With cuisine from all over the world—from Argentina to Vietnam, Tibet to Bangladesh, and many points on the map in between—Queens offers an embarrassment of riches for adventurous eaters in New York. Just ask Lonely Planet, which named it the number one travel destination in the U.S., thanks to a burgeoning art scene and a spike in boutique hotels and microbreweries. While those developments further add to the allure of Queens, the borough’s calling card has always been its bountiful corridors of street food, with hefty Mexican tortas, Veracruz-style seafood cocktails, and Bangladeshi chaat all prepared by specialists who have perfected their craft over the years. From obscured bodega shacks to out-in-the-open street carts, here are 10 street foods from Queens that every New Yorker needs to try.
Tofu from Soy Bean Chen Flower Shop
If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might never know that this florist on the bustling Roosevelt Avenue in Queens’ Chinatown sells the silkiest Chinese “flower tofu,” or,dou hua, in New York City. Upon closer inspection, you’ll find a repurposed ice-cream cart tucked into the right side of the flower shop. Watch in awe as Mr. Chen or his wife scoop the creamy white curds into a plastic container. The sweet version is topped with a gingery syrup, while the salty one receives a dollop of a Chinese salsa of sorts—made from chilies, dried baby shrimp, chopped preserved vegetable, and green onions. If you’re feeling especially hungry, grab yourself a you tiao, or a Chinese cruller, which is a traditional breakfast staple. Take a seat amid the flowers and Buddha statuary inside and enjoy the warm curds in New York City’s only combo tofu-vendor-florist.
Seafood Cocktail from La Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano
Cocteles (think of them as virgin seafood Bloody Marys) are the house specialty at this humble establishment. The chef Pedro Rodriguez learned how to make Mexican-style seafood cocktails back home in Veracruz. On weekends, Rodriguez and his small army of assistants sell their refreshing specialty from the back of an unassuming bodega to hungry locals and foodies who congregate as the 7 train rumbles by overhead. Order the mixto—octopus and shrimp mixed with olive oil, salt, cilantro, onions, avocados, and a secret blend of cocktail sauce—and be sure to ask for a splash of Valentina hot sauce. If you’re craving more, fried whiting tacos and tostadas heaped with seabass are also excellent. Pro tip: Crumble the accompanying Saltines on top.
Jaal Muri from Baul Daada Jaal Muri Shop
Baul Daada, the proprietor of his eponymous shop, is a one-man Bangladeshi chaat show specializing in jaal muri. Approach his venue—a small counter on the sidewalk in front of a greengrocer—hand over a few bucks, and watch a master go to work. Puffed rice, black chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, green chilies, red onions, crunchy roasted soybeans, and sev (fried, noodle-like bits of spiced chickpea flour paste) all go into the gigantic shaker along with squirts and shakes from sundry bottles of sweet and tangy chutneys. (Watch out: There’s also sinus-clearing mustard oil.) Baul Daada is only available from 3–10pm, to better capitalize on the afternoon and evening prayer traffic from the mosque across the street.
Tortas and Tacos from Tortas Neza
Galdino “Tortas” Neza is, as his nickname indicates, best known for his roster of more than a dozen overstuffed Mexican sandwiches, each named for a Mexican soccer club. None is more bloated than the Tortas Puma, which contains lettuce, a chorizo omelet, fried hot dogs, a fried Milanesa cutlet, several slices of ham, head cheese, and a fistful of Mexican cheese. (You might want bring your own fútbol club to help you eat it.) Less hearty appetites will appreciate the wonderful tacos de carnitas—slow-cooked pork crisped up on the plancha. The gorditas, pillowy rounds of maize stuffed with chicharrón and then deep fried, are worth a try; chili heads will want to ask for Galdino’s homemade habanero sauce. (Photo: Yelp/ Huan C.)
