I have now been a official Jackson Heights resident for exactly one week. It’s good getting back to my chowhoundy roots. Of course, it’s hardly uncharted territory; this neighborhood and environs have been well tread by Joe DiStefano, Dave Cook, Jeff Orlick and Robert Sietsema, among others. And yes, there are even some women on the scene–just tonight there was an event featuring a discussion between two Queens cookbook authors, Andrea Lynn and Meg Cotner.
I’ll do what I can. Right now that means eating everywhere within walking distance. I’m afraid I’m turning into a bachelor (also that I’m gaining a pound a day in baked goods and ghee.) The newness will wear off soon enough, real fall weather will kick in, and I’ll eventually settle back into home cooking. Maybe?
Saw Shack It’s Chinese takeout with rough wood beams instead of primary colored Formica that would feel more at home on Smith Street or Vanderbilt Avenue. On the counter, there’s water chilling in a giant spigoted Mason jar with cucumbers and limon (sometimes cantaloupe) but you can still get a can of soda with your sesame chicken combo meal in a Styrofoam container. Minus the mock meats, there’s nothing radically different about this menu; it’s not upscale or elevated. The pork in the double cooked pork tastes like pork, the sauce isn’t sweet or greasy–in fact, it’s spicy as was asked for–and includes nice thin slices of that smoked tofu that looks like gouda. Pink and green flecks imply there is actually scallion and crab (or at least krab) in the rangoon. You’ll get duck sauce, and also an earthy chile oil that I want to believe is homemade. It’s mostly shredded cabbage in the spring roll, though a meaty strip of shiitake also lurks. This is not a destination restaurant, just a boon for locals.
La Gran Uruguaya I accidentally wandered here first, thinking it was La Nueva, the more storied bakery. Both are equally busy and at least on the surface have similar racks of baked goods that would take me months to get through if I tried one item a day. The beef empanadas were fresh from the oven (otherwise, you can have them warmed), super flaky and more rich than you’d expect from a baked version. For me, anything stuffed with dulce de leche is dangerous because I like my sweets sickly sweet, and that sums up most of what’s on offer (except the naked, dry-looking twisted things closest to the register)
La Nueva Bakery So far, I’ve only sampled a ham and cheese empanada that seemed all shredded ham, and a classic beef empanada that was heavier on the olives and lighter on filling than La Gran Uruguaya’s. The crust was also more bready than flaky, which may be more correct. I will have to do more taste testing.
Rajbhog Sweets I said I like my sweets sweet, right? Half a pound of mithai equals more or less six pieces (pistachio burfi, those round syrupy things called cutlets and a mystery silver-leaved white oblong stuffed with what I think is sweetened cheese), enough for a family or enough for me to finish in less than 12 hours. While senselessly watching Requiem For a Dream, I saw myself in Ellen Burstyn’s character caressing her box of chocolates. And we know how she ends up. The only remedy will be if I stay in my part of the neighborhood and avoid the Indian section.
El Chivito d’Oro I was going to marvel at how much food you get for $38 until I realized that on my last visit the parrillada for two (teaming with short ribs, sweetbreads, sausage, morcilla, skirt steak and veal) plus two sides cost $10 less. Ok, that was eight years ago, so it’s still a marvel. The meat will probably be well-done. No one will likely ask if you wanted it otherwise. If you’re not fussy, a $19 bottle of Malbec isn’t a bad addition either. Fries and salad, my extras, share billing with less South American rice and beans and tostones. A lot of people order the potato salad. A very long Happy Birthday song might be played. On weekend nights, this and its nearby competitors, all have lines out the door. If you haven’t set up your kitchen yet, you will have leftover meat to eat for a few days and that’s a good thing.
Pollos a la Brasa Mario Somehow there are three of this mini-chain in a ten-block radius. There’s certainly more than rotisserie chicken, but I’ve never ventured deep into the Colombian canon (that will have to change soon). The soupy beans (not pictured) are seriously porky and kind of amazing.
Kitchen 79 I will say more later (I’ve been twice already) but for now this strangely glossy Thai restaurant is an area standout. You can have your pork knuckle, fish maw and wild boar or bring friends who’ll both order curries with tofu and eat them like entrees and it will be ok (love you guys). Despite the bar with taps advertising Yuengling and Sapporo, it’s still BYOB.