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…)

06/20/16 12:51pm
patningsoo

Nuts and dried fruit top this frosty Korean treat.

When summertime rolls around, my heart, mind, and stomach turn toward frosty treats. Here in Queens we’re lucky to have so many to choose from. There’s everything from old school institutions like Eddie’s Sweet Shop and The Lemon Ice King of Corona to new fangled creations like Snow Days, plus shaved ice creations from all over the globe, including Mexico,Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, and Korea.

Pat bing soo, or Korean shaved ice typically consists of a small glacier of ice topped with red beans, fresh fruit, and condensed milk. Lately a newer version of the treat has appeared on the scene, a “well-being” variety that skips the red beans and condensed milk, favoring other ingredients like nuts and mochi. My favorite version of this pat bing soo subspecies can be had at Ye Dang, a shop on the further reaches of Queens’ vast K-tropolis. (more…)

05/04/15 10:12am
BOHIO3

The frio frio man’s new flavor tastes like a tropical vacation via Corona.

There’s no surer sign for this Queens kid that spring’s here and summer’s around the corner than the emergence of the frio frio man, a Dominican shaved ice vendor, in the window of El Bohio Grocery. Bottles of fruit flavored syrup—tamarindo, naranja, limon, coco, and frambuesa—line the counter along with a 75-pound block of ice. By the time I arrived on a sunny late afternoon last week the glacier had been whittled down to about 25 pounds by the shuss shuss shuss of his scraper. If Benfaremo is the Lemon Ice King of Corona then this gentleman is surely Corona’s El Rey del Frio Frio Dominicano. (more…)

07/15/14 1:45pm
UBOLCRAB

In Manhattan som tom poo plara comes with a nutcracker.

One of my favorite cuisines to eat in the dog days of summer is Thai. And one of my favorite dishes is som tom poo plara. There are many types of som tom, or Thai papaya salad. This one though, with its addition of salty preserved crab and pickled fish, is particularly bracing. The chili heat and fishy funk along with the cool crunchy papaya are most restorative on a sweltering day.

My favorite spot for som tom poo plara used to be Poodam’s in Astoria where Ratchanee “Poodam” Sumpatboon made a bangup version. Multiple napkins where involved as I’d pick up the blue crab and suck out the salty flesh dredging balls of sticky rice through the liquor at the bottom of the plate. (more…)

08/13/13 10:24am
A Korean Cronut knockoff has landed in Flushing.

A Korean Cronut knockoff has landed in Flushing.

With all the time I spend in Flushing it’s hard to believe that it’s taken me this long to patronize Paris Baguette. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it was the Korean bakery’s Cronut knockoff that finally lured me across the threshold.

“You can’t take pictures here,” said a beret wearing young man dressed in a striped shirt more commonly seen on French mimes. “Discover the dessert that’s taking over Manhattan,” read a sign above the croissant-doughnut hybrids. “Decadent and yummy,” it continued. I don’t often succumb to the lures of food faddery, but Cronut curiosity got the best of me. There is no way in hell I am waiting on line at 5 a.m. outside of Dominique Ansel for any pastry, no matter how hyperbolically delicious. So I considered getting one of Paris Baguette’s  Croissant Donuts ($3.50) to be the next best thing. It was indeed “decadent and yummy,” topped with lemon zest and filled with a vanilla cream. (more…)

07/15/13 3:07pm
This Thai shaved ice packs a sugary wallop.

This Thai shaved ice packs a sugary wallop.

Shaved ice is a refreshing summertime favorite for this hot-blooded Italian-American. Latino versions of the treat skew toward minimalism, just some flavored syrup and perhaps a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. In Asia it’s a more elaborate affair, often featuring red beans, boba, pudding, and fruits. The most elaborate one I’ve encountered is the nam khaeng sai ($5), at Tea Cup Café. (more…)

06/07/13 12:33pm
Despite the name the newly opened Hot Spot specializes in shaved ice.

Despite the name the newly opened Hot Spot specializes in shaved ice.

Come summertime one of my favorite ways to chill out is shaved ice, whether of the Dominican or Taiwanese variety. So I was pleased when Hot Spot, a new Taiwanese shaved iced stand opened on Main Street a few days ago. It’s affiliated with the late Ice Fire Land, hence the name. Situated in front of an apothecary, it’s the only grab-and-go shaved stand in Flushing’s Chinatown. (more…)

05/31/13 11:29am

Uncle John’s hot links are revelatory.

O.G. ethnic food scribe Robert Sietsema is back in the saddle with a new column at Eater, which specializes in microneighborhoods. First up Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with Pakistani goat feet and some stupendous sounding khachapuri, from Georgian Bread.

James Boo is also on the khachapuri trail, with a 1 Minute Meal video for Serious Eats New York about the tasty cheese-enriched bread, as baked by Shorena Dalakishvili, who says that in Georgia, “Everywhere, everybody have khachapuri.” No word on whether everybody weighs 300 pounds.

And SENY’s J. Kenji López-Alt has a stunning report on the “Holy Grail of New York Sushi,” including hotaru ika, baby firefly squid smeared with kani miso, a paste made from the guts of cooked crabs. J.K. writes: “This one is no joke—you have to like intense ocean aromas to get past its take-no-prisoners approach to flavor.” Sounds great J.K., I’m all about intense ocean aroma and flavor. (more…)

05/08/13 10:50am
This bowl of shaved ice holds a warm, chewy surprise.

This bowl of shaved ice holds a warm, chewy surprise.

Along with the cold Korean soup naeng-myun, Taiwanese shaved ice is one of my favorite ways to cool off when humidity starts to make me overheat. Ice Fire Land, a hotpot shaved ice hybrid owned by Timothy Chuang, used to be my favorite place to get a bowl of this refreshing sweet treat. Chuang has changed the name of his restaurant to Taipei 101, for Taiwan’s gleaming office tower. Hotpot’s been replaced by an ambitious menu of Taiwanese fare, but the shaved is still there on a separate menu.

I was glad to know that I could still get shaved ice when I walked in yesterday. “Pudding, pineapple,condensed milk,” I said pausing to ask Mr. Chuang, which of the many balls tapioca, taro,or yam were the chewy ones. “They’re all chewy,” he said, so I settled on yam. (more…)

04/16/13 12:25pm
Sweet and cold, El Bohio’s shaved ice is a harbinger of even warmer days.

Sweet and cold, El Bohio’s shaved ice is a harbinger of even warmer days.

Forget that groundhog. The real indicator of the arrival of warm weather is the ice cream man. Or in Corona, the shaved ice man, specifically the dude who sets up in the window in front of El Bohio Grocery. The other day after eating enough Thai food for an army I took a long walk up Roosevelt Avenue and was delighted to see that El Bohio’s shaved ice—or frio frio as Dominicans like to call it­—was in full effect. (more…)