Arepas from The Arepa Lady
Address and phone: 77-02AA Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights (347-730-6124)
Good for: Gooey-cheesy Colombian street food classics made by an abuelita
Maria Piedad Cano, a.k.a. The Arepa Lady, is a street-eats deity in Jackson Heights. Dubbed the Sainted Arepa by Jim Leff of Chowhound, Cano is an O.G.—an original grandma of the neighborhood’s Colombian food scene. She started preparing her delicious griddled corn and cheese cakes some 30 years ago to support her family. Up until a few years ago, people would anticipate whether she’d be out on the corner of 79th Street and Roosevelt Avenue making gooey, sweet arepa de queso, and the saltier yellow corn arepa de choclo. Thanks to social media, now there’s always an update on the cart’s whereabouts. Best of all, last summer her kids returned the favor by opening Areperia Arepa Lady. Her son Alejandro says that the Sainted One herself will be returning to her street cart once the weather warms up. “I try to tell her not to work until 5am, but she loves it,” he said. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
Balut from The Balut Man
Balut—a fertilized duck egg that’s boiled and eaten in the shell—is quite a popular street food in the Philippines. So it’s no surprise that Woodside’s Little Manila has its very own Balut Man. His name is Ephraim, and you’ll find him outside of Fritzie’s Bake Shop most evenings. Despite balut’s gnarly reputation and appearance—yes, that tiny gray guy sitting atop the yolk is an embryo—it’s quite tasty, like a very rich soup with a creamy egg yolk. Skip the white part, which is usually rubbery. If you need help, the Balut Man will show you how to crack it open and slurp out the precious juices. As an added bonus, the fertilized duck egg’s reputed to make you “good at boom boom” and “give you strong knees.”
Taiwanese Fried Chicken Slice From Lucia Pizza/Taipei Hong
Address and phone: Lucia Pizza, 136-55 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing (718-445-1313); Taipei Hong, 136-55 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing
Web site: N/A
Good for: Fans of cross-cultural mashups who have a major case of the munchies
At Lucia Pizza, one of the best old-school slice shops in Queens, you might have one of the most “WTF” moments of your life, courtesy of a Taiwanese-Italian mashup. It was bound to happen sooner or later, given that Lucia sits next door to Taipei Hong—home of some of the best “secret” Taiwanese fried chicken. The food court that houses Taipei Hong is already home to poultry stalwart Two Peck Chicken, so to keep from stepping on their toes, the lady who runs Taipei Hong sells her to-go only chicken on the sly. Here’s the trick: You’ll need to ask for the No. 1 to-go, which is listed on the menu as stinky tofu, saying something along the lines of “You know, the chicken.” You will be prompted with “spicy or no spicy,” and you should definitely opt for the heat. Some folks have had trouble procuring this secret No. 1 chicken, so you might want to say the magic words yan su ji, salted crispy chicken. Once you’ve secured your $4 bag of contraband poultry, head over to the front window of Lucia Pizza and order a $2.25 slice. Then create your very own Taiwanese-Italian-American mashup. You might even have enough left over to do the same with a Sicilian slice.
Shaved Ice From El Bohio Grocery
Forget the groundhog—the real arrival of warm weather in Queens is indicated by the Dominican man who sets up shop in the window of El Bohio Grocery. Come mid-April, you’ll find him shaving away at a 75-pound block of ice, which he’ll then drizzle with a sweet flavored syrup and condensed milk. Options include tamarindo, orange, pineapple, and frambuesa. The last one is a Queens street-food classic: It’s billed as raspberry, but it it tastes like raspberries the way a Champagne cola tastes like Champagne—which is to say, not at all.
Momos from A&G Himalayan Fresh Food
The juicy, crimped beef dumplings known as momo are beloved by Tibetans, so much so that there are two dozen restaurants that serve them, as well as four street carts that steam the little packages day and night. The best of the street vendors by far is A&G Himalayan Fresh Food, named after brothers Amchu and Gyatso who hail from Amdo in Central Tibet. An octet of momo with spicy chili sauce and a cup of momo water—the beefy liquid from the cooking vessel—or a salty butter tea is a perfect light meal. A&G also sells a traditional Amdo flat bread called baklep. A small one’s slightly larger than an English muffin, while the family-sized version is the circumference of a dinner plate.
Chinese Skewers from Zhu Da Jie
There are many places to score Chinese-style barbecue in the bustling Chinatown that is downtown Flushing. Our skewer of choice, however, can be found in the borough’s smaller Chinatown, Elmhurst. Zhu Da Jie grills lamb, chicken, and beef over hardwood charcoal. Request spicy and the meat comes dusted with cumin, chili powder, and just a hint of Sichuan peppercorn. The owner’s 22-item roster also includes such offal favorites as beef tendon, fish maw, and chicken hearts.