“We’re here at Flushing’s oldest food court,” I tell my Chinatown tour guests as we stand outside the Golden Shopping Mall before descending the stairs to the gritty wonderland of regional Chinese food. “When I first came here, I had no idea what to order because everything was in Chinese,” I continue.
Once downstairs I point out Chen Du Tian Fu, noting that it has wonderful Sichuan food. Typically we forego the fiery fare at this stall in favor of Helen You’s Tianjin Dumpling House, which is a shame because Stall No. 31, downtown Flushing’s O.G. Sichuan street food specialist, is where a decade ago myself and many other non-Chinese speaking Chinese food nerds had our first experiences with Golden Shopping Mall thanks to a legendary Chowhound post by BrianS that translated the then all Chinese red and yellow wall menu. That translation ultimately led me to bring Chinese food expert and Sichuan food specialist Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Mall in the summer of 2008.
“They’re speaking Sichuan dialect. I love it, Sichuan dialect is so lovely,” Dunlop exclaimed as we tucked into a plate of fu qi fei pian, a tangle of tendon, tripe, and beef bathed in chili oil singing with ma la flavor. In the ten years since my visit with Dunlop, Golden Shopping Mall has been discovered. Zimmern, Bourdain, the Times, even Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien, who I once ran into dining there with his kitchen crew, have all taken a seat at the rickety stools.
When winter ain’t playin’, it’s time for Himalayan!
It’s been two years since Kamala Gauchan, my adopted Nepalese mother, decamped from Queens’ Himalayan Heights to Manhattan’s Curry Hill. Back when she held court in her shoebox of a restaurant carved out of a corner of Tawa Roti I ate her food weekly. These days I trek to her roomier spot on Lexington Avenue whenever I have a dental appointment. Which happened to be the case during Monday’s snow storm.
After a filling, it was time to fill my belly. When I entered Dhaulaghiri Kitchen, Gauchan and her crew had just opened for the day and a mantra to Ganesh—Om Gan Ganapataye Namo Namah—played over and over on the flat screen next to a signed photo of Andrew Zimmern. For a moment I considered jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy broth—but I knew soup was the ticket for a wintry spring morning. (more…)
Kanom jeen ngaew features pork blood, pork ribs, and ground pork.
Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is so robust that it can support everything from boat noodle popups to dessert cafes. The latest entrant is Lamoon, the hood’s sole specialist in Chiang Mai cuisine, from Chef Arada Moonroj who learned to shop at local markets and pick lemongrass and kaffir lime from her mother and grandmother back home in Northern Thailand. A profound dislike for the use of MSG in New York City’s Thai restaurants led her to teach herself how to cook by watching Youtube videos.
After cooking for friends she decided to open Lamoon, which is both a play on her last name and a Thai word that is perhaps best translated as subtle, or better yet, soigné. It took over the old Ploy Thai space about two weeks ago and features a decor that combines a feminine sensibility with Thai street art. (more…)
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.”
Winter’s cold and the attendant coughing and sniffling always call for a good bowl of spicy soup, and Thai noodle soup always fits the bill. Today a look at two of my new favorites: one a Japanese take on Thai green curry and the other an everything but the kitchen sink Thai pork soup.
First up the Queensmatic Green Curry ($17) from Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, which is an ajitama’s throw away from where Nas came up in the Queensbridge houses. Shimamoto learned to make a similar green curry ramen while working at Tokyo’s Bassanova Ramen. His curry paste hums with the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and bird’s eye chilies. At first I considered adding some chili oil, but as the heat pleasantly mounted I decided against it. (more…)
I’m not sure why, but it’s taken four decades of eating Chinese food for me to discover the wonders of HK noodles. My introduction to the wiry Hong Kong style yellow noodles began with HK lo mein combo at Shun Wong in Elmhurst. The massive portion of dumplings and lo mein comes with a sidecar of chicken broth as does an equally massive feed I tried at Flushing’s Shifu Chio.
I’ve passed Shifu Chio by hundreds of times, but had only eaten there once before. I scarcely ever look up at the faded red awning, which reads “Prince Noodle & Cafe, when I’m leading tours through the neighborhood. One day last week after perusing such whimsical menu categories as “Golden Oldies,” which includes fried fish cake lo mein, and “The Conservatives,” a septet of congees, including pig’s belly and liver I zeroed in on HK noodles. (more…)
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…)
In the 20 plus years that I’ve been living in Queens the strip of Austin Street that runs through Forest Hills has never been known as a hotbed of authentic Asian cuisine. In the past few years though, that’s been gradually changing. First came Violet’s Bake Shoppe, which brought top-notch bánh mì to the area and then Pink Forest Cafe, a Chinese-run coffee shop with a sideline in jian bing. The latest entrant, Xin Taste Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle opened a few weeks ago, just as winter was beginning to sink its icy claws into New York City. (more…)
It takes a lot to get me to eat Thai food outside of Elmhurst, after all Queens’ second smaller Chinatown is the best place in New York City for Southeast Asian fare. And takes even more for me to trek to Brooklyn for Thai food, but I’d been curious about Chef Hong Thaimee’s new spot in Williamsburg, Thaimee at McCarren since it opened back in September. So when my pal Matt Bruck invited me in for a tasting I hurried over there.
Four subways later I found myself chatting with Chef Hong and staring down a plate of yum woon sen, or magic noodle salad. Chef Hong says the magic comes from the fact the vermicelli—dyed an eerie shade of blue thanks to butterfly pea flower—changes to purple when lime juice is mixed in tableside. I disagree. The magic is in the brightly balanced flavors: palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, and garlic. (more…)
Surely Lhasa Fast Food’s “cold skin sushi” deserves Michelin recognition.
Earlier this week Michelin released its 2018 Bib Gourmand honorees, which “denotes establishments where diners can enjoy a great meal for a good value.” I’m glad the crew of inspectors from the little red book is focusing more attention on the so-called outer boroughs and happy to see they added my dear friend Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy to the list, but the Queens roster is still lacking. What’s more, Brooklyn and Manhattan are broken out into subareas (Upper East Side, Williamsburg, etc.) while the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens lack such distinction. If any from Guide Michelin is reading this, do look me up I’d be glad to consult with you on neighborhood geography for a modest fee. (For the record I live in the one called Rego Park.)
“I can name five more Southeast Asian restaurants that should be on that list,” read a quote from me in The Wall Street Journal’s piece on the Bib Gourmands. I can, but I won’t. Instead here’s a list of seven places of varying cuisines that should have made the Michelin cut.
1. Lhasa Fast food Everybody who’s into food knows about this spot, which Jeff Orlick hipped me to years ago. Call it a momo speakeasy if you must, but really what Lhasa Fast Food is is a window into another culture and cuisine that just happens to be tucked away behind a cellphone store. I like the spicy yellow liang fen done up to look like sushi and of course the momos, including the classic beef and the rarely seen chu tse, or chive version. . 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights