08/22/21 10:17pm
Gai yang, corn salad, and pork tongue made for a great late summer meal.

One of the best things about living in the heart of Elmhurst’s Thai town is that I have a front row seat to all the goings on in New York City’s hotbed of Thai culinary culture from the bad—like the closing of northern Thai stalwart Lamoon—to the good surprises like fresh durian at Thai Thai Grocery and new restaurants like Eat Gai, the Elmhurst outpost of the critically acclaimed Essex Market khao man gai specialist.

I’ve been eagerly watching the development of the Eat Gai space, which used to be Indonesian restaurant Upi Jaya, for months. I’m pretty sure owner Bryan Chunton and his partners got tired of me and every other neighbor stopping by to ask “You open yet?” Well, this Saturday as tropical storm Henri sidled into town Eat Gai opened its doors for a soft opening dinner. As a rule I don’t write about restaurants when they are in soft opening mode, but I made an exception, especially since I was eager to try what Chunton had described to me as Thai style rotisserie chicken. I’m a big fan of pollo a la brasa—whether Colombian or Peruvian—but I’d never had Thai style rotisserie chicken.

I found the specialty of the house gai yang or “roast chicken” just below and to the left of the menu’s tag line “Thai Chicken Specialist.” I opted for a half bird ($16.95), rounding it out with a Thai corn salad ($9.95) and roasted pork tongue ($7.95). The bird itself was fragrant, juicy, and tender. Chunton told me the restaurant uses smaller birds because they’re tastier. Something about really good roast chicken always makes me want to eat like a caveman and Eat Gai’s version was no exception.

The bird is served with two variations on jaew sauce, one is only slightly spicy the emphasis on tamarind, the other fairly vibrates with salt, chili, and lime leaf. I prefer the spicier version, but really chicken this good needs no adornment. The corn salad, a summery take on tom yum, rounded everything out making for a great meal on a rainy night.

Chunton was kind enough to introduce me to his chef, Mukda Sakulclanuwat, who hails from the town of Mukdan in Thailand’s Isan region. She shared a few of the secrets of her glorious chicken with me. For one thing she marinates it for two days in a mixture of lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, and coconut milk, rendering it tender and fragrant.

“I grew up with this food in my neighborhood in Isan,” she recalled. “Every day I helped my friend make this. After we would finish here Mom would let us go play.”

When asked whether she brushed it with anything while it was cooking, she thought for few beats and said, “Oh yes pork fat.” And that folks is why I always seek a specialist when it comes to street food.

Eat Gai, 76-04 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst

08/17/21 6:12pm


A trio of refreshing mariscos: aguachile mixto rojo, ceviche mixto, and the mighty chaparrita.

“There were no good places for mariscos,” Alonso Guzman told me when I asked why he and his wife Amy opened Mariscos El Submarino. Located in the heart of Mexican Jackson Heights, the seafood specialist with a yellow mustachioed submarine logo, is in fact a great place for mariscos–or Mexican style seafood–specifically as prepared in Sinaloa.

I first learned about Mariscos El Submarino from Professor Steven Alvarez, an expert’s expert in all aspects of Mexican culinary culture who teaches a course called “Taco Literacy” at St. John’s University. As part of an epic four-hour crawl of of the neighborhood’s best Mexican spots, we tried a torre or tower ironically called La Chaparrita ($20)—or the shorty—a stack of diced cucumber, octopus, shrimp, and avocado, surmounted by two teetering fried shrimp sitting in a lake of spicy cold broth accented with soy sauce. It was over the top and refreshing. Upon eating it, I immediately began plotting my return to this wonderful seafood emporium.

Next visit I tried Don Alonzo’s version of ceviche, specifically the restaurant’s signature Submarino. While I waited for my food, I attempted to translate the slogan on the wall “No hay mal que duran cien años ni cruda que un buen marisco no cure.” Soon I was digging into a plastic takeout container filled with shrimp, octopus, and fish topped with avocado. Thanks to plenty of lime juice and red onion the marinade was bracing and refreshing, good medicine for a hot humid afternoon. “I could get used to Mexican style ceviche,” I thought to myself not at all missing the potato and corn that grace the dish’s Peruvian cousin.

On a subsequent visit, I asked Don Alonzo what his favorite dish on the menu was and he immediately responded aguachile, a favorite from his home state of Sinaloa. As Norteño music blared from the sound system I eagerly awaited yet another restorative and refreshing dish from El Submarino. Soon Amy brought over the aguachile rojo mixto, a stone molcajete filled to the brim with shrimp, octopus, and fish in a fiery red sauce. The combination of lime, chilies, and cooling cucumber was just what I needed on a hot humid Queens afternoon. Don Alonzo told me that the cold broth is flavored with three types of chili peppers—Sinaloan chiltepin, red jalapeño, and chile de arbol—as well as tomato juice.

