03/24/14 9:35am

Eim Khao Mun Kai is the latest addition to Elmhurst’s Thai scene.

The first thing I noticed about Eim Khao Mun Kai was the chorus line of bald chickens hanging from what looked to be a street food set-up. The second thing was the aroma. The perfume of gingery rice and chicken stock was incredibly comforting. Eim serves one thing and one thing only: Thai style chicken and rice or khao mun kai, known elsewhere in Southeast Asia as Hainanese chicken and rice. In fact it’s listed on Eim’s menu as Hainanese chicken and rice. After walking by the month-old shop twice while on the way to a bowl of cold busting soup at Pata Paplean, I finally gave Eim a try. (more…)

03/12/14 12:01pm

Photo: Sarah Drew

Like many a fresser I’ve always thought of the newly reopened Sarge’s as something of a third-string player in the delicatessen game. I’m glad to see an old school Jewish deli reopening instead of closing for good, but I’m not as excited about Sarge’s as some like my pal Noah Arenstein who has been kind enough to share his thought about this underdog of delis in this guest post. Take it away Noah . . .

Sarge’s in Murray Hill has long been overlooked in favor of more famous deli standards like Katz’s, Carnegie and even the Second Avenue Deli, but for me, it’s as deep a New York deli experience as I’ve ever experienced. Of course, at first glance, 24/7 delivery anywhere in Manhattan impressed me as much as anything, but soon the food won me over as well. (more…)

08/20/13 12:28pm

The Himalayan culinary diaspora has moved southward to Elmhurst.

In the days before air flight a journey from Indonesia to Tibet required a boat ride across the Bay of Bengal and a trek through Burma, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, all told a distance of some 3,000 miles. In Queens—where time and space bend in strange, delicious ways—the two countries lie just down the street from one another. Or at least they do now that Himalaya Kitchen opened its doors a few days ago.

I first noticed Himalaya Kitchen the other day on a stretch of Whitney Avenue in Elmhurst better known for serving Indonesian fried chicken than Tibetan dumplings. I was leading a trek of my own, a food tour of Southeast Asian Elmhurst and Himalayan Heights. We’d already eaten plenty, plus the plan was to have those dumplings, or momo, at one of my favorite secret spots in Himalayan Heights. So I made a mental note to return to the new spot, which represents the southernmost Tibetan eatery in Queens. (more…)

07/26/13 10:25am


 The coverage of the imminent arrival of Los Angeles-based Umami Burger in New York City has been making me incredibly hungry. I’ve yet to try one, but as a kid who ate Accent out of the jar, I’m all about that fifth taste. Umami Burger opens in the West Village (432 6th Ave.) on Monday. CEO Adam Fleischman  took some time out of his busy schedule to answer Seven Questions.

What inspired you to create Umami Burger?
I wanted to approach burger making from a scientific way to make things more delicious. (more…)

05/14/13 9:48am
The newly opened Mamak House sits above the now defunct Hong Kong Noodle Shop.

Mamak House sits above the now defunct Hong Kong Noodle Shop.

At one of the many recent Southeast Asian lunar New Year festivals  my good friend Dave Cook of Eating in Translation spoke excitedly about a new spot in Flushing, “Mama Khao’s.”  At least that’s what I thought he said, until he informed me that the new Malaysian joint is named Mamak House, after the mamak who as I just learned from Wikipedia are “Tamil Muslims of Malaysian nationality, whose forefathers mostly migrated from South India to the Malay Peninsula and various locations in Southeast Asia centuries ago.” As Dave explained that the joint was started by a gal who runs a mamak-style catering outfit I thought, “Boy my Singaporean friends are gonna be excited about this place.” Whenever I talk to them about Malaysian food in New York City, they always say something to the effect of, “It’s OK, but it’s not the same as back home. The Indian influence is missing.”

Murtabak, savory little packages of ground beef served with pickled onions.

Murtabak, savory little packages of ground beef served with pickled onions.

