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

04/01/21 12:35pm
El Lindor is a double play of flavor, an artisanal cold cheese slice!

Play ball . . and eat pizza. Just in time for the opening day of Major League Baseball, my favorite Queens pizzaiolo, Dave Acocella of Philomena’s has created a special pie devoted to New York Mets pizza loving shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Acocella got the idea for El Lindor when he heard Paquito profess his love for pizza the night of a preseason game against the Washington Nationals. “New York pizza is amazing!” Lindor said. “I’m looking forward to being in New York to eat pizza, but I’m a little scared because it might turn into eating pizza three or four times a week.”

Phase 1 of El Lindor, fresh out of the oven.

Lindor’s namesake pie is nothing to be afraid of though. The double play of flavors would make any shortstop proud. First, a round pie festooned with red onions, capers, kalamata olives, mushrooms, tomato sauce, and garlic is baked off. When someone orders a slice, Acocella reheats it and then tops it off with fiore di latte mozzarella, Calabrian chilies, basil, and parmigiano. The result is savory, salty, sweet, spicy and creamy—absolutely Amazin’.

In fact it’s so good that the other night I heard a Yankee fan singing its praises. “I hate to admit it, but it’s really good,” he said. “I hope Lindor doesn’t play as good as this slice tastes!”

Acocella says the shop’s most elaborate slice may not be available every day. You should definitely try one if you see it in the case though. For the record, the Mets lost that preseason game against the Nationals. Here’s hoping El Lindor brings them luck the next time they face off!

Philomena’s, 41-16 Queens Blvd., Sunnyside, (718) 255-1778

03/15/21 11:13pm
Chef Palm’s use of techniques like rosemary smoke and luxury ingredients like
wagyu beef, is balanced by a firm grounding in the fundamemtals of Japanese sushi.

Even though it’s the most diverse section of the most diverse neighborhood in the United States the area surrounding the Jackson Heights—Roosevelt Avenue/74 Street Subway is better known for Thai, Mexican, and Tibetan cuisine than for Japanese. There are few sushi places—mostly middling takeout and a Tibetan restaurant masquerading as a Japanese spot—and until January 2020 no omakase whatsoever. That’s when Chef Atip “Palm” Tangjantuk opened Sushi On Me, in a space that used to house a Thai bar. Chef Palm was born in Thailand and until he decided to take a job in a sushi restaurant 10 years ago in Chicago to help pay tuition for an M.B.A. at DePaul University, he never gave much thought to kitchen work.

If anything Chef Palm first started making sushi because it had a cool vibe and was a physically cool environment as opposed to a hot kitchen. Fast forward 11 years, including a stint working with sushi wunderkind David Bouhadana at Sushi by Bou, and Chef Palm has become a cool sushi chef in his own right. Like his mentor, Chef Palm presents his sushi as a speakeasy experience. There’s no sign, unless you count the one for East 21, an unaffiliated Japanese takeout located above his hip sushi den, and the sountrack runs to upbeat mellow jazz. Despite the omakase speakeasy vibe, there’s nothing pretentious or gimmicky about his 15-course omakase.

Great things lurk below.

On the night I visited his eight-seat counter the meal began with shimmery hotaru—tiny Japanese firefly squid with shiro miso—and its less exotic cousin, strips of ika squid in ponzu. This was followed by two lovely pieces of yellowtail sashimi. Many of the nigiri were quite Japanese in presentation, including creamy hotate, or scallop from Hokkaido, and silvery kohada, gizzard shad with with ginger and chive, but some were clear examples of Chef Palm’s artistry, like zippy seared white tuna with crunchy Japanese garlic and king salmon, or sake, which Chef Palm infused with rosemary smoke moments before garnishing it with ikura (salmon roe) and tamarind sauce. The latter is inspired by the Thai dish miang kum.

Clockwise: pristine yellowtail sashimi; seared white tuna
with crunchy chili garlic; kohada with ginger and chive; and Hokkaido scallop.

Even the most over the top course— a morsel of A3 wagyu beef topped with creamy toro and briny Maine uni—was perfectly situated in the flow of the meal, less of a flex and more of a crescendo. This isn’t surprising, since Chef Palm is a musician and used to perform in the very space where he now improvises works of a different nature. Just as a jazz musician changes things up, Sushi On Me’s omakase is ever evolving, but grounded in the fundamentals of artistry and top-notch ingredients. “It depends on my feeling at that time,” Chef Palm says. “Sometimes I prepare the menu already, but at the last minute I change.”