As for the slogan on the wall Amy translated it thus for me: “There’s no pain that lasts for a hundred years nor a hangover that good seafood can’t cure.” I would add dog days of summer malaise to the things that mariscos can cure!
Mariscos El Submarino, 88-05 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, 718-685-2780

08/10/21 5:02pm
The mighty wontons in chili oil at Beijing Dumpling House.

A case could made for my performing meaningful civic duty for the World’s Borough of Queens, New York City. After all what higher service is there than spreading the word about all manner of diverse Queens delicacies from Mexican birria tacos and seafood cocktails to Tibetan momo dumplings and subterranean Burmese hotspots? When it comes to more conventional civic duty I vote and have even served on a grand jury for several weeks. Despite having literally written the book on Queens I’ve never done jury duty service at Queens Civil Court in Jamaica, until today that is.

The main question I had was are they really going to send me to jail or fine me thousands of dollars if don’t show up where to eat? I vaguely recall a pupusa place and I know that the Hillside Avenue location of Sybil’s Bakery is nearby, but beyond that I was at a loss. So I turned to the newest expert on Queens cuisine my good friend Drew Kerr, who has been documenting chefs and their beloved objects from Rockaway to St. Albans since February, for The Queens Chef Project, a truly uplifting photographic and audio tribute to the chefs and food workers of Queens, who have made it through some of the most difficult times, that debuts this fall. Drew’s counsel was to hit up Beijing Dumpling House, an authentic Chinese spot just steps from the courthouse.

As I sat in the Room 173 straining to hear and see the video about jury duty service, I was eagerly thinking of lunch. And then they dismissed us at 10 a.m., making it my shortest jury duty stint.

“I guess I’ll have to eat at Beijing Dumpling House another time,” I mused as I exited the building to walk to the subway. It’s a good thing I looked up, I might have missed the fact that Bejing Dumpling House was open. After introducing myself to Pei Na “Sabrina” Zhang and learning that she and her mother, Yan Mei “Amy” Zhang, the head chef, hail from Guangzhou I started peruse the menu. Fried and steamed dumplings are a focal point, along with more than three dozen dishes, including noodle soups and the Sichuan specialty dan dan mian. I almost ordered the latter, but decided on another Sichuan delicacy, hong you shui jiao, listed on the menu as “wontons with spicy sauce.” Sabrina told me that the plain are spicy already, but for an extra buck I doubled down with the addition of garlic, cilantro, and more chili.

In a few minutes Sabrina presented me with a bowl packed to the brim with wontons showered in garlic, cilantro, and red chili. There were so many wontons into the plastic soup bowl that for a minute I couldn’t see the red oil beneath. Each dumpling was packed with pork, shrimp, and vegetables. Unlike traditional wontons, whether H.K. or White Bear style, these were huge. I don’t know if the size is due the fact that Chef Zhang makes hundreds of crescent-shaped jiaozi dumplings a day or her generosity. I suspect it is a combination of both.

It was the best Chinese breakfast I’ve had in some time and the certainly the best and only jury duty breakfast. I don’t have to do jury duty for another six years, but I plan to return to Bejing Dumpling House well before then.

Beijing Dumpling House, 88-38 Sutphin Blvd., Jamaica, 718-297-2935

03/08/21 1:41pm
Soybean Chen’s new location opened at Broadway Food Mart last week.

Last Tuesday I was on my way back from my weekly foray to Warung Selasa when I noticed a smiling Chinese man waving to me outside Broadway Food Mart. For a moment I didn’t recognize him. Then I realized it was Soybean Chen, the cheery face behind Flushing’s only spot for fresh creamy dou hua—silken tofu—and fresh flowers. The creamy, comforting pudding like tofu has long a staple of my food tours. I was curious what brought Uncle Chen to Elmhurst.

Soon he and his son Jimmy told me that they were opening a tofu stand in Queens’ second smaller Chinatown. Just like the original Flushing location, Soybean Chen’s Elmhurst satellite offers sweet ginger syrup and Chen’s spicy topping of pickled veggies, baby shrimp, and chili. It’s also added a few new toppings, including boba in ginger syrup, which I tried the other day.

Uncle Chen and me in the O.G. Flushing location.

I’m so glad that Uncle Chen’s tofu is now a mere 10-minute walk from my apartment. It’s sure to become part of my breakfast rotation as well as my Elmhurst food tours. By the way I have started giving tours to small groups once again. Please click here for more details.

Soybean Chen Satellite, Broadway Food Mart, 83-20 Broadway, Elmhurst