04/28/20 9:44pm

Chaikhana Sem Sorok’s lovely lagman soup.

“Is Bella Roza open?” my pal Rocky asked about two weeks ago about the Uzbek bakery/restaurant in Rego Park, where many restaurants have shut down due to COVID-19. “Pretty sure they are just closed for Passover,” I replied. Like me, Rocky’s a good—and single-minded eater—so a few days ago he messaged me that Bella Roza was open.

Samsa, plov, and lagman,” he responded when asked what he was ordering. The samsa—meat pies filled with either beef or lamb—are cooked in a tiled tandoor that sits behind the counter. Time it just right, and you can score one fresh out of the furnace.

So the other morning I strolled over to Bella Roza to mimic my pal’s order. The bakery was most definitely open, but it’s now under new ownership and has a new name: Chaikhana Sem Sorok. Other than that things looked pretty much the same, rows of samsa were arrayed in the glass case, and a giant pot of plov sat on the stove. (more…)

03/08/20 11:10am

A weekend special of xian da xia chow fun at Elmhurst’s Little House Cafe.

Little House Cafe, a gem of a Malaysian restaurant masquerading as a Chinese bakery, is one of my all-time favorite spots in Queens. Located on a stretch of Corona Avenue in Elmhurst that features several Chinese businesses it’s always a stop on my Elmhurst food tours, usually for the amazing chow kueh teow. The tangle of stir fried noodles shot through with all sorts of goodies—shrimp, squid, and fish cake to name a few—arrives at the table alive with the energy, flavor, and color of wok hei.

When I find myself in the neighborhood solo, I pop in to see what’s on the rotating menu of weekend specials. Which is exactly how I came to be eating a $12 plate of salted egg prawn chow fun for breakfast yesterday. Actually I suppose breakfast was the Malaysian style brown sugar cake and iced coffee that I sipped while waiting for my noodles. (more…)

12/27/19 4:33pm

Some local scenery, including golden gingko leaves.

As some of you may know last month I took a whirlwind trip to Japan where I visited Tokyo, Hakata, Kurume, and perhaps my favorite destination of all the charming town of Hirokawamachi in the space of four days. The trip was organized by my good friend Kazuko Nagao, the Okonomiyaki Queen of NYC, and sponsored by the local government of Hirokawamachi. I’d like to thank the the Hirokamachi Board of Tourism for their gracious hospitality and the cooking lessons!

After two days of seeing and eating as much as I could in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo it was time to head to the country, specifically Hirokawamachi. The good folks at the local tourism board specifically requested that I visit the week before Thanksgiving to partake in one of the country town’s most beloved traditions, Taibaru Icho Meguri, or gingko leaf peeping, as it was still autumn in Japan.

Since Tokyo’s on the island of Honshu and Hirokawamachi is on Kyushu we took a short flight to Fukuoka and then hopped on the Shinkansen—or bullet train—to Kurume. I was only there briefly, but it’s fair to say Kurume is to Tokyo as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s also the gateway to Hirokawamachi and no visit is complete without checking out what Kazuko-san likes to call “Kurume Disneyland.”

 

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Rather than a full-blown amusement park, it’s a mechanical taiko drum clock erected in 1999 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Kurume’s great figures, Tanaka Hisashige, known as “the Thomas Edison of Japan. Every hour it plays a song by a different Kurume composer and gives a little show detailing Hisashige’s contributions. At noon that song is Hachidai Nakamura’s “Sukiyaki,” made famous in the States in the 1970s by disco diva duo A Taste of Honey. (more…)

12/16/19 12:39pm

Tibetan stir fried beef with laphing conjures childhood memories of chow fun on Mott Street.

“The pork and mushroom was pretty good,” my friend Chef Jonathan Forgash said as we were deciding what to eat at Phayul, a Tibetan restaurant in Jackson Heights. We were at the new location, which sits across from the original second-floor location. For whatever reason they’re keeping them both open, which strange as it may seem businesswise, does means twice as much of Chef Chime Tendha’s delicious Tibetan food.

The menu at Phayul’s new, more elegant digs has several new items, including chicken tangkung, a soup of ginseng and jujubes that is Tibet’s answer to Korean samgyetang. We got the soup that evening, but didn’t order the pork and mushroom, instead opting for stir fried laphing with beef. Both of us are big fans of the slippery mung bean noodles, usually served cold in a sauce of vinegar and garlic, but had never had the hot version. (more…)

10/15/19 12:49pm

Beef sukuti chow mein comes with a sidecar of two-tone hot sauce.

The jhol momo—dumplings in a spicy soul-warming tomato and chicken broth—are so good at Nepali Bhanchha Ghar in Jackson Heights, that I often forget there are other things to eat at the homey spot whose name means Nepali eating house.

For a long time those other things consisted of sukuti thali—a platter bearing a mound of rice and funky goat jerky—ringed by various tiny heaps of pickles, including bitter melon and radish, and a bowl of buttery lentil daal. That and the rice and ghee doughnuts known as tsel roti.

Not onion rings, but rather tsel roti, a rice ‘doughnut’ that treads the line betwixt savory and sweet.

The other day though I found myself at Yamuna “Bimla” Shrestha’s restaurant craving noodles. I’d often seen the cooks frying up batches of chow mein, but ignored that part of the menu due to jhol momo monomania. (more…)

08/07/19 11:42am

Is this plate from a trattoria or a Thai joint?