Last week Dave and I met at Mamak House for a late lunch. As I walked in I recalled that it used to be a Dongbei joint with table cooking in fact, several of the grill tables remain. The menu, is filled with mamak specialties, including an intriguing weekend only dish: nasi ulam utara, rice mixed with more than 10 types of herbs and roasted shrimp. The back of the bill of fare is adorned with pictures of spices from the aromatic to the fiery. The murtabak ($6.95) , savory envelopes filled with ground beef, were subtly flavored with clove and other spices. A sidecar of sharp pickled onions accompanied the mellow Malaysian beef blintzes. (more…)

04/08/13 10:44am
Surely Zhū Dà Jiě's Lao Cheng Du deserves a slot on Eater's Queens Heatmap.

Surely Zhū Dà Jiě’s Lao Cheng Du deserves a slot on Eater’s Queens Heatmap.

Over the weekend Eater released its Queens Heatmap, a roster of a dozen of-the-moment restaurants, including the recently opened Alchemy, Texas, BBQ as well as C+M favorites M. Wells Dinette, Biang!, and  Chao Thai Too. The list highlights “recent arrivals . . . that the critics, bloggers, and restaurant obsessives are buzzing about right now.” For what it’s worth I don’t consider myself a critic but I’ll proudly fly the blogger and restaurant obsessive flags. I am pleased to say that there’s only one spot on the list that I haven’t been to, Casa Enrique.

In the past Eater has taken some, well, heat for its Queens Heatmap. As for this time around it looks pretty good. That said, I question the inclusion of Corner Bistro as buzzworthy. And I’d like to have seen Zhū Dà Jiě’s  Láo Chéng Dū, on a list of a hot new restaurants. So here’s what I’m curious to know. What do you think of the latest incarnation of Eater’s Queen’s Heatmap? What’s missing? What’s doesn’t deserve to have made the cut? Tell me in the comments or hit me on the Twitter, @JoeDiStefano.

04/03/13 2:42pm
Young and old alike came out for the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ last night.

Young and old alike came out for the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ.

Before there was Virgil’s Real Barbecue, before Blue Smoke, before Hill Country, before the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, and before New York City’s current love affair with Texas ’cue there was Robert Pearson. The British hairdresser caught the barbecue bug while working in Texas. He returned to New York City to open Pearson’s Texas Barbcue first in Long Island City, and then in the back of Legends Bar in Jackson Heights. I never got to taste Brit’s ’cue. And I’ve never been terribly impressed by successor outfit The Ranger Texas, Barbecue. Last night the smoky arts made a triumphant return to Legends with the opening of Alchemy, Texas, BBQ. The pitmaster behind this Texas barbecue homecoming is Josh Bowen of John Brown Smokehouse. Bowen knows a thing or two about ‘cue in general, and Texas ‘cue too having logged some time at Hill Country.

  Bowen seems to be in awe of his brisket.

Josh Bowen seems to be in awe of his brisket.

Much as I love the barbecue at Bowen’s original spot, it’s never been all that smoky. That’s because the each of the smokers at John Brown is just slightly larger than a dorm fridge. The behemoth that sits in the back of Alchemy is roughly one-third the size of a shipping container. Bowen is firing it with a mixture of pecan and oak. All the meats that emerge from  it—brisket ($22/lb.), prime rib ($26/lb.), beef ribs ($11/lb.), spare ribs ($10/lb.), chicken ($9/lb.), and goat ribs ($10/lb.) —are possessed of a deep smoke flavor and a truly impressive smoke ring. (more…)

04/01/13 9:55am
Coffee and cocktails combine thanks to a partnership between Dutch Kills and Sweetleaf.

Coffee and cocktails combine at the new Sweetleaf.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of the third location of third wave coffee bar Sweetleaf for months. When I heard that it would be serving cocktails from Richie Boccatto of nearby Dutch Kills I became even more intrigued. So the other day I stopped by, partly to get a jolt to ward off an M.Wells-induced food coma and partly to check out the joint. Coffee maven and Sweetleaf co-owner Rich Nieto fixed me a macchiato while I soaked up the atmosphere. The wooden bar is equally suited to downing an espresso or sipping a fine libation. Ditto the comfy chairs in the front. There’s even a design element that pays homage to the gantries which are just down the road. (more…)

03/07/13 10:15am
The English name still reads Prince Noodle House but his psot has undergone a transformation into Láo Chéng Dū.

