03/31/20 1:55pm

Sunnyside’s Butcher Block sells Irish candy among many other things.

I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and sane amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to be of service, I present this roundup of markets from some of Queens many culinary cultures. Some of my favorites, notably Patel Bros. in Jackson Heights, as well as some of the Chinese markets in Flushing and Elmhurst have temporarily shuttered, but as of yesterday all of the following were open. That said you should call ahead to check their status. Please stay local if possible, and let me know how you’re doing–and what you’re eating–in the comments.

1. IRELAND

Butcher Block, 43-46 41st St., Sunnyside, (718) 784-1078
In addition to a wide selection of Irish chocolate bars and crisps this Sunnyside shop sells prepared foods such as roast beef and sausage rolls as well as black pudding if you want to whip up an Irish breakfast at home. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

2. ISRAEL
Carmel Grocery, 64-27 108th St, Forest Hills, NY 11375, (718) 897-9296
A local friend tells me that this market/coffee roaster was one of the first to sell Israeli foods in Forest Hills. I’m not sure about that, but I do love their homemade dips, especially the hummus, white bean dip, and tabouleh. Right now my fridge is stocked with all of them. There’s also all manner of Middle Eastern breads and goodies like halvah. As of now they are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and do not offer delivery.

3. JAPAN
Sakura-Ya, 73-05 Austin St., Forest Hills, 718-268-7220
Hello Kitty chopsticks, Vermont Curry mix, furikake rice seasoning, okonomiyaki sauce and the slimy fermented soybean delicacy known as natto are just a few of the items to be found in this tiny market. Grilled mackerel, sashimi grade tuna and when it’s in season creamy steamed ankimo, or monkfish liver, can also be had. Come early if you want to grab one of their excellent bento boxes. Open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., delivery minimum $50.

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Kanom Krok gear from Khun Noi

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4. THAILAND
Thai Thai Grocery, 76-13 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst, 917-769-6168
Noi Sila is a fixture in the bustling Little Bangkok that runs along Woodside Avenue and Broadway in Elmhurst. Her shop stocks all sorts of ingredients, including curry pastes and other spices as well as kitchen equipment like sticky rice cookers and Thai style mortar and pestle. Hours for now are 1 p.m. to 7 p.m, although she is wisely limiting access to the shop. “I have to take care of the community,” Sila said. Delivery can also be arranged.

5. GREECE
Titan Foods, 25-56 31st St., Astoria, 718-626-7771
For more than 30 years this colossus of a supermarket has been serving Astoria’s Greek community, offering everything from Ouzon (ouzo-flavored soda) and religious incense to fruity Greek olive oil and canned grape leaves. Just inside the door there’s an entire counter devoted to flaky cheese and spinach pies, including the spiral skopetiliki spanakopita. Feta is a mainstay of the kasseri counter, with more than a dozen types, including creamy Bulgarian, salty Arahova, and slightly funky goat feta. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

6. KOREA
Han Yang Mart, 150-51 Northern Blvd, Flushing, N718-461-1911
If I Iived closer I’d do all my shopping, pandemic or not, here. The aisles are stocked with all manner of Korean ingredients—an entire case is devoted to kimchi and banchan—and there are kits to cook Korean barbecue and other dishes at home. Preppers take note they have canned silkworm and tuna fish. Last I checked they were still open 24 hours.

7. RUSSIA & FORMER SOVIET UNION
NetCost Market, 97-10 Queens Blvd., 718-459-4400
The façade of the only Queens location of this sprawling supermarket chain depicts a globe in a shopping cart, but the shelves are mostly devoted to imports from Russia and the former Soviet Union, like caviar and Slivochniy Sort, an 82.5-percent butterfat sweet cream butter from Ukraine. The bakery counter abuts a seafood station with a staggering selection of smoked fish — from whole Norwegian semga, better known in the States as steelhead trout, to cold-smoked buffalo fish and hot-smoked paddlefish — and several types of salmon caviar. Hours are 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. for seniors with a closing time of 7:30 p.m.

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

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07/31/19 11:52am

Leading culinary excursions through Flushing, Queens, is often hungry work, so I like to reward myself with a post food tour treat, sometimes sweet and sometimes savory. Last Sunday, I shepherded a largish group of 10 folks through the bustling streets of America’s Greatest Chinatown and found myself hankering for something substantial afterwards. Which is how I wound up at the neighborhood’s newest fried chicken purveyor: Bone Man.

Despite the joint’s name I opted for boneless nuggets instead of the bone-in options, including regular old wings, chicken wing roots (wing tips), and chicken middle wings. I didn’t ask whether the folks behind the bird here are Taiwanese, but Bone Man distinguishes itself from most of the hood’s yen su ji joints by making a bird with a craggier, crunchier crust. The juicy chunks were sprinkled with red pepper and an aromatic spice mix that I’m pretty sure was just five spice, salt, and MSG. (more…)

07/18/19 3:41pm

Downtown Flushing’s Chinese nougat man plying his wares on a hot summer’s day.

I can count the number of times I’ve added unknown foods to my Queens culinary walking tours on the fingers of one hand. This reticence to try new things with guests stems not from a lack of adventure, but rather the “all killer no filler” approach I take to the foods I showcase on the tour. Most of the time, unknown quantities prove to be severely lacking, but every now and then I come across a gem. Such a diamond in the rough appeared in the form of a streetside sweet on yesterday’s Flushing Chinatown food tour.

My guests and I were en route to the subterranean Golden Shopping Mall food court when I spied a Chinese gentleman with a streetside stand with a bunch of other Chinese folks surrounding him. I peeked over their shoulders, to see what I first thought was dragon beard candy because of the clouds of confectioners sugar, then I realized it was giant spiral of stretchy, sweet nougat. For a buck a pop the gent, who turns about to be from Fujian Province, stretched out the elastic peanut-filled sweet and then cut a fat finger sized length off with kitchen shears. It’s pretty tasty, but truthfully I was more amazed by finding a new street food than the flavor per se.