For years the running joke about this Italian-American boy’s love for Asian food has been that I’ve forsaken my pasta and red sauce roots to slurp noodles in the basement of what my dear departed friend Josh Ozersky lovingly termed “ethnic hell holes.”

Noodles—be they Thai, Chinese, or Indian, cold, stir fried, or in soup—are one of my favorite foods. The other day I had a Thai noodle dish—black ink spaghetti with nam prik ong—that seemed to have more in common with Bologna than Bangkok. (more…)

05/30/19 1:02pm

Kin Khao’s Pretty Hot Wings.

I have been friends with Pim Techamuanvivit on Facebook for years, so I had a feeling that on a recent trip to visit family in the Bay Area I’d wind up at her one-star Michelin restaurant Kin Khao in San Francisco.

I had a rather sizable lunch at Cambodian spot Nyum Bai in Oakland, when fellow food nerd Yamini Eats, a recent S.F. transplant, told me I needed to have a second solo meal at her favorite Thai spot, Kin Khao.

“You should go,” she said spurring me on when I groused that they closed for lunch at 2 p.m. Soon enough though I was on the BART and even sent Chef Pim a note that I might be stopping in. Truth be told I was feeling the need for a long walk and the restaurant was a little too close to the BART to fit that in.

Nevertheless I bit the Thai birdseye chili and made my way over to the restaurant in the Parc 55 Hotel to find it still hopping at 1:30 p.m. Soon I was seated at a communal table perusing Kin Khao’s menu and eying the chicken wings in front of the couple next to me. “They’re really hot,” the dude said of the trio of meaty flappers that the menu dubbed “Pretty Hot Wings.” Moments after that Chef Pim herself stopped by to say hello. (more…)

05/14/19 12:14am

Fare from Tibet, Xinjiang, and Thailand make it the most diverse food court in New York City’s most diverse borough.

Like many of my fellow Queens food nerds I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of HK Food Court in Elmhurst. It’s been in the works for so long, that I didn’t think it was going to happen especially since the owner also operates a less than stellar food court in the basement of Hong Kong Supermarket in downtown Flushing.

Then last Saturday my buddy Ron and I poked our heads in to see almost all the booths set up. “Come back Monday,” a worker told us. So I came back. In fact I’ve been back four times so far. You might expect to find HK food, but the name refers to the fact that the culinary wonderland is built on the former site of Hong Kong Supermarket’s Elmhurst location.

The Chinese name “xiang gang mei chi cheng,” actually translates to “Hong Kong Gourmet Food Court.” Even thought it’s not even fully occupied I haven’t been this excited about a food court since I took Fuchsia Dunlop to Golden Shopping Mall. “It’s one thing to have to go to Main and Roosie for something like this, but to have this around the way is amazing,” I overheard someone say to their tablemate. Indeed! Here’s a look at what I’ve eaten so far.

Lamb ‘polo’ by way of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous region and Elmhurst.

Xinjiang House (No. 17) sits between one of the food court’s numerous Thai vendors and the sole Vietnamese outfit. It specializes in fare from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. The Chinese name “Hui Wei Xinjiang” translates to “Xinjiang Muslim taste,” and the bill of fare features plenty of lamb. I tried a lovely Xinjiang lamb pilaf ($7.99), or polo as as the gent behind the counter called it. The fat grains of rice were shot through with fatty chunks of lamb, raisins, and barberries and just enough carrot for sweetness. Next time, I’m getting the spicy lamb feet ($15.99).

On the day I tried Xinjiang House I took a peek at Khao Ka Moo NYC, a Thai pork specialist to the left. A burnished pork shank redolent of five spice and other aromatics sat luxuriating in a steam table with eggs and greens. I was already full, but plotting my return.

(more…)

02/26/19 4:41pm

Mohinga as served by the newly revamped Asian Bowl, the sole Burmese restaurant in Queens.

I suspect I’m not alone as a food writer in having guilty pleasures I never write about. One of my favorites is the Singapore mei fun from  Asian Bowl, a takeout pan-Asian spot next to an Uzbek kebab parlor, around the corner from my house. I’m well aware that there is little or nothing Singaporean about the tangle of yellow noodles, shrimp, pork, and egg, but that doesn’t stop me from eating it at least once a week.

The other night I stopped in to get my mei fun on. The place seemed different, for one thing the lights were turned up high and there were new tables. “Are you open I asked?” of a guy who I’d never seen working the counter. “Yes, but we’re under new management,” he said after taking my order. “We are going to start serving Burmese food and sushi too.”

“If you make mohinga I’ll come every day,” I responded. “How do you know mohinga,” he said quickly grabbed my hand and kissing it in a fit of pure joy because I namechecked the fish noodle soup from his homeland. (more…)

01/09/19 7:36pm

Soup and a sandwich via Lhasa, Elmhurst, and Instagram.

There are some who say Instagram—with its over the top milkshakes, noodle pulls, and levitating food—along with Yelp and the other usual suspects—is just another sword in the slowly dying animal that is food writing. I am of the opposite opinion, if you know where to look Instagram is actually quite inspiring. Which brings me to the subject of this post, a beefy soup and sandwich combo inspired by Tibet and one of my favorite places to look: self-proclaimed prolific eater @nigelsie. (more…)