01/31/18 12:38am

Triple cooked Sinaloan style pork via Elmhurst enriched with chilies among other things.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to try Queens’ only Mexican restaurant specializing in foods from the Northwestern state of Sinaloa, a state that hitherto I’d only known as the birthplace of Mexican drug lord El Chapo. We only tried one dish from the aptly named Sinaloense, but what a dish. Chilorio estilo sinaloense is a 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. The result is some of the most amazing Mexican pork I’ve ever had on Roosevelt Avenue. It had a glorious texture—not quite crunchy and not quite soft—and an amazing depth of flavor with notes of cumin, garlic, chilies and a not unpleasant vinegary acidity. “I’m coming back here for a torta estilo sinaloense,” I said to my pals as I perused the takeout menu between bites. (more…)

01/29/18 10:27pm

Fried calamari Indonesian style.

It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that Awang Kitchen is my favorite Indonesian restaurant in Queens. I eat there quiet 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.

Awang Kitchen, 84-05 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, 347-492-9264

01/25/18 1:13pm

Whose ramen is this? It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine . . . 

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…)

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…)

12/22/17 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…)

12/01/17 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…)

11/06/17 5:57pm

Yum woon sen, aka magic noodles.

It takes a lot to get me to eat Thai food outside of Elmhurst, after all Queens’ second smaller Chinatown is the best place in New York City for Southeast Asian fare. And takes even more for me to trek to Brooklyn for Thai food, but I’d been curious about Chef Hong Thaimee’s new spot in Williamsburg, Thaimee at McCarren since it opened back in September. So when my pal Matt Bruck invited me in for a tasting I hurried over there.

Four subways later I found myself chatting with Chef Hong and staring down a plate of yum woon sen, or magic noodle salad. Chef Hong says the magic comes from the fact the vermicelli—dyed an eerie shade of blue thanks to butterfly pea flower—changes to purple when lime juice is mixed in tableside. I disagree. The magic is in the brightly balanced flavors: palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chili, and garlic. (more…)

10/27/17 1:12am

Surely Lhasa Fast Food’s “cold skin sushi” deserves Michelin recognition.

Earlier this week Michelin released its 2018 Bib Gourmand honorees,  which “denotes establishments where diners can enjoy a great meal for a good value.” I’m glad the crew of inspectors from the little red book is focusing more attention on the so-called outer boroughs and happy to see they added my dear friend Helen You’s Dumpling Galaxy to the list, but the Queens roster is still lacking. What’s more, Brooklyn and Manhattan are broken out into subareas (Upper East Side, Williamsburg, etc.) while the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens lack such distinction. If any from Guide Michelin is reading this, do look me up I’d be glad to consult with you on neighborhood geography for a modest fee. (For the record I live in the one called Rego Park.)

“I can name five more Southeast Asian restaurants that should be on that list,” read a quote from me in The Wall Street Journal’s piece on the Bib Gourmands. I can, but I won’t. Instead here’s a list of seven places of varying cuisines that should have made the Michelin cut.

1. Lhasa Fast food
Everybody who’s into food knows about this spot, which Jeff Orlick hipped me to years ago. Call it a momo speakeasy if you must, but really what Lhasa Fast Food is is a window into another culture and cuisine that just happens to be tucked away behind a cellphone store. I like the spicy yellow liang fen done up to look like sushi and of course the momos, including the classic beef and the rarely seen chu tse, or chive version. . 37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights

(more…)

10/16/17 11:54am

Can’t decide between won ton, roast pork, or noodle soup? Don’t worry Shun Wang’s got you.

I’ve been forsaking my heritage. By that I refer not to red sauce—OK fine we called it gravy—with which my father baptized me every Sunday, but rather the Cantonese food he fed me, thus beginning my lifelong love affair with Chinese cuisine. So when a friend posted a mouthwatering image of the HK lo mein at Shun Wang, I knew I had to try it.

“You know what this is?” the waiter at this Cantonese holdout in the increasingly Thai neighborhood of Elmhurst asked incredulously. “Yes,” I lied. “It’s steamed noodles,” he responded. Up until two days ago my Cantonese noodle knowledge was limited to chow fun and the thicker version of lo mein. (more…)