In last night’s episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain journeyed by 7 train to his own backyard — the borough of Queens. In an episode filled with rumination about the epic importance of immigrants to our workforce and food culture, he wolfed down Ecuadorian llapingachos (cheese-laced potato cakes), Shanghai soup dumplings, and Tibetan chile beef, among other things. As a paean to Queens’ wonderful food, the episode is effective, though we’re guessing that the carts and restaurants will see the Bourdain effect, attracting lines and long waits. Explore beyond the suggestions in the episode with these alternatives, organized according to nationality.
TIBETAN AND NEPALESE
Bourdain mentions that Himalayan food has partly eclipsed Indian food in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood convenient to the E, F, R, and 7 trains. There he feasts at Lhasa Fast Food (37-50 74th Street), a snack bar behind a cell phone store reached by a narrow Plexiglas passage — very picturesque, but not nearly as comfortable as Phayul (37-65 74th St), a lively café above a beauty parlor, where you can get several types of momo dumplings, chile beef, and the hand-torn noodles called thenthuk, which Bourdain so enjoyed.
One of the best places to get momo in the city is the cart at the corner of Broadway and 37th Rd known as Potala Fresh Momo. The offerings are simple: thick-skinned steamed dumplings, usually available in beef, pork, or vegetarian versions. For a real sit-down meal in relatively elegant surroundings, check out regional Nepalese restaurant Mustang Thakali Kitchen (74-14 37th Ave). In addition to the dishes Bourdain sampled, the menu offers bhatmas chiura (a crunchy soybean salad) and sel roti (a ring-shaped bread of compressed rice).
Though you don’t see Bourdain eating one of her tamales, the success story of Evelia Coyotzi’s trailer is one of the most moving segments of the episode. She’s often parked at the corner of Junction Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue if you want to track her down, but, really, you’ll find so many food carts — mainly Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Colombian — that you can depend on eating well up and down the street in either direction at any hour of the day.
One of our favorite Mexican establishments near this corner is Torta Neza (96-15 Roosevelt Avenue), a window selling humongous Mexican sandwiches. You can buy a sandwich and eat it next door in the Juan Bar if you spring for a beer. A great sit-down Mexican spot nearby is Tacos Morelos (94-13 37th Avenue), specializing in the cuisine of the Morelos state and other southern Mexican fare, including tacos placeros and mole rojo pipian. Beers and tequila are available.
Ecuadorian street carts vie with Mexican ones for dominance up and down Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona. Bourdain visits Warren Street, running south of Roosevelt Avenue one block west of the Junction Boulevard stop on the 7 train. Six or seven Ecuadorian carts and trucks often set up there, putting chairs and tables out on the sidewalk for a festive dining scene, lasting late into the night. The pork roast called lechon hornado is popular, as are the morcilla (blood sausage) and llapingachos (cheese-laced potato pancakes) Bourdain ate. For the adventuresome, there’s guatita, a beef-tripe stew, as well as the goat stew known as seco de chivo.
A couple of sit-down Ecuadorian restaurant recommendations not too far away: Manuelito (103-28 Corona Avenue) and Lechon Hornado Ecuatoriano (7618 Roosevelt Avenue), both open late.
Queens’ Northern Boulevard running east from Flushing to Bayside is a miraculous collection of Korean restaurants, offering all kinds of regional and national specialties. There are an estimated 150 on the thoroughfare and side streets. Bourdain picks Geo Si Gi (152-28 Northern Blvd), where the specialty is the pork-bone soup gamja tang, made tableside, and haemul pajeon, bouncy seafood pancakes. He then goes crazy for kalbi, marinated and barbecued beef short ribs, which have a sweet and smoky flavor.
You can go right to Geo Si Gi, but we figure it will be mobbed with Bourdain fans by the time you get there. Here’s a suggestion: Take the Long Island Rail Road to the Murray Hill stop, which is in the middle of what looks like a lovely small town square somewhere in Indiana. You are only a few blocks from Geo Si Gi and other appealing Korean restaurants along Northern Boulevard (including some fast food spots specializing in maki rolls and over-rice bowls), but surrounding the station are several great Korean restaurants serving full menus in addition to table-top barbecue. Our favorite is MaPo BBQ (149-24 41st Avenue), where the kalbi is cooked over real charcoal — which makes a big difference in the flavor.
Bourdain’s pick for a soup dumpling venue was bound to be controversial — in Flushing restaurant empires rise and fall based on the excellence of their soup dumplings. He picks Yu Garden (46-20 Kissena Boulevard), a good place way off the beaten path and a long walk from the 7 train terminus at Main Street. Two closer places — featuring gossamer-skinned Shanghai pork and crab dumplings bulging with soup — are Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (38-12 Prince Street), and the newer, more stylish Shanghai You Garden (135-33 40th Road). All three places, you can get the boiled beef tongue and tripe (a Sichuan dish) and Shanghai-style lions head meatballs that Bourdain extols in the segment.
Downtown Jamaica and vicinity is dotted with West African restaurants, of which the one covered in the episode, Africana Soul Food Restaurant (146-12 Liberty Ave) specializes in Nigerian food. We see several dishes being prepared and served, among them pounded yam fufu, cowfoot soup, and what looks like a mixed-meat stew. Pay a visit and you’re likely to receive a warm welcome.
Bourdain gives shortest shrift to the Rockaway Park restaurant Brisas Del Mar (99-02 Rockaway Beach Blvd), which he doesn’t identify by nationality (it’s Dominican), nor does he describe the food with his usual gusto. Nevertheless, the restaurant is a good choice if you happen to be in that neighborhood, two blocks from the S and A trains and a block from the beach. Bourdain selects from a steam table, and picks a fried empanada, boiled plantains, pigeon peas and rice, and what looks like a pork stew — hearty fare at a bargain price.