If you’re a New Yorker, you may already be in the know. If you’re not, here’s what you should know: Queens, NY, may have the most diverse food scene in the world. Melting pot truly applies to the collection of foods and eateries in New York City’s fifth borough of 2 million people, hailing from places as far-flung as Bulgaria and Tibet.
We asked a couple of Queens food bloggers to give us the inside scoop on good global eats in their neighborhood. Joe DiStefano writes about his food adventures in Queens on his blog, Chopsticks + Marrow, and Lingbo Li shares her food musings on her eponymous blog, Lingbo Li. Both recently took Andrew Zimmern on an underground tour of their favorite foodie spots in their beloved borough. You can see them in tonight’s episode of Bizarre Foods America: Queens, NY: World’s Best Food Town at 9|8c. In the meantime, here’s what they told The Traveling Type:
TC: What gives Queens its unique flavor, so to speak?
Joe DiStefano: A combination of diversity and authenticity. When you go to a Nepalese restaurant in Queens you’re eating where Nepalese folks eat and work and getting a taste of what their food is like back home without having to travel half way around the world. The same holds true for Thai, Liberian, Ecuadorean, etc. In addition to all the ethnic restaurants, there are spots like Salt & Fat and M. Wells Dinette where chefs draw upon the borough’s many rich cultural heritages.
Lingbo Li: The gorgeous melting pot of immigrants! You can’t get quality food without the demand for it.
TC: Has Queens become a foodie destination or is it still off-the-beaten track? Is it the next big foodie destination?
JD: The corridors of Flushing’s Golden Mall have yet to be as crowded as Eataly. That said there is a growing interest and it’s not uncommon to see some tourists. I sincerely hope it becomes the next big foodie destination. There’s just so much great stuff here. Foodies who come to New York City and spend all their time — and money — in Manhattan are missing the boat.
LL: I think it’s always been on the radar for food enthusiasts, but it’s not yet completely mainstream. In college, people who lived a 15-minute walk off campus might as well have been living in Timbuktu. I think a similar geographic psychological distortion effect probably takes place [with Queens]. The LIRR [Long Island Rail Road] makes it really easy, though, so there’s no excuse!
TC: What are your top 3 favorite places to eat in Queens and why?
JD: There’s this Mexican food truck in Corona called Tortas Neza. It’s run by a dude from Mexico City who’s got more than a dozen tortas — overstuffed sandwiches — each named for a different futbol club. The Pumas, named for his favorite team contains everything but the kitchen sink and can feed a small family. And his tacos, particularly the carnitas, are stupendously good.
I’ve been eating there for more than 5 years, but Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall — a hive-like collection of regional Chinese deliciousness — remains one of my favorite destinations whether I’m leading a food tour or just grabbing dinner. The Henanese hand-pulled lamb noodle soup on the upper level is amazing.
And I have to get my M. Wells Dinette fix, at least once a month. In fact I am going tomorrow. Hugue Dufour is a genius. The dishes here — beef tartare, oatmeal with foie gras, escargot and bone marrow tart, to name a few — are decadent yet balanced. And he’s always running bizarre dishes like cockscombs and duck testicles in veal broth with wild mushrooms and sunchokes encased in a puff pastry dome.
LL: First, the lamb noodle shop in the Golden Shopping Mall on the first floor. Everything — from the flavorful broth to the crisp wood ear mushroom to the chewy, toothsome noodles — combines to form a heavenly bowl of WTF-this-is-amazing. Actually, a lot of things in the Golden Shopping Mall, like that beef tendon in the basement. We ate it on the show, if it made it in. Just give me a bowl of white rice and some spicy beef tendon and I would be very, very happy.
Second, M & T, an unusual regional restaurant for Qingdao cuisine. I haven’t eaten here for a while, and am due to come back soon.
And third, Jmart! I’m appreciative of variety, so food courts are pretty much heaven for me, if you couldn’t tell. There’s a fantastic place there that will make a giant bowl of spicy things stir-fried together.
TC: What’s your best Queens food memory?
JD: I’d have to say hanging out at the Hog Days of Summer, watching a 200-plus-pound Heritage breed hog get loaded on the smoker and then eating it the next day. My buddy Tyson Ho is the Chinese-American king of eastern North Carolina whole hog barbecue. Seriously, he is.
LL: My favorite memory from my childhood, and one of the few moments where everyone in my family managed to get along, was getting food from one of the food courts in Flushing. Back then, the Flushing Mall was more vibrant (it’s since been replaced by Jmart), and I looked forward to their shaved ice, the spicy noodles, the Taiwanese oyster pancakes and the takoyaki stall that’s since disappeared.
TC: What’s your favorite food town? Other than Queens, of course.
JD: Lately Chapel Hill, NC. The pies and whole hog at Allen & Son BBQ are wonderful. And the soul food at Mama Dips can’t be beat.
LL: I love spending weekends in Portland, ME. It’s just such a chill, adorable little town with amazing food (Fore Street, Duckfat, The Holy Donut), friendly, crunchy people, and beautiful scenery. Internationally, I’ve had such amazing meals in the cities of Tokyo, Penang and Bangkok. Mmm, Asian food.
TC: What non-food stop would you recommend in Queens?
JD: Šri Mahã Vallabha Ganapati Devasthãnam, aka the Ganesh Temple, in Flushing is truly amazing. It offers a window into another culture. If you get hungry, there are excellent dosas to be had at the temple canteen in the basement.
LL: OK, so here’s something that’s kind of awesome: There’s a super-cheap store called Pretty Girl at 136-21 Roosevelt that sells shirts and dresses for rock-bottom prices. A lot of stuff there is pretty trashy, but if you dig around, you can find clothing for mind-bogglingly low prices. I still get compliments on a print wrap dress I got from there … 6 years ago.