At $89 for 15 courses Sushi On Me’s omakase is quite reasonable, and frankly among the best I’ve had outside of Japan. In case you’re wondering, Chef Palm never did get that degree. His parents wanted him to become a university professor. These days he’s a teacher of a different sort. The last time I stopped by to say hello he was teaching two apprentices how to turn cucumber into paper thin ribbons.

Sushi On Me, 71-26 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, (929) 268-5691

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

09/25/20 1:32pm

BapBap’s rolls include one featuring grilled squid with peanut sauce, another sporting smoked brisket, and a DIY bowl that features Angus short rib, brisket, and summer corn.

There are so many places in the further reaches of Flushing to score Korean BBQ and kimbap—the sushi-like rolls that feature ingredients like spicy tuna and cheese—I like to call it K-tropolis. BapBap, the latest Korean spot in the nabe, takes it cue from these classic Korean specialties as well as Manhattan’s temples of gastronomy. That’s because it was created by two fine dining vets, Nate Kuester—who was a sous chef at The Cecil and cooked for three years at Aquavit—and Jason Liu, who was Aquavit’s service director and was most recently general manager at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.

While at the Cecil Kuester learned to smoke brisket under the tutelage of Chef JJ Johnson. At BapBap, he smokes brisket and features it in a Bap Roll. Other rolls include spicy tuna and squid, a trio makes make a nice lunch for $12. That smokey meat is excellent in the roll, and even better when combined with angus  short rib, in the grilled kalbi ssambap, which also features grilled summer corn all over a bowl of rice. It comes with sheets of roasted seaweed, so you can roll your own ssam just as you would at a Korean BBQ joint. The combination of Korean BBQ and low and slow American cue is a tasty homage to Kuester’s Korean-American heritage. (more…)

09/03/20 12:49am

A spread from Don Irwin, clockwise from left: a mighty steak cemita, tacos al pastor, and tacos arabes.

Irwin Sánchez, a cherubic taquero from La Resurección in Puebla who started operating out of a window in front of the now moribund Cevicheria El Rey two weeks ago is passionate about his craft. I know this from talking to him, tasting his food, and getting a recommendation to try his comida from none other than Steven Alvarez.

At the recommendation of the specialist in taco literacy I went with a pair of flour tortilla wrapped tacos arabes and a corn tortilla with cochinita pibil. Don Irwin points out  a lot of cooks rely on spice mixes when making the Yucatán pork specialty. No such shortcuts are taken at Tlaxcal Kitchen where the meat is seasoned with clove, cinnamon, allspice, and bitter orange, among other things. Excellent on its own the cochinita pibil is even better with pickled onions and habanero that have just a whisper of clove.

Don Irwin is passionate about his craft!

For a guy who’s been covering food in Queens for more than 20 years I am woefully late to the tacos arabes game. “Taqueria La Oriental in Puebla City was one of the first places to serve tacos arabes,” Don Irwin schooled me as I happily munched on the flour tortilla wrapped pork whose origins lie with the Lebanese. “I tried to recreate the same flavors.” Those flavors include sumac that Sánchez sourced with the help of his son’s Lebanese music teacher and a fermented chipotle sauce. The fermentation was a happy accident. He couldn’t quite get it right and then he came upon a jar of it that he had accidentally let sit for two weeks.

Don Irwin is especially proud of his cemitas and makes the bread for the Puebla City style sandwiches from scratch several times a day. Listening to him wax rhapsodic about the sesame studded bun made me realize it is as important to a cemita as the right demi-baguette is to a proper Vietnamese sandwich.

Sánchez seemed disappointed I didn’t get a cemita so I promised to try one on my next visit. He wanted me to have the steak version, a gigantic well-fried slab that overhung the bun, which was smeared with refried beans and packed with quesillo cheese, pickled chipotles, and just the right amount of papalo, a lemony herb that is a must for cemitas.

My only complaint about the sandwich is that it was much bigger than I expected, leaving me jealous of my dining companions sumptuous looking tacos al pastor. I guess they will have to wait until my next visit.

It bears pointing out that like Dr. Taco, Sánchez is also an educator who has taught cooking classes and is as passionate about preserving Mexico’s indigenous Nahuatl language as he is about tacos arabes and cemitas. In facy his outfit’s name comes from the Nahuatl for tortilla.

Tlaxcal Kitchen c/o Cevicheria El Rey, 85-16 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights

08/23/20 10:29pm

The newly opened Yun Café, situated beneath Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, serves excellent Burmese fare, including tea leaf salad (left), something of a culinary ambassador, and a less commonly known seafood salad.

