01/01/18 9:39pm

C+M’s 17 for 2017

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

4. Savoriest Snooker Hall Cold Noodles
Perhaps a more apt name for Weekender Billiard would be Saturday Night Snooker, as that’s the game of choice for the Bhutanese men who gather there nightly. You don’t have to shoot pool to enjoy some of the tastiest cold noodles in Queens though. Bumthang puta—Nepal’s spicier answer to cold soba—is named for a district in Bhutan. The tangle of buckwheat noodles is pleasantly chewy and pleasantly fiery, thanks to an almost invisible coating of chili oil and a hint of Sichuan peppercorn that lends a lemony note. Weekender Billiard, 41-46 54th St., Woodside, 917-832-6903

5. Jazziest Jackfruit
I’m familiar with Indonesian preparations of young jackfruit or gudeg as it’s known there, but last year I tried a Thai dish featuring the gigantic fruit as part of Thai Diva’s special Northern menu. Tum kanoon ($11), a heap of stir-fried young jackfruit shot through with chilies and kaffir lime leaves, comes with pork crackling and cucumbers. The combination of heat and citrus will wake up your palate. Be sure to have some sticky rice on hand to temper the heat and soak up the flavor of the tum kanoon. Thai Diva Cuisine, 45-53 46th St., Sunnyside, 929-208-0282

6. Most Desirable Dongbei Lamb Skewer
There are many, many places in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown to get juicy lamb skewers seasoned with cumin and red pepper. The best one I had this year is also the largest. Kao yang tui—a specialty of Dongbei beer hall Desired Taste International is an entire leg of lamb. Salt, cumin, and sesame form a delicious crunchy crust that encases succulent purplish-red flesh. It’ll set you back about $90, but don’t worry it feeds five. Desired Taste International, 35-20 Farrington St., Flushing, 718-888-9622

7. Scariest Skate
I’ve read that hongeo-hoe, or Korean style fermented skate is an acquired taste. I doubt it’s a flavor that I will learn to savor in this lifetime or any others.  A group of nine of of us ordered the delicacy at Jeunju in Flushing’s Murray Hill. The translucent pieces of fish served with slabs of cold pork belly, cabbage kimchi, raw garlic, green hot peppers look innocent enough, but nothing can compare to its pungent ammonia flavor and aroma that calls to mind well-used kitty litter. Between nine of us we managed to choke down about two tablespoons of the stuff. Nonetheless I’m glad we tried it. Jeonju Korean Restaurant, 40-11 150th St. Flushing, 718-939-0434

8. Most Majestic Malaysian Pork Chops
It’s somewhat unclear whether these beauties from Pulau Pinang hail from Taiwan, or Malaysia, as the menu indicates. One thing’s certain though. The heap of ruddy colored gloriously craggy deep fried pork is magnificent. Crunchy, salty, and spicy—I managed to eat every last bit of it, which was no small feat. Pulau Pinang, 82-84 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-672-7380

9. Mightiest Ughuir Mutton Marrow
Hawkers stands serving mutton from China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are few and far between in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown. So I was glad to see a stand I’ve come to call Erqal Uighur open in the  New World Mall food court last spring. Lamb leg polo consists of a Uighur style pilaf shot through with fruit and carrots and a mutton haunch, side salad, and blob of sweet yogurt served atop a gigantic tortilla. If you can, try to get a shank with a hollow bone and a straw the better to enjoy your mutton marrow. Erqal Uighur, No. 5, New World Mall, 136-20 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing

10. Best New Donut Shop
Whitestone’s a long way to go for dessert, but it’s a trip I’m happy to make for the maple bacon donut from newcomer Honey Pig Donut Co. The shop’s signature creation fuses savory and sweet to creating a miniature lumberjack breakfast. Other varieties like those topped with Fruity Pebbles and Twix bars fall squarely in the sweet spot. I still  need to try one of Honey Pig’s rainbow cookie doughnuts. Honey Pig Donut Company, 14-31 150th St., Whitestone, 917-563-5253

11. Heartiest H.K. Comfort Food Combo
Shun Wang, an old school spot in Elmhurst, is a joint I’ve walked by dozens of times on the way to eat Thai, oblivious to the Cantonese comfort food within. Lately though I’ve been digging the HK lo mein topped with wontons and roast pork ($10.50). It even comes with a sidecar of broth for sipping or better dipping your noodles into. If it wasn’t three degrees outside I’d go get some right now! Shun Wang, 81-25 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718 -779-3330

