Edible Americana meets Japanese culinary tradition.
Those unfamiliar with Keizo Shimamoto, the man behind the Smorgasburg sensation known as the Ramen Burger—which sandwiches a beef patty between two noodly buns—might think the Japanese chef is no ramen purist. Anyone who’s been to Ramen Shack, his modest restaurant hard by the Queensbridge, Houses can attest to Shimamoto’s ramen reverence though.
Shimamoto serves what he calls “ramen inspired ramen,” and the other day I came really close to having a steaming bowl of his classic shoyu. With spring somewhat in the air though, I flipped the menu over to the B side where I spied Burger Ramen ($12), a soupless bowl I’ve been meaning to try for some time.(more…)
I walked into Old Tang—a new spot just off the bustling corner of Main and Roosevelt in downtown Flushing—at least three times before finally trying the noodles. The first time they were under construction, but the other times I eyed the mise en place and upon seeing minced pickled green beans and fried soybeans asked the same question in my fractured Mandarin Chinese “Giulin ren ma?” And each time the kids behind the counter would patiently respond, “No we’re from Sichuan.” “Ah so, the workers are from Sichuan, but surely the food is from Giulin,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have to come back and try it when I’m not already full from leading a food tour.”
One of the things I heard most from my editors when I was putting together 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Misswas “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(more…)
It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quite often and write about it almost as often. Here’s the thing though, I’ve become so used to ordering off the specials menu, that I’ve been missing out on some glorious dishes on the regular menu. Dishes like cumi goreng sauce telor asin ($9) or fried calamari in salty egg sauce.
Fried calamari isn’t necessarily the first thing I think of when it comes to Indonesian fare and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of “salty egg sauce,” but after a friend talked it up on Instagram, I knew I’d be trying it. Turns out that salty egg sauce is actually bits of golden salty egg yolk mixed in with the fried garlic and shallots that’s interspersed with the fried nuggets of squid.
The menu listing for this wonderfully salty and crunchy Indonesian take on fried calamari sports two chilies, but only because of the accompanying sambal. It’s great mixed in with the calamari itself as well as the accompanying nonsalty egg.
Winter’s cold and the attendant coughing and sniffling always call for a good bowl of spicy soup, and Thai noodle soup always fits the bill. Today a look at two of my new favorites: one a Japanese take on Thai green curry and the other an everything but the kitchen sink Thai pork soup.
First up the Queensmatic Green Curry ($17) from Keizo Shimamoto’s Ramen Shack, which is an ajitama’s throw away from where Nas came up in the Queensbridge houses. Shimamoto learned to make a similar green curry ramen while working at Tokyo’s Bassanova Ramen. His curry paste hums with the flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and bird’s eye chilies. At first I considered adding some chili oil, but as the heat pleasantly mounted I decided against it. (more…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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 nakhotgarmack 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