12/30/16 11:41pm

With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. It was a big year for me and for food in Queens, including a feature in Asahi Shimbun and the discovery of the durian pizza. In no particular order here are 16 of the best things I ate last year.

MRCRISPY

1. Best Grilled Cheese
Mr. Crispy, a grilled cheese sandwich served at Astoria Bier & Cheese answers the question, “How good can a grilled cheese be?” with a resounding “very, very good.”  The sandwich of cave aged gruyere, ham and honey mustard is coated in  mantle of white crispy cheese. This coating extends outward into a golden lacy corolla, a veritable halo of crispy cheese. It’s crunchy, sharp, and eminently craveable. I’ve haven’t been this excited about fried cheese since Joe Bastianich’s ill-fated Frico Bar. Astoria Bier & Cheese, 34-14 Broadway, Astoria, 718-545-5588

 

whitspie

2.  Most Fabulous F***in’ Clam Pizza
The salciccia e vongole pizza at Whit’s End is the best clam pie I’ve had outside of Zuppardi’s. Housemade sausage seasoned with clove, star, anise, juniper, and allspice join the Littleneck clams along with pepperoncini and shaved garlic. The combination of the fior di latte mozzarella and  Parmigianno Regianno round things out quite nicely. Whit’s End, Riis Park Beach Bazaar

 

HakkaHotChicken

3. Hottest Off-menu Indian-Chinese Chicken
Nashville may have cayenne-infused hot chicken, but here in Queens we have something I like to call hakka hot chicken. Peter Lo, Queens’ godfather of Indian-Chinese cuisine and founder of Tangra Masala, whipped up a batch for me a while back. The hacked up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic call to mind Dominican style chicharron de pollo with an Indian-Chinese twist. Tangra Masala, 87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298

 

4. Best Breakfast Sandwich
I count myself a big fan of the classic bacon egg and cheese, but my favorite breakfast sandwich of 2017 contains no swine whatsoever. The breakfast sandwich at Roast n Co combines organic eggs, tomato jam, and Cabot white cheddar on a brioche make for one of the best egg sandwiches ever. Since Roast n co is run by Tunisians you have the option of asking for a sidecar of harissa, a lovely concoction of chili peppers, olive oil, and paprika. It’s an option you should exercise. Roast n Co, 100-12 Queens Blvd. Forest Hills, 718-263-6000

The action at Majang Dong takes place out back.

5. Most Secret Korean BBQ Garden
Korean barbecue always brings to mind happy memories of backyard barbecues. At Flushing’s Majang Dong the Korean BBQ that takes place in an actual backyard. Chef Yu and his family run what some might call a Korean BBQ speakeasy. Sure there’s a storefront and inside you’ll find a restaurant, but the real action takes place out back in the shack and garden. Say you’re there for BBQ,  and Mrs. Yu will walk you out the back door into a Korean BBQ wonderland. Pork kalbi and pork belly are both lovely, and there’s eel and octopus for seafood lovers, but one of the best meats is grilled pork intestines. With a crunchy exterior and chewy interior, the fatty rings eat like an offal lover’s version of pork cracklins. Majang Dong, 41-71 Bowne St., Flushing, 718-460-2629 (more…)

12/21/16 4:41am
thaicongee

Sugar Club added Thai style congee to the menu just in time for winter.

Like much of New York City, Queens is now in winter’s icy grip. Unlike most of the rest the city though we have two Chinatowns and the most robust K-town in New York City, which is all a very long way of saying that there are many many options when it comes to Asian soups. Here are our seven of our favorites.

1.  Thai Congee, Sugar Club
“Thai people like the pork one,” the kid behind the counter responded when asked which variety of Thai congee was better. Earlier this week Sugar Club started selling the rice porridge, known as jok in Thailand, just in time for winter. The shop’s version ($6.50) of the ubiquitous Asian breakfast porridge features an egg stirred in, mushrooms, and a tangle of noodles. As for the pork it turns out to be lovely little meatballs. Doctored up with chili flakes and salty Golden Mountain sauce this combination porridge/noodle soup its a great way to ward off winter’s arctic chill. Sugar Club, 81-18 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-565-9018

beijinglamb

This lamb spine’s mighty fine.