They don’t call the open space above the Jackson Heights subway station Diversity Plaza for nothing folks. Upstairs there’s plenty of Tibetan, Indian, and Bangladeshi food to be had, in addition to the S & R Travel Agency, which predates the plaza itself, where one can book a passage to India. For a real gastronomic journey though, head down the subway stairs to Burma. Yes, Burma! Just past the Tibetan handicraft shop, the barbers and across from Jinme & Phuntsok of NYC, which sells lucky bamboo and candy, sits the newly opened Yun Café, surely New York City’s only Burmese restaurant located in a subway station. (more…)

07/21/20 10:25pm

Taco trio from Mi Dulce Mexico left to right: arabe, machaca, and birria.

I’ve been trying to meet up with Dr. Taco since this past spring, when we began exchanging Instagram messages. Finally on Saturday the stars, especially the one that’s been baking New York City, aligned and we set a rendezvous for one of his favorite foods, tacos at Mi Dulce Mexico. And not just any tacos, Sinaloense style ones from Northwestern Mexico.

Dr. Taco, whose real name is Steven Alvarez is an English professor at St. John’s University, where he teaches a course called Taco Literacy  that explores the foodways of Mexican immigrants in the United States. He’d originally suggested we meet for Colombian burgers, but I insisted on tacos, which is how we wound up at Mi Dulce Mexico. I’ve passed by the bakery/taqueria numerous times and never thought to eat there, but Alvarez told me that since February it’s been the new home of América Rodriguez, the chef of Taqueria Sinaloense, which closed a while back.

Since I skipped breakfast and am at root a glutton I was seriously considering a plate of machaca con huevos, a Sinaolense beef jerky cooked with eggs and tomato that is a typical breakfast, or chilorio, another specialty of the Nortwestern state. The latter is a life-changing heap of pork that’s been slowly cooked down for hours, then fried in lard, and lastly cooked in a ruddy concoction of chilies and other herbs and spices. When you’re dining with a professor of taco literacy though, tacos are the way to go. So we each got three: a machaca con huevos, birria de res, and tacos arabes. (more…)

07/17/20 11:10pm

Tamarind and chili enriched crab noodles by way of Chantaburi and Khao Nom.

Once upon a time called the late 90s there was a tiny Thai restaurant in Woodside with harsh fluorescent lighting, three tables, and a looseleaf binder of photos that served as a menu. At the time Sripraphai was my kind of joint, a place with food that expanded my mind and my gustatory horizons. Thirty years later it’s three storefronts wide and many say the food has suffered, which is to say it’s not my kind of joint anymore. That’s okay though because in the past decade Elmhurst and Woodside have exploded with all manner of regional Thai specialists, some of whom only operate on weekends. Herewith three of my favorites for you to try.

1. Sen Chan Pad Pu, Khao Nom

76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 929-208-0108
When this retro looking dessert cafe opened it featured a wonderful noodle dish from Chantaburi, sen chan, a spicy tamarind enriched forerunner of the now shopworn pad thai, which features several meaty prawns. Recently Khao Nom introduced the dish’s crabbier cousin, sen chan pad pu. It’s only available on weekends since that’s when Kukiat Chareonnan has the time to make it. It’s spicy, sweet, briny and thoroughly satisfying.

This funky, tart, and spicy papaya salad delivers flavor and electrolyte replacement.

2. Som tom pu pla ra, Pata Market
81-16 Broadway, Elmhurst, 347-935-3714
Down the road from Khao Nom at Pata Market one can procure bespoke packages of sum tom, or papaya salad. When the weather gets hot and humid my favorite version is som tom pu pla ra, which is made with salted black crab and fermented anchovy. Briny, spicy, and tart it’s like an electrolyte replacement therapy! Best of all the lady behind the giant mortar and pestle lets you taste it halfway through to adjust the flavor. It’s served with noodles, cabbage, a hard boiled egg, and sticky rice making for a nice summer meal.

3. Hor Mok, 3 Aunties Thai Market
64-04 39th Ave, Woodside, 718-606-2523
I’ve been a fan of the gals who run this adorable Thai grocery store in Woodside ever since I found out they sell the most amazing savory rice crackers studded with chili and minuscule shrimp. One Sunday I learned they also have another seafood specialty homemade hor mok pla, a fish custard flavored with red curry, coconut milk, Thai basil, and a hint of lime leaf. Not only is the version they make here delicious, it incorporates steamed cabbage and is gigantic. Best to show up around 2 or 3 o’clock since it takes them a while to cook it.