Flushing: Awesome Eats in Queens
A Guide to Flushing:
Eating Like a God Edition
by Heidi Ran Chen
Flushing, that mythical land of the Far East(ern Queens), may exist only in the imagination for all but a few adventurous Manhattan/Brookynites. And to be fair, it’s pretty far. From Times Square (hop on) to the Main Street stop (hop off) at the end of the world 7 line, the ride alone will take half an hour. But once you step off the subway, a world of “exotic” pleasures await you. And it looks it. With a scale and cultural/linguistic steadfastness that dwarfs the charmingly narrow and bilingual streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing offers a rare glimpse of what the loaded metropolises of Asia, specifically China, might look like.
Mostly clustered around the broad Main Street, its coronary side streets, and nearby Murray Hill (of the non-bro persuasion), Flushing’s Asian culinary offerings are boundless, dense, and uncontestedly more authentic than anything the flashier boroughs can provide. And there’s plenty of fun stuff to do in between your daily recommended intake of 9 Flushing meals. Below we’ve got the most trip-worthy eats and activities that will make you a Flushing die-hard or, at the very least, an in-the-know food & fun hero for your less enlightened friends.
Part 2: Where to Eat Like a God
From tiny street carts, subterranean food courts to huge sit-downs, this neighborhood is as close to actually being in China and Korea for your mouth as you can get. Whatever your dining preference, there is a glut of delicious, spicy, spiced, and tender umami explosions and as much variety as you can, literally, stomach.
The Cheap, The Easy, and the Delicious
New World Mall Food Court
136-20 Roosevelt Ave, Downtown Flushing
Enter the New World Mall on Roosevelt Avenue, take the escalator down and you’ll find a sprawling mecca of authentic Chinese cuisine of all kinds. The place can get instantaneously overwhelming with its overflow of delicious and cheap eats. Notice the little hotpots, the bubble tea and Taiwanese snacks, the dimsum, the hand pulled noodles, Yunnan rice noodles and 91928762 other things that deserve the prestigious attention of your palate. But do not get distracted, what you really want is the dry “hotpot” at LaoMa Ma La Tang aka Mala Xiangguo.
Delegate a comrade for table duty (seating here is a cut-throat game) and head up to the line near a glass full of raw ingredients. This includes your standard meats like chicken and pork, crazy (delicious) animal parts like pig ears, intestines, blood sausages, chicken gizzards - all of which you should try - seafood items like shrimp, fish filets, and veggies like enoki mushrooms, “wood ears” (a type of delicious fungus), bean curd, lotus root, and your run of the mill greens like spinach and bak choys. You tell the not-so-nice ladies behind the counter the items you want and they’ll put it in a bowl for you. Then you choose the spicy level and they’ll sautee all of it together in an oily, unbelievably seasoned mixture. For spicy enthusiasts, note that these guys do not mess around or cater to your familiar “hot and spicy”. The medium level is usually enough to satisfy, nay, challenge even a seasoned connoisseur and this reviewer’s hubris has resulted in the unfortunate pleasure of trying the extra spicy which: just don’t do it. You pay per pound of raw ingredients ($8 for meats and seafood, $7.5 for veggies) and 30 bucks will usually be way more than enough for 3 people.
(And when you decide to return to Flushing in the near future, which you surely will, be sure to try all the other stalls in this food heaven. Most will reward your extensive travels.)
Street Carts: Xingjiang BBQ Cart
41st Ave & Kissena Blvd, Downtown Flushing
Lamb skewers. Oh my god the lamb skewers. If you get nothing else in Flushing, get the lamb skewers. Street carts litter Main Street but they’re not your typical Halal stuff. These sticks of super tender lamb meat are heartily seasoned in authentic Uygher style: fragrant, savory, and cumin-heavy. They’re grilled over charcoal, which every BBQ enthusiast knows is the key to smokey BBQ perfection. Always opt for the spicy option - it adds another layer of flavor without being all that spicy. The cart of choice lives a couple of short blocks from the subway stop on 41st Ave & Kissena Blvd, called Xingjiang BBQ Cart, and offers other choices of the meats-on-a-stick like chicken hearts. Try these if you’d like (they still boast the same mouthwatering seasoning) but the lamb skewers, with their fall-apart-in-your-mouth quality and tender, meaty texture, is where it’s at. You will never look at another lamb kebab the same again.
For the Sit-down Restaurant Believer
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
136-59 37th Ave, Downtown Flushing
There’s some decent hot pot places in Chinatown, but if you want variety, space, and trademarked flavors, you’ll want to hit up the Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. The standard hot pot rules apply here: a steaming pot of flavored broth sits in the middle of the table, waiting to bath and pack a variety of proteins, veggies, carbs (ordered a la carte) with its potent flavor. Choose from sliced meats like rib eye, lamb and chicken, to your more courageous offerings like tripe, beef tendons, pork intestines, seafoods like head on shrimps, fish balls and paste, vegetables and carbs like tofu, bak choy, watercress, noodles and dumplings. They come raw in little dishes and you just throw them into the tasty cauldron. It might be difficult for the hot pot-initiate to gauge the constellation of optimal cooking times for each ingredient but, generally, the sliced meats and greens take only a few seconds, the fish balls and pastes are done when they float, and the unfamiliar animal parts should be allowed to simmer for a few minutes.