2. Lamb Hot Pot, Beijing First Lamb Shabu
I’m no fan of Chinese style hotpot, but the stuff they’re making at Beijing First Lamb Shabu, (Lao Cheng Yi Guo in Chinese) is truly special, mainly because the specialty of the house isn’t traditional hotpot, but rather a rich lamb stew. Upon entering the Flushing branch of this Beijing chain I was floored by pervasive aroma of gamy lamb and five spice.  Like many hot pot joints there’s a ballot-like menu with all sorts of add-ins and soup bases. The difference here is that all of the soup bases feature a combination of mutton ribs and spine in a rich heady broth. Lao Cheng Yi Guo thoughtfully provides gloves so you can pick up the vertebrae and get at the ridiculously tender bits of meat that cling  to the lamb spine.  Someone once told me that eating lamb spine is a fertility tonic for men. I’m not sure about tha,t but Lao Cheng Yi Guo certainly put a smile on my face and warmed me up. Lao Cheng Yi Guo, 136-55 37th Ave., Flushing

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10/24/16 4:30pm
A double barrel of old-school congee toppings!

A double barrel of old-school congee toppings!

When I was a kid the old man would return from Chinatown laden with hong bao, lucky red shopping bags. Usually these were filled with dried mushrooms, superior soy sauce and other ingredients. There treats were for me and him—lo mai gai, packets of sticky rice—and treats of a sort for my Mom, notably congee.  (more…)

09/14/16 1:25pm
Ejen's Korean noodles are just one of many dishes that will be served at the Mid-Autumn Asian Feastival.

Savor Ejen’s Korean noodles at the Mid-Autumn Asian Feastival.

Queens has long been home to New York City’s real Chinatown. In addition to tons of top-notch regional Chinese food the borough boasts some of the best Asian food in New York City. That’s why C+M is proud to partner with LIC Flea & Food for the first-ever Mid-Autumn Asian Feastival being held all this weekend from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Join us to experience the flavors of Korea, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand at this very special festival. There’s only one place this weekend to enjoy Indian dosa, Taiwanese fried chicken, Korean noodles, Indonesian satay, and Japanese ramen and that’s the Feastival! (more…)

08/21/16 10:19pm
sotomie

Spring rolls in your beef noodle soup because why not!

For at least a year my go-to order at Elmhurst’s Asian Taste 86 has been a steaming hot bowl of soto ayam, a bracing yellow chicken soup topped with garlic powder and extra sambal. On a recent visit I broke out of my Indonesian chicken soup habit to try something different: soto mie. (more…)

07/26/16 7:51am
kapitam

Sky Cafe’s crab noodles feature the cutest fish balls ever.

There’s nothing quite as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Here in Queens, we’re fortunate to have many varieties from mellow matzo ball to fiery pozole rojo. One of my favorite approaches to the dish is what I like to call the deconstructed Indonesian chicken noodle soup as served at Elmhurst’s Sky Cafe.

Mie komplit is a two-bowl affair. One vessel contains a light chicken broth, while the other holds egg noodles mixed with chicken and mushrooms and some greenery. Sip them separately or add one to the other, the choice is yours. (more…)

05/09/16 11:47am
bakso1

Indonesian comfort food returns to Elmhurst.

Java Village, an Indonesian steam table joint in Elmhurst, was once a staple of my Southeast Asian food tour. Typically a tour would start with an order of kwetiau Jakarta, a stir fry of Indonesian broad noodles with beef tripe and tendon. Chef Dewi also served one of my favorite comfort foods bubur ayam, congee with fried chicken and a salted egg. Then one day about five months ago Chef Dewi and Java Village vanished.

