wandering about jackson heights and elmhurst

Set out with a roughly sketched itinerary of snacking in Jackson Heights, wandering a mile or so down Broadway to Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House for fried dumplings followed by an Indonesian dinner at Sky Cafe, with stops along the way for anything that looked interesting, intertwined with four or so places @DaveCook kindly volunteered.

Upon departing the subway, I thought to check out Merrit Kebab to see if reports of closing due to fire were accurate. If open, maybe I’d grab a samosa and circle back later for takeout:

A short walk from Merrit Kebab was one of Dave’s suggestions, SM Pitha, a print shop with a food window on Diversity Square. Unfortunately, they’d removed the menu from the storefront so, undaunted, I walked in and had this conversation:

“Hi, do you guys still serve food?”
“Yes, are you hungry? what do you want to eat?”

well, that brought me up short, I mean, yes I was hungry but exactly what did I want to eat? And what’s on offer? and were the print shop owners doing the cooking? so confused! I showed them Dave’s menu photo and they informed me they’d be setting up a table in ten minutes in front of the store with food for sale.

With a little time in hand, I decided to head to OG Tong’s for fuchka:
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/26/nyregion/jackson-heights-street-food-fuchka.html


In the past I’ve had pani puri but found these a little more substantial, complex and I loved the piquant tamarind sauce served on the side. The couple next to me were eating Bhel Puri and it looked wonderful. I also swung by the relatively new Kotha Kebab, the food looked good, worth trying next time through (maybe a kebab house taste off?)

Back to SM Pitha, I tried a delicious but greasy chicken lollipop and some sort of once crispy, now soggy, very spicy pakora (I think). Given the recent change in menu and limited hours, not sure this is worth seeking out:


I originally intended to spend about 15 minutes in and around diversity square but somehow an hour had passed. Hopefully, I wasn’t just staring into space for long periods like the leader of the free world, so I decided to pass on the other earthly delights of Jackson Heights and start my jaunt down Broadway.

Speaking of earthly delights, about two blocks in, a woman took me by the arm and tried to lead me into a storefront, pretty sure they were selling something other than food. While gently disentangling myself, I wondered what instinct caused her to step into the flow of Roosevelt Ave and try to physically lead me, of all people, into her place of business. Was it some combination of age, race, sex, appearance, and perceived economic status? Or was I exuding some sort of pheromone-like substance that her olfactory glands transmitted to some deep, ancient part of the hypothalamus that said “This is my prey, this is the one, this one…”. It occurred to me to turn around and ask but upon further, short reflection, realized it was probably best not to have her answer :scream:

Near the intersection of Broadway and Roosevel I found G Mart, a large grocery store serving the needs of many ethnicities (yup, avoiding the term “ethnic grocery store” at all costs). I’m wondering why one chooses the name G mart when H mart is an established brand. Wouldn’t “I Mart” make more sense, connoting that you’re H Mart+1? Or why not go right to Z mart with the thought of a) preventing anyone else from taking your +1 and b) setting your brand up to serve a key emerging ethnic group during the coming zombie apocalypse.

I started framing a conversation with the store owner, replete with examples from the tech world (c->c++, vms->wnt, etc) but decided to save that conversation for when I had dave and/or @Saregama by my side to safely pull me away when things inevitably got out of hand (Thank God Dave was there to drag me away when I started arguing with a woman in a flushing mall that we should be able to order less than 20 dumplings!) Anyhow, G mart was cool, clean, offered a good selection of asian goods, produce, meat, and fish. Next trip, armed with a hot/cold bag, I’ll buy more stuff there.

This was my first jaunt down broadway from Jackson heights, I found it to be quieter, less chaotic but ultimately not as interesting as Roosevelt Ave. Still, I made note of ten or fifteen places I’d like to visit during my next Elmhurst wander. After several detours to check out menus and stores, I arrived hungry and thirsty at Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House. I’d read their noodles were handmade and I was hoping to find fried dumplings the equal of the beloved but now defunct, 88 Lan Zho. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be:


the dumpling skins were too thick but more importantly, the dumplings had been fried some time ago and I found them to be chewy instead of crispy. Still, the pork and leek filling was wonderful, next time I’ll order them boiled.