12. Awesomest Ambassador of Indonesian Cuisine
I’ve been a fan of Chef Dewi Tjahjadi’s cooking since she owned Java Village in Elmhurst. These days she offers Indonesian home cooking—bubur ayam, bakso, and other favorites—every Tuesday at Indo Java Groceries in a popup that has affectionately come to be known as Warung Selasa or “Tuesday Food Stall.” In October Ms. Tjahjadi was honored with a review by the Times, but she’ll always be Chef Dewi to me. Indo Java Groceries 85-12 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 718-779-2241

13. Positively Post-modern Pandan Cake
When Khao Nom, the sweeter little sister of Thai steam table superstar Khao Kang opened this fall, I found myself underwhelmed by the desserts. And then they introduced what I’ve come to call the “Thai dessert burger.” A layer of luscious pandan sponge cake forms the bottom bun. Then come fluffy orbs of cream, all topped off with a disc of compressed foi thong, threads of candied egg yolk. It’s meant to be eaten with the dainty little fork provided. Instead, I picked it up with two hands, à la Wimpy.  Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108

14. Momo of Champions
There are many places in Jackson Heights to partake of momo, the dumplings beloved by people from the Himalayan diaspora, but only one can be the winner of the Momo Crawl. This year that honor went to Nepali Bhancha Ghar, an unassuming two-level cafe, whose name means “Nepali Food House.” Its jhol momo, which are served in a spicy chicken broth infused with plenty of garlic are truly  the momo of champions—and good eating on a cold night, too. Nepali Bhancha Ghar, 74-06 37th Rd., Jackson Heights, 917-999-0228

15. Tastiest Whole Thai Fish
The larbs at Hug Esan are lovely, bracingly acidic, funky and spicy. So I was mighty curious when the waitress told me about larb pla nile krob ($18), or crispy Nile fish with larb flavor. The crispy fried fish dusted with roasted rice powder and served with the same piquant lime and fish elixir and herbs that accompany larb is glorious. The burnished exterior is slightly sweet and crunchy as all getout. Beneath that glorious mantle, lies sweet succulent flesh. It’s so well fried you might well find your self fighting over the tail with your dining companions. Like all larbs it’s excellent with sticky rice and the accompanying cabbage and cucumbers. Best to order it “spicy” as the medium proved somewhat tame. Hug Esan, 77-16 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst,  929-328-0392

16. Most Intriguing Indian-Chinese Fish Fingers
Normally fish fingers are a dish that I would give a second—or even a first—thought. The ones served at Peter Lo’s Tangra Asian Fusion are a completely different story though. With their craggy crunchy coating, the ruddy chunks of fried fish are a dead ringer for KFC’s fast-food fried chicken. That crunchy spicy batter yields to a moist interior, that might in fact be mistaken for chicken. They come with a mint coriander dipping sauce, not that they need it. Tangra Asian Fusion, 39-23 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, 718-786-8008

17. Savoriest Indonesian Sushi
When it comes to sushi I like to think of myself as a hidebound purist, and I almost always avoid Southeast Asian restaurants with a sideline in sushi, with one notable exception Awang Kitchen. Like many of my fellow Indonesian food nerds I’m unabashed in my enthusiasm for this restaurant that opened last spring, giddily eating my through bowl after bowl of various baksos and other Indonesian delicacies. I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And then some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board, notably beef rendang ($10) which features tempe, peanuts, anchovies, and of course beef rendang, packed in seaweed with rice and cucumber a bit of peanut sauce and the requisite spicy mayo. With the crunch of the dried fish and the candy coated peanuts known as sambal kacang, it’s tempting to dismiss the rendang roll as just nasi lemak in roll form, but it’s really an entirely new animal, a true Indonesian fusion dish. It’s served with the same green horseradish and pickled ginger you’ll find at many other sushi spots on Queens Boulevard, but doesn’t need either. The bebek roll ($10), made with fried duck, and served with little blobs of sambal ijo made with roasted jalapenos is also excellent.  Awang Kitchen, 84-05 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 347-492-9264


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