Whatever you put into that pot will soak up the flavors of the broth so, #logic tells us that the flavor of the soup base determines the flavor of the things you put in your mouth. And Little Sheep stands at the top of NYC’s hot pot pyramid precisely because of their particular soup base, which is also sold independently at most Asian supermarkets. The most sensible thing to do here is to choose the half and half, which gives you an herbal “white” broth and their signature “spicy” broth. Both are deliciously seasoned but the spicy broth is an explosion of flavors that has to be tasted to be believed. There’s a make-your-own dipping sauce bar as well which augments the soup base (a personal tried-and-true recipe: a spoonful each of soy sauce, black vinegar, sesame oil, spicy oil, mashed garlic, a little salt and sugar, and loads of chopped green onion and chives). The nature of hot pot is to be a delicious and spirited hot mess of simultaneous cooking and eating. The atmosphere here is communal, boisterous, and warm. Come with your good friends, be adventurous, and you’ll have a good time as well as exquisite food.
40-09 Prince St, Downtown Flushing
Aka Feasts of the Northern Wild. This Dongbei (i.e. “northeast”) style sit-down place is a comfy alternative to the more harried food courts and street food offerings in Flushing. While not as ambitiously decorated as a new concept dining destination in Chelsea (you’re in the wrong place for that vibe), Fu Run is cute, bright, spacious, and far more presentable than most of its minimal Flushing counterparts. It also provides a more unusual regional cuisine than the Cantonese or Southwest dominated fares of Manhattan Chinatown: the Russia-bordering, far northeast of China. As in cold clime’d regions all of the world, the people here said “wow it’s cold in here,” then they said, “let there be steaming pots of meat chunks.” And so it was. Typical of the rustic and hearty fare of the region, Fu Run’s repertoire consists of enthusiastically spiced stewed meats, deep fried fish and starches, and other stomach and soul warming dishes concocted to stave off the abysmal cold and bad food-induced depression.
The signature chef d’oeuvre here is a full rack of lamb doused in cumin, the Muslim Lamb Chop. Fatty, spice-laden, deep fried, and epic. What the crunching crust hides is perfectly gamey chunks of meat that are anxious to fall of the bone and onto your welcoming tongue. Be warned that this dish, which appears on positively every table in the resto, is super bold in scent and taste and may not be for the faint-palate’d. Fried fish is another staple on the menu and you could get a whole fried flounder in a layer of not-so-spicy, slightly sweet bean paste or bites of crispy filets, thickly battered and tossed in cumin and chili pepper. When you’re done with the savory, you’ll need to go on to the sweet. Forget your average Chinese restaurant dessert, forget it ever existed - at Fu Run, you’ll be treating your mouth to a delicious concoction of bite-size starches (choose from a list that includes apples, taro, sweet potato etc.) coated in molten sugar, which you douse in cold water before eating. The caramel hardens into candy, providing a sweet satisfying crunch before giving way to steaming puffy goodness within.
For the People That Came for Korean BBQ (And I Can’t Blame You)
149-24 41st Ave, Flushing/Murray Hill
If you’ve found yourself reading this article, you’re probably not unfamiliar with the phenomenon known as Korean BBQ. While Flushing is predominantly thought of as a little China, its Korean offerings are also innumerable and, in the case of Mapo BBQ, superior than what you’ll find in the one-block stretch of Koreatown by Herald Square. At Mapo, the kalbi - full slabs of effervescently marinated short rib and superstar of the Korean BBQ - is the absolute tops. The marinade is a perfect blend of light sweetness and soy sauce umami, the 2-full-rib slab is grilled to perfection and scissor-cut by your server before entering your mouth via a lettuce/marinated onion/ssamjang sauce wrap.
The secret to the tenderness and smoky flavor of Mapo’s kalbi comes from a blatant disregard for fire safety time-honored tradition that has all but disappeared from New York’s Korean BBQ scene: charcoal grill. Most KBBQ places now use gas which just doesn’t cut it in terms of flavor and the smoky je ne sais quoi that the charcoal imparts to the meat. Another advantage of Mapo is their complimentary side dish. In addition to your familiar kimchis, cornstarch jelly in spicy marinades, etc., Mapo starts off your meal with cast iron skillet of roasted corn and a stone pot of steamed egg souffle, a savory custard of unforgettable suppleness and a standard Korean side dish that has also inexplicably disappeared from New York’s Korean restaurants.
147-42 Northern Blvd, Flushing/Murray Hill
Mapo may have all that charcoal goodness going for it but if what you want is quantity and pretty OK quality, then Picnic Garden is your ticket. This well-known all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ place is a hedonistic den, a veritable cornucopia of raw meats for cooking, and cooked dishes for immediate stuffing. All the usuals of Korean BBQ - kalbi, bulgogi, pork belly, chicken, seafood - are there, and you’ll also find japchae (glass noodles), fried dumplings, seafood pancakes, side dishes, and an infinity of offerings dizzying in its plenitude. The twin features of AYCE - satisfying abundance and immediate regret - also haunt the Picnic Garden experience, but if you’re in it to win it, pay the price ($30-32 for dinner $17 - $25 for lunch) and prepare to gratify the gods of gluttony.