As I was working my way through the dumplings, I thought I heard gunshots but no, it was the sound of the chef banging strands of noodles on a wooden counter. I’ve made biang biang noodles, named for the sound they make when slapped against a counter, but the chef must have had 20 pounds of noodles gathered in hand. The culinary skill on display stretching and gathering the noodles was something to see. Looked a lot like this:

Looking around, I noticed no one else had dumplings on their table, instead, everyone had a huge bowl of noodle soup. The menu, prices are reasonable, I’m sure the noodles are great and the place was slammed by the time I left a must visit once the weather turns cooler.

It seemed to me I had enough stomach capacity for one more snack before dinner, across from chao thai, I noticed a long queue at a skewer bbq truck. Decided on a $2 lamb skewer. Ordered spicy, might have been the best bite of the day, the seasoning had a little more going on than the trucks in flushing:


Had a hard time finding sky cafe because, as fate would have it, sky cafe is no mas. The handwritten sign on the door said “Come in”, I knocked and met the new owners. The restaurant name is changing but they’ve retained the chef and the menu will remain the same. Still, I’m guessing the new owners won’t be pricing Nasi Lemak Rendang at $8 going forward :frowning:

So now what to do? I’ve been thinking about making a banh mi for my first dish in the cotm thread, Joju banh mi was nearby, so decided to give it a try. While the sandwich was good, for some reason the pickled carrots had way too much sugar, which, to my palate, ruined the acid balance of the sandwich. I will say the meat was top notch and I’m tempted to try their bulgogi banh mi. Still, something of a waste, as I didn’t realize they now have a branch in Manhattan.

So that was it, as expected, some hits and misses, but overall, a wonderful experience that I may repeat as early as next week.

best,

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Forgot to add the banh mi photos! The sausage they tuck in there was great and, if you look carefully, you may see the runny egg I ordered as an extra.


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A fun and funny read!

Too bad about Merit — hope they bounce back.

(I’ve walked by the food at the pitha & more stand and never eaten any for the reasons you describe.)

Was there egg in your puchka / fuchka? I’ve had pretty perfect pani puri, dahi batata puri (like doi puchka / fuchka), sev puri, and bhel this trip, and most variations away from Bombay-style chaat make me very unhappy :rofl:. Keep the tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, and whatever other “creative” additions other locations felt the need to add faaaaaar away from my chaat please!!!

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Indeed, there was egg in the fuchka and I quite understand your sentiment, often when I eat pizza outside of nyc, I try and trick myself by pretending it’s not pizza but a whole new category of food called faux-za or sometimes fizza for short. But more often than not I conclude it was just bad pizza.

Still, maybe it will help if you think of it as bani buri :joy:

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We ate the doi fuchka last time, no egg and I liked it almost as much as dahi batata puri

Places mostly like to mess with Bhel — for no good reason.

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I have to become conversant with all the variations of pani puri; I don’t really have a great sense of the differences. Apparently, some of the trucks are better for at one variation than the others.

Great read! I adore Elmhurst. Was this on a weekday? Let me know if you want accompaniment sometime in the next few weeks – I’ve got to get out there while I’m still underemployed and can enjoy it. (With any luck, I’ll be back to the 9-to-5 grind in a few weeks.)

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It was a weekday, how does Thursday look for you?

Thursday looks great.

You’re 7 - 10 years late on Lao Bei Fang. While the filling was always flavorful, getting an order well fried was always a problem, especially during off hours. Now, I specifically go off hours once or twice a year and get the fried vegetable dumplings. Those are never sitting around getting cold so they are always fried fresh. They’re not as good as pork and chive but the execution is much better. But, sadly, not worthy a special trip.

Late meaning the food isn’t what it once was? I was thinking next time I’d ask if they minded frying up some fresh ones, they can only say no!

Yes. The ingredients are probably the same but you are no longer guaranteed to get dumplings freshly fried for the first time.
I’ve never tried asking them to cook a fresh batch for me but I have asked “are the dumplings fresh?” I got a “yes” but the dumplings weren’t. I stopped going for years.

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thanks, as I mentioned in my post, it seems to me the hand-pulled noodles is the order there but great intel on the veggie dumplings!

on the off chance, you’re in -country, we’re heading to elmhurst tomorrow.

Way back in the early Chowhound days, the fried dumplings were the thing to get. I don’t know when that changed to the hand-pulled noodles, probably around the time that the dumplings went downhill.
I’m in Thailand now. Be back in Sept. Happy to join in an Elmhurst, JH, Corona crawl then.

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