Winter calls to mind warmer times—with plenty of good old-fashioned BBQ and cold beer to wash it all down. Which is why this month’s Queens Dinner Club will be a down-home Nepali style BBQ feast at Bajeko Sekuwa on January 28. Tickets are $52 and may be purchased here.
The new spot in Sunnyside whose name means grandpa’s BBQ was started by Dinanath Bhandari who used to grill sekuwa skewers at a hawker stand on the road to the Kathmandu airport. His once humble stand has grown into a mini-empire with 14 locations in Nepal, and just one in the U.S., in Sunnyside, Queens. (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…)
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
Normally Fish fingers are a dish that I wouldn’t give a second—or even a first—thought. In fact I’m pretty sure the first time I had them was at the inaugural Queens Dinner Club, held at Peter Lo’s Tangra Asian Fusion. At the time there was so much going on, the chef’s Tangra Masala fish fingers ($7.95) didn’t make much of an impression.
Recently Queens Dinner Club returned to the gaudy ballroom that houses Lo’s mecca for Indian-Chinese cuisine to celebrate our first anniversary. Everything was great, but my dining companion and I found the fish fingers to be particularly amazing. (more…)
Stir fried young jackfruit is symphony of flavors.
“You have to try the Northern style food at Thai Diva,” my friend Chompoo who knows a thing or too about Thai cuisine told me via Facebook a few weeks ago. And then when the Sunnyside restaurant was favorably reviewed by Eater critic Robert Sietsema another pal said,” I’ll try it if it passes the ‘Joe DiStefano’ test.” Well I’m here to say that Thai Diva passed with flying colors.
My first visit to Thai Diva was with my friend Joel who is even more obsessed with Thai food than I am. When he told his Thai friends back home in Boston that he was visiting Queens to eat at Thai Diva, they immediately began suggesting dishes. One of their recommendations was tum kanoon ($11) a heap of stir-fried young jackfruit shot through with chilies and kaffir lime leaves. It came with some pork crackling and cucumbers. I’m familiar with Indonesian preparation of the fruit wherein it’s cooked with coconut milk and aromatics to a brisket like texture. Tum kanoon is somewhat less mellow with a good amount of chili heat balanced out by the aromatic lime. Cucumbers and sticky rice help temper the fire. (more…)
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.
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.
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…)
As far as I know Robert Remler is the only person blogging about the bar scene in Queens. Sure, there are other blogs with cocktail content, but Robert’s beat is bars—and sometimes restaurants—hence the title, “Where to Drink in Queens.” He was kind enough to pen this lovely piece on The Alcove in Sunnyside, which sounds like a lovely place to ring in 2016.
Knock wood for a good 2016.
Not any wood, dude.
Knock your knuckles on the bar at The Alcove in Sunnyside. If you knock enough maybe prosperity finds you in Oh-Sweet Sixteen.
How The Alcove’s wooden bar top made it to Sunnyside is a story you can discuss New Year’s Eve. First, however, you need to discover The Alcove and hear the story told to you by the bar’s owner and operator.
Yellowtail tartare, so much more than the sum of its multicultural parts.
Four years ago when Danny Yi opened Salt & Fat it was pretty groundbreaking. After all, the only small plates Sunnyside had ever seen were the mezze from the local Turkish joint. Each meal began with a paper bag filled with bacon fat fried popcorn, a treat that evoked the restaurant’s name, and ended with a shot of probiotic Yakult yogurt drink, a beverage more commonly seen in Korean restaurants. It’s a touch that evokes Yi’s Korean heritage. In between there was an oxtail terrine that called to mind a meat brownie, shaved foie gras with bacon brittle, and a pork trotter transformed into a crispy panko breaded croquette crowned with a slow-cooked egg. (more…)
Hungry revelers waiting to get into last night’s Taste of Sunnyside.
Last night I had the privilege of attending the Taste of Sunnyside 2014, which was held underneath the 7 train. How fitting for such a diverse roster of eateries—Japanese, Romanian, Mexican, Italian, Peruvian, and gastropub to name just a few—to showcase their specialties underneath the International Express itself. Plus there were sweet tunes from New York City’s only all-female mariachis Mariachi Flor de Toloache, local subway jazz band Sunnyside Social Club and a cappella superstars Ten and Change. (more…)