When it comes to Chinese food, there’s no doubt that Manhattan’s Chinatown lays claim to the slickest name designation. But compared to the wealth of regional fare in Queens, it’s true allure for food obsessives only goes so far.
Not only is Flushing, Queens the city’s most dynamic and bustling epicenter for Chinese culture, but it’s arguably the best place in the country to dine on fiery Sichuan cuisine of the south, or rustic rib-sticking specialties of the frigid northeastern Dongbei region. (Los Angeles, get off your high-horse for a moment, okay?) The Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue corridors in downtown are ground zero when it comes to Chinese food; and best of all, you won’t need a car to explore the wonders of its densely packed food courts and restaurants.
We’ve compiled a list of must-try spots for xiao long bao bursting with crab broth, hand-pulled noodles, Muslim lamb chops, and other must-try dishes that make the 7 line feel like a gateway to heaven.
Photo courtesy Joe DiStefano (@JoeDiStefano)
LAO DONG BEI
Address and phone: 44-09 Kissena Blvd (718-539-4100)
Good for: An introduction to soul-warming Dongbei cuisine, including authentic sweet-and-sour pork and Flushing’s best Muslim lamb chop
The owners of Lao Dong Bei hail from Harbin, a city in the far Northeastern part of China where winter temperatures often dip below 0°F. That means plenty of rib sticking fare like di san xian (listed on the menu as triple delight vegetable)—a trifecta of stir-fried potatoes, hot green peppers, and eggplant slicked in a slightly sweet soy sauce—and sha guo suan cai dun fen tiao, a soup of sour cabbage with rice noodles and pork belly. The latter seems like it fit in just as well on a German table as it does a Chinese one. And then there’s the lamb chop in Xinjiang style—an entire rack of earthy lamb, encrusted in cumin and sesame seeds, that’s fatty, crunchy, and luscious. Other spots serve the dish, calling it Muslim chop, but LDB’s is hands down the best version around.
Order this: Muslim lamb chop, triple delight vegetable, ba si, fried pork in orange sauce
SU XIANG YUAN/NUTRITIOUS LAMB NOODLE SOUP
Good for: Restorative bowls of hangover/cold/heartache-busting noodle soup
This hand-pulled noodle emporium sits on the upper level of the fabled Golden Shopping Mall, across from a hairdresser. The specialty of the house is Henanese hand-pulled noodle soup packed with plenty of lamb, springy hand-pulled wheat noodles, slippery glass noodles, and strands of tofu skin. The milky lamb-bone broth bobbing with goji berries and wood-ear mushrooms will leave you feeling well-nourished. Doctor it up with a splash of vinegar and a dollop of chili paste for a regional Chinese take on that old-school American-Chinese classic, hot-and-sour soup. Add a side order of one of the many cold dishes, including chicken feet, lamb heart, and shredded potato in vinegar. Pro tip: xiao wan (SHAO-wan) means small bowl, and da wan means big bowl.
Order this: lamb noodle soup, lamb spine, lotus root
Good for: Sichuan food that doesn’t hold back on the ma la attack
Flushing’s newest food court houses one of its best Sichuan outfits. The ladies who run this stall proudly display their cold-noodle mise en place for all to see. The ma la lang mian here is excellent—fiery, sweet, and nutty, with just enough Sichuan peppercorn. Fu qi fei pian, the cool mélange of ox tongue and tripe bathed in chili oil with peanuts and herbs, is wonderful as well. Noodle soups bring the sinus clearing heat.
Order this: Spicy cold noodle, fu qi fei pian, Szechuan eel noodle
Address and phone: 137-40 Northern Blvd (718-353-1808)
Good for: Real-deal Hunan cuisine
Hunan cuisine often gets confused with Sichuan in New York City, but not at Hunan House, where such dishes as steamed fish head sing with a spicy clarity under a blanket of duo la jiao, or pickled salted chilies. Subtler homestyle dishes like xian dan huang qie zi, or steamed eggplant with salted duck egg yolk, are well-executed. The beef with crispy pepper is astounding—a heap of stir-fried beef shot through with peanuts, pickled red chilies, garlic, and the star of the dish, crispy red pepper. Crunchy, salty, and somehow lined on the inside with sesame seeds, these peppers are so good you’ll want an entire bowl to yourself.
Order: Steamed fish head with chopped chilies, beef with crispy pepper, steamed eggplant with preserved duck egg
Address and phone: 57-33 Main St (718-353-5791)
Good for: The crabbiest pork-and-crab soup dumplings
This mecca of soup dumplings and Shanghai cuisine lies at the southern end of Main Street, so be prepared to take a bus in addition to a train. A meal here begins with a dish of roasted peanuts gobbed with a sweet, salty sauce that belies the kitchen’s finesse. The xiao long bao have an incredibly delicate skin and possess a deep, rich crabby flavor. The braised boar hock with baby bok choy is a delicious study in cooked-down porcine goodness.
Order: Steamed tiny buns with crab meat and pork, braised boar hock with baby bok choy