There are many dissimilarities between Pakistani and Indian food, and one of the best places to study this phenomenon is the sprawling restaurant and banquet hall on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights called Taste of Lahore. Though it sounds French, Lahore instead refers to the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, the second largest municipality in the country. A steam table the size of an airstrip at nearby LaGuardia displays a plethora of pungent, spice-driven meat dishes featuring chicken, lamb, and mutton, reminding us that the Spice Road runs through Pakistan. What is more surprising is the large number of vegetarian offerings — the national love of veggies (things like bitter melon and snake gourd predominate) is a well-kept secret in a cuisine that flaunts its kebabs.
[Steam roast chicken]
While one expects the fussed-over rice pilafs (see picture) called biryanis to be superb, there are plenty of surprises in store at Taste of Lahore. One is the so-called "steam roast chicken" (shown). There's nothing roasted about it — the bird is simply steamed with a spice paste that might remind you of tandoori chicken. Indeed this wonderful dish may have inspired the famed bird of clay-oven cookery, which was invented in Delhi, India sometime in the 1940s. But steam roast chicken proves moister than tandoori chicken and not prone to the same kind of dry stringiness of the clay-over bird. Enough chicken to feed three will set you back $14.99. 73-10 Northern Blvd, Queens, 718-779-6700.
What's the cheapest fried-fish sandwich in Bushwick? After a recent piece on the Harlem's sainted whiting sandwich, I turned my attention to Brooklyn. Perhaps the borough's cheapest version of this bread-and-fish classic can be found at B & K Fish Mini Market. For a scandalous $2.99, you get two big filets on whole wheat, and it's up to you to add the condiments from a varied collection on the sideboard. (Traditional: tartar sauce and Tabasco.) Also worth ordering and dirt cheap is Combo Special #3, which includes one whiting filet, two jumbo shrimp, and three scallops, plus French fries for $4.99. The raw fish at the store, both filets and whole specimens, are just as reasonably priced. If you're looking for fish heads to make a French fumet, look for this place under the J tracks, because there's no cheaper source in town. 1161 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718-455-2998.
Stroll down Broadway in the northern reaches of the Upper West Side and you'll stumble on a 24-hour deli that's rather unusual, beginning with the name. Mexican Deli is one of those Boar's Head places that specialize in bologna sandwiches and their kin, and the new proprietors have preserved that pretense. But they've also added a shelf of Mexican hot sauces, canned beans, and kilos of tortillas, and started making tacos on a griddle that used to be reserved for hamburgers and toasted cheese. The selections run to lengua (tongue), al pastor (pork), and cecina (dried beef). The results are amazingly good, and stand in sharp contrast to the more-expensive tacos offered at the gringo-aimed margarita mills that dot the neighborhood. The best thing my friends and I tried was an egg-and-chorizo taco ($2.75), available all day. If you were in Austin, you'd call it a breakfast taco. 2711 Broadway, 212-932-1111.
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