Fare from Tibet, Xinjiang, and Thailand make it the most diverse food court in New York City’s most diverse borough.
Like many of my fellow Queens food nerds I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of HK Food Court in Elmhurst. It’s been in the works for so long, that I didn’t think it was going to happen especially since the owner also operates a less than stellar food court in the basement of Hong Kong Supermarket in downtown Flushing.
Then last Saturday my buddy Ron and I poked our heads in to see almost all the booths set up. “Come back Monday,” a worker told us. So I came back. In fact I’ve been back four times so far. You might expect to find HK food, but the name refers to the fact that the culinary wonderland is built on the former site of Hong Kong Supermarket’s Elmhurst location.
The Chinese name “xiang gang mei chi cheng,” actually translates to “Hong Kong Gourmet Food Court.” Even thought it’s not even fully occupied I haven’t been this excited about a food court since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Shopping Mall. “It’s one thing to have to go to Main and Roosie for something like this, but to have this around the way is amazing,” I overheard someone say to their tablemate. Indeed! Here’s a look at what I’ve eaten so far.
Lamb ‘polo’ by way of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region and Elmhurst.
Xinjiang House (No. 17) sits between one of the food court’s numerous Thai vendors and the sole Vietnamese outfit. It specializes in fare from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese name “Hui Wei Xinjiang” translates to “Xinjiang Muslim taste,” and the bill of fare features plenty of lamb. I tried a lovely Xinjiang lamb pilaf ($7.99), or polo as as the gent behind the counter called it. The fat grains of rice were shot through with fatty chunks of lamb, raisins, and barberries and just enough carrot for sweetness. Next time, I’m getting the spicy lamb feet ($15.99).
On the day I tried Xinjiang House I took a peek at Khao Ka Moo NYC, a Thai pork specialist to the left. A burnished pork shank redolent of five spice and other aromatics sat luxuriating in a steam table with eggs and greens. I was already full, but plotting my return.
Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork. (more…)
I’ve been passing Moo Thai Food and its logo of a silhouetted black pig for months. The other day I finally tried it for lunch. Despite the name this tiny new spot from the owners of neighboring Eim Khao Man Gai makes only one type of Thai food, khao moo daeng, or pork and rice.
Moo, whose name means pig, offers several types of pork: sweet sausage, red tinged slices that call to mind char siu, and slabs of fried pork with incredibly crunchy skin. Both my dining partner and I chose Set 1, which combines all three. It’s served with a sweet, pork-enriched sauce, egg, and some cursory greenery. The sidecar of soup, which I suspect is the same broth used at Eim, rounded it all out for a nice lunch.
When it comes to roast pork and crunchy pork the first two cuisines I think of are Chinese and Filipino. Thanks to Moo I can now add Thai to that mix when the pork craving hits as it so often does.
Meaty pork spine lurks beneath a blanket of green chilies.
It’s no secret Arada Moonroj, the lady who brought Lanna cuisine to Elmhurst’s Thai Town is a fan of the pig. The menu at her restaurant Lamoon features every part of the beast, from brain and blood to belly and bits of ear in the sai aua sausage. The latest addition? Spine as featured in leng zabb, a spicy soup of slow-cooked meaty ribs and vertebrae.
The bones are stewed for hours until they give up their marrow and collagen and the whole lot is finished with fish sauce, fresh lime and showered in green chilies, cilantro, and garlic. The menu describes it as “brutally spicy,” but I wouldn’t characterize it as a challenge dish along the lines of the phaal at Brick Lane Curry House. It certainly got my attention and gave me the sniffles, but it’s more of a bright chili heat than the incendiary burn often associated with the phrase “Thai spicy.”
It was quite satisfying to suck every last but of meat and marrow from the bones, but it would be nice to have had some plastic gloves to aid in wrangling the bones. One thing’s for sure though, the lime juice, chili, and garlic should spell the end of this lingering midwinter cold.
My friend Cherry—the bundle of wacky energy that is the creative force behind Elmhurst’s best Thai boat noodles—has been saying I should stop by her joint Pata Cafe when she’s there cooking on Tuesdays. I’ve been there before, but since the cafe, part after school hangout with French fries and part Thai hawker food, was just given a Michelin Bib Gourmand, I figured a return visit was in order.
When I arrived, she reminded me of a special chicken dish, gai tod hat yai, that she had started making according to the recipe of Sunisa Nitmai who runs the kitchen at Pata Cafe. Named for the Southern city of Hat Yai where it first became popular, it is indeed quite special, crunchy and flavorful thanks to a marinade that includes coriander, coconut milk, cumin, and black pepper among other things. It’s served with a sweet chili sauce and nam jim jaew, a spicy funky mix of fish sauce and chili bolstered by roasted rice powder. It needs neither.
“The trick is you have fry them and make sure it’s crispy and not overcooked,” Cherry says, making it out to be far easier to make than it is.
Pata Cafe, 56-14 Van Horn St., Elmhurst, (347) 469-7142
Now that summer is here in full sweltering force it’s time for a listicle that’s as chill as an icicle. Herein, seven of my favorite frozen treats ranging from traditional Thai and Mexican icees to some decidedly highfalutin ice cream and other treats. Feel free to chime in with your favorite frozen treat in the comments!
1. Baked Alaska, Spot Dessert Bar
There’s something about fancy pants ice cream that calls for skipping the cone. It’s as if there is a voice in my head saying, “This Tahitian vanilla bamboo charcoal swirl is for grownups. You can’t let it dribble down your chin, plus how will you possibly get a photo of it?” Which is why I’m glad that Spot Dessert Bar’s Baked Alaska comes in a cone. It’s not ice cream either, it’s sorbet, your choice of mango or raspberry. I opted for the latter. “Would you like to do a video?” the waiter asked as he brought over the meringue topped cone over to the table with a torch. Just beneath the browned meringue sat the tart refreshing sorbet. “I should really eat more ice cream cones,” I thought to myself as I munched happily away. Midway through came a surprise, fluffy bits of chiffon cake followed by more sorbet. I definitely should eat more ice cream cones, especially when they have cake inside. I’ll be back for the mango. Spot Dessert Bar, 39-16-39-98 Prince St., Flushing, 917- 285-2187
2. Tao tueng, Khao Nom I’m a big fan of shaved ice whether Dominican frio frio or Korean patbingsu, so when I saw that this Thai dessert specialist offered two kinds, I had to try them both. Tub tim krob, which features crunchy jewels of water chestnut coated in chewy jelly, in a sea of coconut milk syrup is strictly for the coconut fans, while tao tueng features longan fruit, barley, tapioca pearls, dates, and of all things potato. Somehow, it manages to make shaved ice seem healthy. Whichever one you choose, you’ll be glad that the brass bowl keeps it ice cold and even happier when the gal behind the counter offers a sidecar of extra shaved ice. I know I was. Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108(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…)
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…)
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…)
I’ve been eating at Hug Esan since it opened about four months ago and have tried about 95% of the menu, but there’s one item at the Northeast Thai spot I’ve always been curious about, Nile tilapia. If memory serves it was originally listed on the menu as “tilapia with Nile herbs,” leaving me to wonder what role Egyptian herbs might possibly play in Thai cuisine.
It turns out that the fish in question is actually known as Nile tilapia or pla thapthim in Thai, which translates to ruby fish. Today some friends and I tried larb pla nile krob ($18) as part of a food crawl of Southeast Asian Elmhurst.(more…)