup dumplings, are one of the off-menu stars at Dumpling Galaxy. The little packages bursting with unctuous lamb broth are so good that they have become a staple of my Flushing Chinatown food tours. Dumpling Galaxy, 42-35 Main St., Flushing, 718-461-0808
2. Choicest Chang Fen
I cut my teeth on Cantonese steam rice rolls at Mei Lei Wah in Manhattan’s Chinatown, so this breakfast staple will always have a special place in my heart and stomach. About a year ago Joe’s Steam Rice Roll opened in downtown Flushing and I knew right away that it was somethings special. For one thing he’s grinding fresh rice as opposed to using rice flour like everybody else in New York City, which imparts a delicate flavor and texture. Turns out that Joe himself went to Guangzhou to learn his craft and brought the equipment back with him. My favorite is the shrimp and egg with green onion. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing
3. Duckiest Thai Arancini
OK fine, they’re not quite Italian rice balls, but the trio of crispy sticky rice balls served with Thailand Center Point’s larb duck with crispy rice ($13.95) do a great job of soaking up the piquant sauce. The shredded meat—mixed with roasted rice powder and shot through with herbs and just the right amount of chilies—is superb. Thailand’s Center Point, 63-19 39th Avenue, Woodside, 718-651-6888(more…)
A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.
Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, with one notable exception, Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.
It began with beef rendang ($10). Tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo make up this cross-cultural creation. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth. (more…)
Peruvian hot sauce and Taiwanese chicken, together at last.
For years Queens,which is renowned for offering food from all over the world, was sorely lacking in one area; the bánh mì,or Vietnamese sandwich. All that changed when JoJu Modern Vietnamese Sandwiches opened a few years ago. The Elmhurst shop offers a whopping 17 varieties of bánh mì. The 17th sandwich on that lineup, which includes everything from pork belly to green eggs and ham, is perhaps tastiest of all. It’s certainly the most modern and the most Queens of them all. The Lin-Sanity ($5.99) is a tribute to one-time Knicks superstar Jeremy Lin. It marries his Taiwanese heritage with one of the tastiest cuisines Queens has to offer, Peruvian. (more…)
The King of Hot Sauce is Dead! Long Live the King of Hot Sauce!
In this year of Cronuts, Ramenburgers, and other trendy Frankenfoods it’s easy to lose sight of one major story: the death of Sriracha. That’s right Rooster Sauce as some call the concoction of red hot jalapeños, garlic, and vinegar is over. Grab a seat at your favorite pho joint, cover your eyes, and stick a fork in the squeeze bottle because it’s just done. The demise of the fiery sauce that has had a place everywhere from cheap dumpling houses and Vietnamese joints to the kitchens of chefs like Michael Voltaggio and Jean-Georges Vongerichten occurred last month. And it had nothing to with the partial closure of the company’s plant in Irwindale, Calif., a few weeks ago. It started when Subway introduced a line of sandwiches using creamy Sriracha sauce. Some might argue that it began way before that with Lay’s Sriracha potato chips and Sriracha candy canes. I’ll leave such quibbling to those better versed in food trends. After all, today’s column is about a sandwich. And the sandwich in question is Subway’s Sriracha Chicken Melt. (more…)
For many years, my go-to spot for South Indian cuisine was Dosa Hutt the restaurant next to the Ganesh Temple in Flushing. After a walk through the park I’d reward myself with a crisp, buttery dosa ,a crepe of sorts made from fermented rice and lentils. Lately I’ve been hitting the Temple Canteen more than the Hutt, as it dovetails nicely with my food tours. The other day though I popped into Dosa Hutt and I’m glad I did. For I discovered the awesome snack that is fried iddly ($4.50). (more…)
Thanks to Gary Stevens for turning me on to this great piece on Wai Wai, the Nepalese snack that’s become something of an obsession for me. In it the author describes how the noodles eaten raw were the province of the cool kids in his school. Nice to know I’m finally one of the cool kids.
Max Falkowitz waxes rhapsodic about his favorite steakhouse, and it’s not Peter Luger’s, but rather Argentinean steakhouse El Gauchito in Corona. “The crust is a rich, purple-tinged mahogany, heavily dosed with salt; it gives way to a buttery, resoundingly beefy interior without a trace of chewiness,” he writes of the skirt steak. Have a feeling I’ll be going there soon. (more…)
Only in Queens can one find a Thai-Mexican fish sandwich.
Fish tortas are a rarity in my experience. And the Thai sardine torta is a new one on me. Leave it to Boyd Vic, owner of Tea Cup Cafe, a shop that sells everything from espresso and Thai desserts to Thai dumplings and Furbys to create a Southeast Asian spin on a Mexican sandwich. As soon as I saw the sign that read “Spicy Sardine Torta Sandwich $4.50” I ordered one.
“Can you eat spicy?”Vic asked as he assembled what is surely the only Thai torta in Queens. “Everybody makes ham sandwiches and tuna salad sandwiches. I wanted to do something different,” Vic said. This Thai torta is indeed something different. Really the only thing that makes it a torta is the bread. The roll is filled with sardines that have been warmed in the toaster oven, lettuce, tomato, fresh jalapenos, garlic, and a generous squirt of Japanese mayo mixed with pickled chilies.
It is of course the best—and only—Thai torta I have ever had. As sandwiches go it is pleasant enough, with a nice hit of spice and umami from the chili-spiked Japanese mayo. It is also apparently quite nutritious. When asked about the canned sardines Vic said, “I use a good one, with a lot of Omega-3s.”
When it comes to Vietnamese sandwiches, more is more. The number of times I’ve order a báhn mì pâté chả can be counted on the fingers of one hand. With its selection of Vietnamese cold cuts and schmear of pork liver pâté it’s all too often little more than a Hanoi ham sandwich. The special with crumbly crunchy, roast pork as served at a certain Manhattan jewelry store is my go-to báhn mì. This over-the-top báhn mì philosophy is taken to the nth degree at JoJu Modern Vietnamese Sandwiches, my favorite báhn mì spot in Queens. The menu boasts such creations as the Lin-Sanity ($5.50) packed with Taiwanese three cup chicken dressed with a spicy green sauce rarely seen outside of Peruvian roast chicken joints.
JoJu’s kimchi fries are an exercise in excess.
About a month ago JoJu added French fries to the menu. True to over-the-top form these include kimchi fries and a báhn mì version ($4), both available loaded with a fried egg for an extra $1.25. The fries themselves are double-fried to a shatteringly crisp crunch to stand up to all those toppings. The loaded Vietnamese sandwich version is as the kids say, ridonkulous. Freighted with pickled carrots and daikon; lashed with spicy mayo, spicy green sauce, báhn mì sauce, and crowned with a fried egg it’s the Elmhurst equivalent of a Rochester garbage plate. I was going to order the kimchi version on the same visit, but was absolutely stuffed.
The JoJu Classic gussied up with kimchi fries.
On a return visit I had the loaded kimchi fries. Feeling somewhat hungrier than the last time I also ordered the JoJu Classic ($4.25),which by this joint’s standard’s is pretty minimalist. Nevertheless the Hanoi ham sandwich was downright tasty. It was even better when crammed with some kimchi fries. Like I said when it comes to Vietnamese sandwiches, more is more.