Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
01/15/18 10:47am

Dumplings for days, well almost.

I’m not sure why, but it’s taken four decades of eating Chinese food for me to discover the wonders of HK noodles. My introduction to the wiry Hong Kong style yellow noodles began with HK lo mein combo at Shun Wong in Elmhurst. The massive portion of dumplings and lo mein comes with a sidecar of chicken broth as does an equally massive feed I tried at Flushing’s Shifu Chio.

I’ve passed Shifu Chio by hundreds of times, but had only eaten there once before. I scarcely ever look up at the faded red awning, which reads “Prince Noodle & Cafe, when I’m leading tours through the neighborhood.  One day last week after perusing such whimsical menu categories as “Golden Oldies,” which includes fried fish cake lo mein, and “The Conservatives,” a septet of congees, including pig’s belly and liver I zeroed in on HK noodles. (more…)

01/07/18 11:49pm

PappaRich’s lobster laksa.

Frigid temperatures call for noodle soup. One of my favorite warmups is a bowl of Malaysian kari laksa, which is how I found myself at PappaRich in Flushing the other day.

With its vast full color menu and decor featuring Edison bulbs and plenty of blonde wood the restaurant on the top floor of the One Fulton Square retail complex calls to mind a Malaysian Cheesecake Factory, with one major exception, the food is actually pretty good. (more…)

01/01/18 9:39pm

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…)

12/28/17 5:24pm

In the 20 plus years that I’ve been living in Queens the strip of Austin Street that runs through Forest Hills has never been known as a hotbed of authentic Asian cuisine. In the past few years though, that’s been gradually changing. First came Violet’s Bake Shoppe, which brought top-notch bánh mì to the area and then Pink Forest Cafe, a Chinese-run coffee shop with a sideline in jian bing. The latest entrant, Xin Taste Lan Zhou Hand Pull Noodle opened a few weeks ago, just as winter was beginning to sink its icy claws into New York City. (more…)

12/22/17 2:44pm

A rendang roll, with wasabi,ginger, and spicy mayo, natch.

Southeast Asian restaurants with sushi bars usually raise a red flag, and I tend to pass them by, 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. Until just last week though I’ve avoided the chef-owner’s sushi bar, harboring a secret wish it would eventually evolve into a satay station. And them some rolls with a decidedly Indonesian accent began to show up on the specials board.

It began with beef rendang ($10). 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 make up this cross-cultural creation. 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 it didn’t need either. Since the kitchen doesn’t make miso soup, I asked for a bowl of beefy, garlicky bakso broth.  (more…)

12/18/17 5:28pm

A platter of Uzbek soul food.

There’s an old Pat Cooper routine about pasta fazool. I misremember it as “When Mama would make pasta fazool in the winter I wouldn’t need to wear a coat.” No doubt that’s somewhat of an exaggeration about the warming effect of the humble beans and pasta dish. If there’s an Uzbek Pat Cooper—and I hope there is—I’d like to think that he tells the same joke about nakhot garmack a hearty veal and chickpea stew.

The menu at Taste of Samarkand—an Uzbek spot located in Middle Village a 10-minute drive from the restaurants that line “Bukharian Broadway” as 108th Street is known in Forest Hills—breathlessly describes nakhot garmack ($10) thusly: “veal tail braised for an eternity with chickpeas, until its soul leached into the surrounding broth.” I’m not sure about all that, but the veal stew topped with with raw onions and crushed red pepper, girded by slices of bread is definitely Uzbek soul food. The bread makes an excellent vehicle for the rich broth. And while the hospitality and stew at Taste of Samarkand will definitely warm you up, you’ll still need a coat.

Taste of Samarkand, 62-16 Woodhaven Blvd., Middle Village, NY 11379, (718) 672-2121

12/08/17 12:23am

Ma po tofu and homemade roasted fish are both standouts.

The entrance to Guan Fu— the latest in a recent string of higher end Sichuan openings in downtown Flushing’s Chinatown—is flanked by two formidable foo lions standing sentry outside a facade that calls to mind a temple or palace. Quite appropriate given that the black and gold plaque reads “Guan Fu Chuan Cai,” which translates to “Official Palace Szechuan Cuisine.”

I’ve been mighty curious about Guan Fu since it opened. My interest reached a fever pitch when Pete Wells bestowed three stars upon it this summer. So when the one of the owners reached out with a dinner invite I couldn’t say no. As I waited for my dining companion on a bench facing the entrance delicious aromas wafted towards me as the doors opened and closed.

(more…)

12/06/17 12:02am

Roasted marrow bones have no place in pho!

As the creator of a web site whose very name extols the virtues of Asian food and bone marrow you might think I enjoy the latest trend in pho, the add-on of a roasted marrow bone. After all what’s more comforting than a bowl of beefy noodle soup? And what’s more sumptuous than a cross-cut roasted marrow bone, its cavity filled with meat butter?

Just because they are both good separately doesn’t mean they belong together though. Because I am at heart a gluttonous carnivore, I want to like the combination, but it’s just a ploy by restaurants to jack up the price of a humble noodle soup while feeding ravenous hordes of Instagrammers. (more…)

12/01/17 9:21pm

Larb pla nile krob fried to shattering crispness.

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…)

11/17/17 4:29pm

Best Thai dessert hamburger ever!

Khao Nom, the sweeter little sister of wildly popular Thai steam table specialist Khao Kang opened about a month ago with the promise of old school Thai desserts and a short menu of savory items, my favorite being the sticky sweet and spicy chan noodles with prawns. Until recently though, none of the desserts has knocked my socks off. Sure they were good, but nothing revelatory. Dessert epiphany finally dawned the other week when I spied a tiny cake with a golden top and a spongy bottom sandwiching a layer of creamy spheres. (more…)