Articles by

Joe DiStefano

Newsstand
12/02/19 5:08pm

Some scenes from two very intense days of eating and touring Tokyo, including deluxe salmon onigiri, Senso-ji temple, Asakusa noir, and breakfast omakase at Toyosu Fish Market.

As some of you may know I recently took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. Before getting into the wonders of Hirokawamachi—and there are many, from artisanal textiles to amazing matcha—this installment takes a look at what I ate in Tokyo. I would like to thank Kazuki Chito of @mcnaieatmecrazy who graciously guided me around Tokyo.

I’d arrived in Tokyo late the night before and hit the ground eating as best as I could. That is to say I ordered a sea bream ochazuke and some grapefruit juice from room service. The dashi broth poured over rice and fish proved most restorative after a long flight.

Luckily Kazuko-san picked a hotel attached to the Haneda Airport. Not only was this convenient for arrival, it was convenient for breakfast. Haneda’s domestic terminal and its shops lay just outside the hotel’s doors and is eerily calm and serene in the early morning. I quickly found Sato Suisan a gourmet rice ball stand. I was particularly impressed to see a gent making fresh onigiri with ikura, or salmon roe. I also took note of a really cute airplane-shaped bento named for the Blue Impulse (Burū Inparusu) the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s equivalent of America’s Blue Angels.

Next time I find myself at a Tokyo airport snack shop I’m getting a Blue Impulse bento box!

The ikura onigiri—still warm and packed with salmon roe and salmon—was a fine breakfast, but by the time we got to Asakusa at 1:30 p.m., I was pretty hungry. “This is my favorite place for tonkotsu ramen,” Kazuki-kun said as we entered Urimbo. “It’s Hakata style,” he pointed out as he ordered the noodle with egg. I quickly took my guide’s lead and copied his order. Even though the broth was rich, it was cleaner tasting and less unctuous than tonkotsu I’ve had in the States. It knocked out the remnants of a lingering cold I’d brought to Japan from New York City. (more…)

11/07/19 7:46pm

A bodacious haul of Japanese KitKats from Flushing’s Teso Life.

Now that fall’s here in full force I paid a visit to Teso Life in downtown Flushing to see if the purveyor of Japanese junk food had that most autumnal of Japanese KitKats—Kuranberi Almond KitKat. The dark chocolate covered wafers topped with toasty almonds and chewy sweet bits of cranberry are my all time favorite Japanese flavor.

There were no cranberry KitKats to be found at Teso, but I did see several  I’ve never encountered before: Setouchi Shio ando Lemon or Setouchi Sea Salt and Lemon; Ikinari Dango, named for a snack of sweet potato and red bean wrapped in mochi that’s popular in Kumamoto; Sakura Nihonshu or Sakura Japanese Sake; and Sutoroberii Chiizukeki Aji, or Strawberry Cheese Cake.

My favorites were the surprisingly refreshing lemon and strawberry cheesecake, which are both excellent chilled. Don’t worry if there’s no Japanese grocer near you, you can score your own Japanese KitKats and other goodies on my Amazon Store. Here’s what I’d really like to know though, what’s your favorite Japanese KitKat. Let me know in the comments!

10/28/19 12:40pm

Vibrant ceviche mixto, featuring shrimp and octopus, and the mighty bolon filled with pork, plantains, and mozzarella are just part of the evening’s menu.

Ask any old-school Queens food nerd, including yours truly, about Ecuadorean cuisine in the World’s Borough and the first thing that comes to mind will be the cluster of food trucks on Warren Street underneath the 7 train in Corona or perhaps the ladies who grill cuy—guinea pig—in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. About year ago though some very trusted Queens food nerds of a more recent vintage, like my pal Instagrammer @Wendalicious888 started to talk about a new place Rincón Melania on the border of Sunnyside and Long Island City.