After my guests and I said our goodbyes, I hung out for a while and watched him ply his craft.When asked him his hours he shrugged and said he didn’t know. I bought a few more pieces to give my friends at Chengdu Tian Fu. I emerged from Golden Mall on to the street and went to say goodbye to the taffy master, but he was gone.

“Wow that was quick,” I thought giving myself a healthy mental pat on the back for having tried it. As I made my way northward on Main Street who should I see but my new friend posted up underneath the Long Island Railroad Station, with a small crowd around him. He hadn’t left, but had moved on to a busier spot. My new motto  is Carpe Via Cibus—Seize The Street Food—for you never know when it’s going to be gone.

All of this brings me back to the titular question of this post, what’s your favorite Queens street food these days? Let me know in the comments.

06/10/19 9:50pm

A refreshing bowl of Korean sea squirt at Murray Hill’s newest seafood spot.

Saturday was the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdains’ death. As is the case with many Saturdays lately, I had a food tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown scheduled. What I like to call America’s Greatest Chinatown remains my most popular culinary adventure. It’s a good thing I love the neighborhood and its food, although leading tours does present such challenges as navigating crowded streets and the occasional guest who arrives an hour late because they thought the tour was in Manhattan’s Chinatown. At the end of most tours I treat myself to a dessert, sometimes even a full meal.

After Saturday’s tour I was in need of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what, maybe dessert, maybe company, maybe an answer to why Bourdain and others are no longer around, so I took a long walk down Northern Boulevard.

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04/29/19 4:18pm

It’s that time of year again when more than 50 of Queens’ best restaurants, makers of sweet treats, and brewers of fine libations converge upon the New York Hall of Science for the annual Queens Taste. The gala tasting, which takes place Tuesday night, May 7 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., features an international roster of cuisine from all over the borough. Astoria and India will be represented by Kurry Qulture while Flushing and Taiwan will be take part as OK Canaan serves up that country’s treats. Old school confections will be provided by Jamaica’s very own Schmidt’s Candy and pub grub will be served up Neir’s Tavern of Woodhaven, a watering hole that dates back to the 1800s.

I’m honored to be a sponsor of this year’s event and want to give you dear reader the chance to win a pair of tickets. Here’s the deal: write a haiku in the comments about why you love food in Queens. The best one wins. Contest ends Monday, May 6 at noon.

03/11/19 11:03am

Dumpling Galaxy’s rainbow chicken soup dumplings.

Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.

They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”

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01/21/19 10:57am

Top-flight Hainanese chicken has landed in a neighborhood better known for bulgogi.

I first noticed Yummy Tummy Asian Bistro back in the fall. I was slightly bemused to see such Singaporean classics as chili crab and Hainanese chicken alongside seafood pasta in butter lemon sauce and kimchi fried rice with bacon and Polska kielbasa on the menu of a restaurant in the heart of a neighborhood better known for Korean food than Southeast Asian cuisine.

I forgot all about Yummy Tummy until a friend raved to me about the Hainanese chicken last month. “It’s the best in New York City,” he crowed. “They do it the right way, the skin is so supple.”

So just after New Year’s I trekked down Northern Boulevard to try the chicken and a few other dishes with a friend. The bird was lovely, silky of skin, the tender meat was full of flavor. The accompanying chili sauce and pesto were great, but the bird was better on its own. That’s because Singaporean Chef Richard Chan takes great care and pride in its preparation, starting with the fact that the fresh killed bird doesn’t get chilled until an hour-long ice bath, which is preceded by a leisurely 45-minute simmer in chicken broth whilst stuffed with ginger, garlic, and spring onion. There are also two massages involved, one with salt before cooking and another with salt and sesame oil after the ice bath. (more…)

12/11/18 12:18pm

Top row: raw puerh tea from 2017, bottom the prized 1976 raw puerh.

Fang Gourmet Tea is one of my favorite places to take food tour guests when exploring the bustling neighborhood that is downtown Flushing. It’s a great way to get to know my new friends. Plus, they’re always surprised to find the oasis of calm lying at the back of a minimall, just steps away from the often chaotic energy of America’s Greatest Chinatown. The puerh tea that I typically order—Little Brick—is great for the digestion, and it’s always neat for my guests to see the bullion-sized break expand over the course of five steeps. (more…)

10/30/18 11:30am

It’s not a Pop-Tart, but it makes a great breakfast.

Sun Mary Bakery lies across the street from Golden Shopping Mall and the Q-58 bus, which takes me from my home in Rego Park to America’s greatest Chinatown in downtown Flushing. On food tour days, I pregame there with a pineapple bun, so named for the sugary crust’s similar appearance to the tropical fruit.

In a lot of ways Sun Mary is a typical New York City Chinese bakery. The shelves are lined with buns filled with pork floss, and come fall there’s plenty of mooncake, but it also has a small sideline in Taiwanese treats, notably feng li su, or pineapple cake. Unlike its Chinese cousin, the golden brown buttery treat does contain fruit. Sun Mary sells the tiny pastries in little golden boxes, making them a perfect parting gift for food tour guests. Sometimes, they even have one with salted egg yolk.

“No more,” the lady behind the counter told me about a month ago when I asked for feng li su, indicating that they wouldn’t be back until next fall. Two weeks ago I noticed a flat pastry sitting in the spot on the counter normally reserved for the pineapple cake. Turns out it is gigantic version of the Taiwanese treat. Since I have no idea how long it will be around, I have taken to eating one after every Flushing tour.

Sun Mary Bakery, 133-57 41st Rd, Flushing, 718-460-8800