Prince Noodle House has undergone a transformation into Láo Chéng Dū.

“My Mom has a new place, you have to come try it,” Zhū Dà Jiě’s son told me about a week ago. “Call me, she’ll make you a few dishes to taste.” Big Sister Zhū is widely known among Flushing aficionados for making some of the best Sichuan food around. She has had a succession of small-scale food court stalls, and was most recently at a Chinese bakery. And that’s the type of set-up I expected to find on Prince Street. When I saw that her new place was a full-scale restaurant, Láo Chéng Dū, I was very excited indeed.

With a restaurant kitchen at her disposal Zhū Dà Jiě now offers a full menu of Sichuan specialties.

Zhū Dà Jiě now offers a full menu of Sichuan specialties.

When I entered the place the staff were wondering why I was outside taking photos. In a combination of Mandarin and English I made it understood that I was friend of Big Sister Zhū. I was so happy when I saw her. After following her and her fantastic food around for several years we have a connection. Lately I have come to realize that seeing her and eating her food reminds of eating homemade pasta with Big Ann, my mother’s aunt. And just like my Italian-American family Big Sister Zhū and the staff decided to kill me with kindness laying out way more than a few dishes.


01/03/13 10:10am
Sister Zhu and her amazing Chengdu fried fish. Note the duck heads at right.

Sister Zhu and her amazing Chengdu fried fish.

“Savor Fusion’s been DOH’d what shall I do w/o Sister Zhu,” I tweeted in no small amount of distress after Flushing’s newest food court was shut down by the Department of Health in September. I’ve been eating at Zhū Dà Jiě  Chéng dū  Xiǎo Chī  (Big Sister Zhu’s Chengdu Snacks) in one incarnation or another for about three years. I’ve tried everything from springy dàn dàn miàn, noodles in fiery pork sauce, and homemade pork sausage scented with orange to the poetically named fū qī fèi piàn, husband and wife offal slices, actually cold ox tongue and tripe in an incendiary sauce, to Sichuan hacked rabbit. At Savor Fusion I became enamored of her má là yú, deliciously crisp fried fish, and a quite a deal at $6 for six.

Coated in Sichuan peppercorn and hot pepper these fish are killer diller delicious.

Coated in Sichuan peppercorn and hot pepper these fish are delicious.

I’d given up finding her ever again, and then she reappeared, in a bakery of all places. I’d stopped in with a friend to grab a coffee milk tea and a pork bun and then I saw them. There was no mistaking the cook behind the hotel pan of chili crusted fish on the counter. “Zhū dà jiě!,” I exclaimed pointing to the fish. And out she came from the back. “Hey, my friend. How are you,” she asked with a broad smile.  The pork bun was quite good, but what I really wanted was some fish. That crunchy, fiery fish that calls to mind Wise BBQ potato chips, had they been created in a Chengdu snack shop.

Sister Zhu has a new home.

Sister Zhu is lucky to have a new home.

I’m pretty sure my big sister from Chengdu has never heard of a pop-up restaurant, but I am ever so glad that she popped up where she did. The other week a buddy and I stopped in for some of that fish and an order of tofu skin with hot peppers. The crunchy coating of the fish sang with the classic  má là,or numb-hot flavor that comes from the combination of chilies and tongue-tingling Sichuan peppers. And the  hot peppers and chewy tofu skin called to mind a flavor from my childhood, hot sopressata.

I have a feeling that if Sister Zhu moves again I’ll be able to find her. Not because of some cosmic culinary connection, but mainly because I’ll be sure to keep tabs on her. It’s not every day one finds fried fish that good after all.

 Zhū Dà Jiě Chéng dū  Xiǎo Chī  ,Lucky Bakery ,44-35 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, 718-888-7771