Last Monday I stopped by Indo Java Grocery to inquire after Dewi’s whereabouts. I was ecstatic to learn that she cooks there every Tuesday. The next day I returned expecting to find a selection of prepared foods for take home. Instead Dewi directed me to a tiny table in the back of the shop.  It was laid out with a purple tablecloth that read “Happy Birthday!”  (more…)

01/03/16 12:29pm

Now that the streets around Times Square are almost cleared of New Year’s Eve confetti and I’ve digested several plates of lucky New Year’s noodles it’s time to take a look back at 2015. It was a big year for me, including a profile in The Wall Street Journal. Queens  continued to amaze with everything from octopus tacos and Thai noodles to Caribbean Chinese and the most unlikely French patisserie ever. In no particular order here are 15 of the best things I ate last year.

CHERRYDRYNOODLE

Tom yum haeng topped with fried pork sugar and chili.

1. Yummiest dry tom yum
The weekend noodle soup pop-up at Elmhurst’s Pata Paplean remained on point, but one of my favorites there wasn’t a soup at all. Tom yum haeng—dry tom yum noodles—consists of springy yellow noodles, fish balls and golden shards of fried pork all dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chili, and cilantro. Mix it all up and dig into the best dry noodles in Thai Town.

BIGELOWS2

2.  Tastiest deep-fried seafood nostalgia
The cheery blue and white Bigelow’s Seafood has been around for more than 70 years. After driving by it for about that amount of time, I finally had the privilege of trying it this past spring. These wizards of the fryer turn out impeccable Ipswich clams, fried smelts, shrimp, and soft shell crabs all served in an atmosphere that time and cholesterol have forgotten.  (more…)

10/26/15 9:14am
sotoayam

Asian Taste 86’s soto ayam topped with shrimpy-garlicky koya powder.

“Ah yes I remember you from last time,” the waitress from Asian Taste 86 said. “Soto ayam, with lots of sambal.” Last time was a month ago when I had a cold and had come seeking comfort in the form of the yellow Indonesian chicken soup known as soto ayam. When I have a cold I tend to subsist on matzo ball soup from Knish Nosh and gingery chicken and rice soup spiked with plenty of garlic and chilies from Eim Khao Man Gai. Usually I reach a point where I bring out the big guns, like a bowl of the Indonesian chicken soup, with plenty of fiery sambal and lime. (more…)

10/05/15 1:29pm

The meganightmarket/food hall known as Bourdain Night Market that will rise on Chelsea’s Pier 57 development in some two years is being hailed as the most exciting development in the food scene since white people, including myself and Tony B., discovered Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall. Anthony Bourdain and Stephen Werther have tapped some major talent, including hawker food expert KF Seetoh and The Street Vendor Project—the nonprofit behind the Vendy Awards—to curate a dozen stalls. I’m excited to try Singapore’s Geylang Claypot Rice and the uni tostadas from Sabina Bandar of Ensenada, Mexico.
“It will be all transparent and authentic…not sterile, but chaotic in a good way, with hawkers and vendors and places to eat,” Bourdain tells Florence Fabricant in last week’s Times. “Where in this city can you have that?” Where indeed!!?? Why Queens, of course. Without further ado here are seven spots we’d love to see find a home in Bourdain Market.

pedro

1. La Esquina del Camaron Mexico
Pedro Rodriguez is a mixologist of sorts, but instead of mescal or tequila his cocktails contain shrimp and octopus. His Mexican seafood cocktail mise en place includes olive oil, limes, onions, cilantro, avocado, and a tomato-based sauce. Doctored up with a goodly splashe of Valentina hot sauce and served with saltines, a cup of his signature creation brimming with tender octopus and shrimp is a meal in itself. Rodriguez operates out of a sparkling clean kitchen in a bodega on Roosevelt Avenue. Lately he’s branched out to include other delicacies like octopus tostadas. La Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano, 80th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (347) 885-2946 (more…)