“How good can it be? There are no Ecuadoreans over there,” I thought to myself. Good enough for a glowing review in The New York Times it turns out. Which is why I’m so glad that the next Queens Dinner Club will convene at Rincón Melania November 13th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

(more…)

10/15/19 12:49pm

Beef sukuti chow mein comes with a sidecar of two-tone hot sauce.

The jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy soul-warming tomato and chicken broth—are so good at Nepali Bhanchha Ghar in Jackson Heights, that I often forget there are other things to eat at the homey spot whose name means Nepali eating house.

For a long time those other things consisted of sukuti thali—a platter bearing a mound of rice and funky goat jerky—ringed by various tiny heaps of pickles, including bitter melon and radish, and a bowl of buttery lentil daal. That and the rice and ghee doughnuts known as tsel roti.

Not onion rings, but rather tsel roti, a rice ‘doughnut’ that treads the line betwixt savory and sweet.

The other day though I found myself at Yamuna “Bimla” Shrestha’s restaurant craving noodles. I’d often seen the cooks frying up batches of chow mein, but ignored that part of the menu due to jhol momo monomania. (more…)

10/07/19 6:52pm

The brunch scene back in the glory days of M. Wells Diner.

I know what you’re thinking, “‘Queens Brunch Club??,’ Joe hates brunch, and isn’t it called ‘Queens Dinner Club’ anyhow?” All true, but for this month Jonathan, Gabe (they hate brunch too), and I are changing the name of our little eating organization to Queens Brunch Club. That’s because we are hosting a brunch at M. Wells Steakhouse on October 26th. Make sure you don’t miss out on this very special dinner by signing up for our mailing list here.

“Québecois Chef Hugue Dufour of M. Wells has created a chef’s brunch for chefs that hate brunch. Not an egg or hash brown to be found here,” says Chef Jonathan. “Nothing but fantastical visions of food turned into reality.” (more…)

10/02/19 10:11am

Tong, a tiny festive Bangladeshi food stand, in Jackson Heights has the honor of being America’s first fuchka cart. This post is not about those amazing crunchy orbs though, it’s about aam bhorta, or Bangla style spicy mango.

For some 30 years I’ve been a fan of spicy South Asian pickle. It all dates back to a college roommate, Harold, who was the ringleader in many a Patak’s lemon pickle eating contest. Since then I’ve branched out to mango pickle. I’m especially fond of amba—the tangy Middle Eastern mix of pickled mango and turmeric—on my falafel. So when I learned Tong offered spicy mango, I had to try it. (more…)

09/26/19 12:04am


I recently had the pleasure of previewing the new menu from George Landin’s Corona Diner. Landin opened the diner—a love letter to Queens whose decor features references to nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park and a mural with a who’s who of Queens luminaries from Malcolm X and Louis Armstrong to Action Bronson and LL Cool J. Landin’s new menu is also a love letter to the diversity of Queens with items like a Mexican-inspired elote hot dog and an Ecuadorean ceviche.

It also features a roster of decadent hamburgers like one topped with mac and cheese and crumbled bacon and another whose buns are grilled cheese sandwiches. Those were all quite tasty, but my favorite item of the night was a somewhat more restrained number called the dia despues. (more…)

09/04/19 12:39pm

Doña Fela’s mighty chicharron con camote.

“You finally went,” my friend Greg, one half of the dynamic duo that is Food & Footprints, commented on an Instagram post of a Peruvian picarone—a lovely sweet potato and squash donut—at the Antojitos Doña Fela cart in Jackson Heights. I’d been trying to visit the Vendy nominated Peruvian snack specialist for weeks, but until last Sunday had missed the cart, which is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. only weekends.

