A neighborhood in central Queens that occupies a little more than a square mile, Elmhurst is bounded by Roosevelt Avenue to the north and the Long Island Expressway to the south, Woodside to the west and Rego Park to the east. Founded as a Dutch village — a suburb of New Amsterdam — in 1652, it was taken over by the English in 1664, and renamed Middle Burgh. This became Newtown, a moniker that still persists today in the area just north of Queens Boulevard. A vestige of the original Dutch settlement can be found in the Reformed Church of Newtown, which originated on the present location at Broadway and Corona Avenue in 1731.
Today, the population is principally Asian and Latin. In fact, the neighborhood is sometimes identified as the city’s fourth Chinatown — although many of its inhabitants came from Southeast Asia. Indeed, Elmhurst has the most Southeast Asian restaurants in the city, including two dozen or so small Thai cafes, anchored by Wat Buddha Thai Thavorn Vanaram, a Buddhist temple near the corner of 46th Avenue and 76th Street, one of the largest in the city.
I could easily recommend 50 or 100 restaurants in this wonderful food neighborhood, including Colombian, Thai, Argentinian, Mexican, and Irish places, plus plenty of diners and pizzerias. Here are ten favorites, running from south to north, with an emphasis on Southeast Asian cuisines. The eateries are designated cheap [C], moderate [M], or expensive [E]. And by cheap, I mean really, really cheap, with a full meal costing between $5 and $10 or less.
Patacon Pisao — This Venezuelan sandwich shop that traces its roots to the city of Maracaibo originated as a food truck in Upper Manhattan. The Elmhurst location is more comfortable than its East Village counterpart, serving a broader array of daily specials, though the menu is still centered on grilled or fried arepa sandwiches, cachapas (corn crepes), tacuchos (Venezuelan burritos), and patacones (sandwiches substituting crunchy plantain slabs for bread). Plenty here for vegetarians, too. 85-22 Grand Ave., Queens, 718-899-8922 [C]
Summer — Sure, JoJu, a Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks north, makes great Vietnamese sandwiches — many that marry Korean and Japanese ingredients. But brand-new Summer sticks with the classics, using a superior crusty demi-baguette, house-pickled vegetables, and grainy homemade sausage. Seven permutations are available, some utilizing vegetarian meat substitutes, along with customizable noodle soups and bubble teas. The stark white dining room has virtually no embellishment, which is curiously refreshing. 85-36 Grand Ave., Queens, 718-803-6233 [C]
Happy Stony Noodle — This humble noodle shop with a psychedelic theme (the logo shows a happy face sucking down ideograms) specializes in the small dishes that might be called Taiwanese dim sum. Included are pig ears, marinated gluten, stinky tofu, oyster pancakes featuring fresh oysters, and pork and squid snacks galore. Noodle soups (including the iconic spicy beef noodle soup) and Taiwanese classics like “fly heads” (ground pork with dried tofu and garlic chives) are also well worth ordering. 83-47 Dongan Ave., Queens, 718-335-0500 [M]
Sweet Yummy House — One of the most popular Sichuan restaurants in the city, the hilariously named Sweet Yummy House doesn’t stint on the Sichuan peppercorns or the peanuts. The eight-table restaurant has a staff that couldn’t be more accommodating. I’d recommended anything with lamb, including lamb with chillies (which packs a cumin-laced kick), or the unusual black lamb —the “black” comes at least partly from black peppercorns. For Sichuan peppercorn fanatics, try the vegetarian dish listed as cold jelly Chengdu-style. Some items show a Taiwanese-Sichuan fusion approach popular with neighborhood regulars. 83-13 Broadway, Queens, 718-878-6603 [M]
Lao Bei Fang — A few years ago, this noodle shop moved from Whitney Avenue into larger digs just south of the LIRR overpass. The slap, slap, slap of hand-pulled Lanzhou noodles still permeates the room, which is sunny with southern-facing windows. Filled with different combos of pork and veggies, dumplings (eight for $3) are truly huge. The dumplings attract a diverse constituency of admirers, including students and shoppers, jamming the place most hours of the day. Whether you order them steamed or fried, you won’t be disappointed. 83-05 Broadway, Queens, 718-639-3996 [C]
Chao Thai — Along with Woodside’s SriPraPhai, this Siamese stalwart led the charge in bringing Isan food from Northern Thailand to New York. It was one of the first places in town to serve the leaf-wrapped fish mousse called homok (or sometime, amok). And it has always excelled at the sausage and barbecued-meat bar snacks that come littered with raw ginger, peanuts, and bird chillies. The fiery curries and stir fries are solid, too. 85-03 Whitney Ave., Queens, 718-424-4999 [M]
Sky Café — There aren’t nearly enough Indonesian restaurants in town and most are found in Elmhurst. Sky Café takes its cues from an institution known back home as a warung — a small stall or café, sometimes located in a market, which attracts dedicated locals for snacks, beverages, and conversation. Rice noodles and peanut sauce abound at Sky. Don’t miss the compressed rice cakes called lontong, or the gado-gado salad, either — a beguiling combinations of vegetables, pressed tofu, boiled egg, and shrimp chips with a rich peanut dressing. Closed Wednesday. 86-20 Whitney Ave., Queens, 718-651-9759 [C]
Taste Good — Malaysian restaurants have come and gone during the last two decades, especially in area Chinatowns, though few have persisted. Taste Good is the exception, residing in Elmhurst since the mid-90s, it offers a small, worn space and a big menu. The greatest hits of Malaysian cuisine are perfectly rendered, including satays, roti canai and variations, kangkung belacan (water spinach and shrimp paste), sambal goreng kentang udang (shrimp and potatoes), and a fishy and fiery laksa soup — one of the best dishes to introduce yourself to the intensely-flavored cuisine. 82-18 45th Ave, Queens, 718-898-8001 [M]
Eim Khao Mun Kai — Hainan, the island of China’s southernmost province, is famous for its chickens, which are poached in a gingery broth and served with soy sauce. This amazing café specializes in the Siamese take on the birds. The leftover broth is used to cook the rice that’s served with the sliced chicken — organs and all — along with some cucumber slices for contrast. A fortifying meal costs around $10. 81-32 Broadway, Queens, 718-424-7156 [C]
La Fusta — This is one of two Argentine steakhouses in Elmhurst. (The other is Boca Juniors, named after a Buenos Aires soccer team.) La Fusta happens to have an equestrian theme, with thoroughbred portraits, riding crops, and other paraphernalia lining the walls, making a meal feel like a few laps around the racetrack. Founded in 1970, La Fusta offers a menu of steaks, pork chops, blood sausage, chitterlings, and sweetbreads. Mixed grill combinations can be had, along with empanadas, fried cutlets, Russian salad, and Argentine pastas — including the country’s mainstay, gnocchi in an orange cream sauce. 80-32 Baxter Ave, Queens, 718-429-8222 [E]
Here’s a great place to grab dessert:
Sugar Club — What sweet tooth wouldn’t be wildly curious about a place called Sugar Club? While it sounds like a candy store, the combination carryout and sit-in snack parlor offers a full range of Thai desserts to a very enthusiastic and young constituency, plus plenty of pre-packed meals, also created on the premises. The dessert selection runs to elaborately topped waffles and square crepes, and the whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and other decorations flow freely. The banana-stuffed monkey roti is a favorite. This is one of Elmhurst’s most popular spots. 81-18 Broadway, Queens, 718-565-9018