One of the things I heard most from my editors when I was putting together 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss was “Joe, there’s too much food on your list.” To which I mentally responded, “Don’t they know who they hired? I am the guy who ate Queens for chrissake!” Somehow I still managed to mention food and drink more than 40 times in the book. Herewith are seven of my favorites. To find out the others, you’ll have to score a copy. A great time to do so would be next Wednesday, February 21 when 111 Places in Queens Comes to Jackson Heights at Espresso 77. Ace photographer Clay Williams and I will even autograph your copy. Can’t make that? Come celebrate Chinese New Year at Leaf Cocktail Lounge with us on February 22nd.
1. Lhasa Fast Food
I’d love to take credit for discovering this gem of a Tibetan restaurant tucked behind a Jackson Heights cell phone store, but I can’t. Momo maven Jeff Orlick turned me on to it years ago. There’s nothing fast about the momo making here though. The reward for your patience? Juicy steamed beef dumplings that are amazing as is the thentuk soup featuring hand-torn swatches of dough. It’s such a special place it merited its own chapter! 37-50 74th St, Queens, NY 11372, 646-256-3805
2. Falafel slice at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar
This marvelous Middle Eastern mashup can be had at Benjy’s Kosher Pizza Dairy Restaurant & Sushi Bar. It combines two great street foods New York City pizza and Israeli falafel. Topped with half a dozen falafel balls, I like to eat it with tahini and hot sauce. In case you are wondering, this novelty slice did not get its own chapter. It appears as a tip at the end of the chapter on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s gravesite. 72-72 Main St, Flushing, 718- 268-0791
At this “city of bread” located in an Astoria strip mall everything is Greek, including the marble floors, tables, chairs and of course the hundreds of baked goods, which go way beyond bread to include traditional Greek cookies and 10 types of baklava. Each cookie has a story as owner Regina Katopodis told me. My favorite kourambiethes, butter cookies made with almonds and Greek brandy that are served at christenings. 23-18 31st St., Astoria, 718-728-8484
4. The Chestnut King
Tang chao li zi, or sweet roasted Tianjin chestnuts, are the specialty of the house at one of Flushing’s most unique hawker stands. Not only are the Chinese chestnuts smaller and sweeter than their Western counterparts, the way the King cooks them is pretty, unique too. Rather than actual roasting, they are cooked in a device that mixes the whole chestnuts with black pebbles heated by a gas jet. 41-28 Main Street, Flushing
5. Langar at Gurdwara Sahib
Not only is this Richmond Hill temple a place for beturbaned Sikhs to worship, it’s also a great spot to enjoy a free vegetarian meal or langar. Tucking into roti, daal, and dahi yogurt seasoned with salt and pepper while listening to the chants of “Wa guru” in the background is one of the most transporting culinary experiences to be had in Queens. 95-30 118th St., South Richmond Hill, 718-846-3333
6. Graveyard shift laksa, Curry Leaves
I haven’t had a chance to travel to Malaysia just yet, but I like to think that closest thing to being at a night market there is what I like to call the graveyard shift laksa at Curry Leaves. Served daily from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m., it’s worth getting up—or staying up late—for. Walk up to the counter and one of the ladies will ask what type of broth you want. I always get kari laksa, a fiery coconut-enriched broth. The next question is what type of noodle; I always get yellow, presumably wheat, noodles. Now comes the fun part, choosing from the dozen or so items to add to your bowl. These include fried tofu, several types of fish cake, long green hot peppers stuffed with fish paste, fried wontons, char siu, shrimp, veggies, and bitter melon. No matter how many items you add it’s unlikely that the bowl will run over ten bucks. It makes for a hearty late-night snack, or breakfast. 135-31 40th Road, Flushing, 718-762-9313
7. Pelmeni, Forest Hills Spa
Sure the chapter in the book focuses mainly on this authentic Russian banya and the treatments it offers, including a good thrashing with oak leaves, but there’s also a restaurant where you can get what I call the “pelmeni treatment.” The little packets of veal are served steamed with butter and sour cream or fried to a golden brown. Now that’s what I call some Queens style spa food. Forest Hills Spa, 59-21 Calloway St., Corona, 718-699-1919
Where’s number 3?
Good point and good eye!