“Do you have chicharron con camote?” I asked Doña Fela’s daughter, about the pork belly and sweet potato sandwich that’s a common breakfast in Peru. “Let me see, we might be sold out,” she said while I hungrily eyed a bunch of pork belly and camote, or sweet potato, sizzling on a corrugated cast iron grill. “One last order,” she said. (more…)

09/02/19 4:14pm

As the No. 1 food fan in Queens, I was very pleased to learn tennis fans have some Queens-based dining options at this year’s U.S. Open. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop, Elmhurst’s JoJu is slinging classic bánh mì as well a bánh mì inspired hot dog and Helen You of Dumpling Galaxy is serving up her signature lamb with green squash dumplings and other goodies. It’s nice to see China and Vietnam represented, but Queens offers food from all over the world so here’s a globetrotting list of 7 of our favorite places from an Argentine steakouse and the borough’s only Burmese to one-of-a-kind only in Queens street foods like Peruvian doughnuts and amazing Tijuana style tacos.

1. Tijuana style Birria tacos at Beefrr-landia
Dozens of taco trucks and carts line Roosevelt Avenue as the 7 train rumbles overhead transporting tennis fans to the Open, but there’s only serving Tijuana style tacos: Beefrr-landia. The truck’s signature beef birria taco is filled with a ruddy beef stew scented with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, cloves, and a good dose of chilies. For a real treat get a side of consomme—a heady scarlet soup featuring more beef—and dip your taco into it. Beefrr-landia, 77-99 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 347-283-2162

2. Burmese at Asian Bowl
Despite its generic name and a menu that features such American Chinese standbys as General Tso’s chicken this spot run by Kyaw Lin “John” Htin and his wife, Aye Thida, has the distinction of being the only Burmese restaurant in the World’s Borough. Among the list of 13 thoke find the famous latphat thoke, or tea leaf salad, as well as the lesser known gin thoke. The latter is a tangle of shredded cabbage, ginger, and tomato shot through with briny dried shrimp and crunchy broad beans resulting an explosion of texture and flavor. It’s great paired with the crispy beef, which has been fried with onions and chilies until it shatters. Asian Bowl, 101-11 Queens Blvd., Forest Hills, 718-275-1888


3. Chinese Breakfast at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
This breakfast specialist whose Chinese name translates to Stone Milled Rice Roll King, is located just one subway stop away from Arthur Ashe Stadium. It’s a well-deserved moniker, owner Joe Rong and his crew make the lightest rice rolls around thanks to the fact that the grind their rice in a stone mills to create fresh batter daily. Fillings include shrimp, pork, beef and an assortment of veggies. The crown jewel at the King Joe’s though is the shrimp and egg topped with curry fish balls, soy sauce and peanut sauce. It’s even better with the complex homemade chili oil. Best of all Joe’s is open all day not just for breakfast. Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing

(more…)

08/28/19 5:02pm

Bacon and pork floss, part of a complete breakfast!

For a long time flaky pork pies, char siu bao, and sandwiches of pork floss with whipped buttery spread have comprised the holy trinity of porky breads available at Chinese bakeries in Queens. I’m happy to report the existence of a fourth: bacon bread. Yes you read that right, bacon bread. My admittedly unscientific survey of Chinese bakeries in Queens reveals that this marvel is available at only one shop, New Fully Bakery in Elmhurst.

A peek inside the burnished brown stromboli like wedge coated in sesame seeds reveals a spiral of American bacon interspersed with its Chinese cousin, pork sung. The fluffy slightly sweet bread has a nice salty kick from the bacon and filaments of pork floss. Along with a cup of sweet instant Malaysian coffee it makes for a decadent breakfast. New Fully’s meaty spiral is the savory answer to the over top chocolate croissant from Andre’s Hungarian Bakery. Not a bad deal at all for $1.60.

Incidentally, the Chinese name péigēn miànbāo means quite literally “bacon bread.” If the first word sounds like a transliteration that’s because it is. I suppose it is a good thing that the bakery is a few subway stops away from my house. If I could get away with it, I’d eat this bread  for breakfast every day. Then again I could always buy an entire loaf . . .

New Fully Bakery, 82-24 45th Ave., 718- 446-9058