/The Absolute Best Street Food in Queens

The Absolute Best Street Food in Queens


Birria-landia
Photo: Melissa Hom

The Vendy Awards — the celebration of New York City street food — that ran for 15 years called it quits in September, but thankfully the borough of Queens has always been a sort of 24/7 Vendy Awards competition and home to many Vendy nominees and winners. Here, a globetrotting list of the mighty borough’s absolute best street food from old-school Greek meat on a stick to Tijuana-style beef birria.

1. Birria-landia
Roosevelt Ave. at 78th St., Jackson Heights; 347-283-2162

Photo: Melissa Hom

“Roosevelt Avenue has the best Mexican food in New York City,” says one Dr. Steven Alvarez, assistant professor of English at St. John’s University, where he teaches a course called Taco Literacy exploring the foodways of Mexican immigrants in the United States. “Basically, the diversity of tacos one can find in New York are all on Roosevelt.” So it’s no surprise the absolute best street food in Queens would be found on La Roosie at Birria-landia, a.k.a. Beef-rrlandia. Decorated with a comically huge platter of red-tinged tacos, this truck is the only one in Queens selling Tijuana-style beef birria, a long-simmered stew that announces itself as one approaches the truck with the heady scent of meat seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and chiles. What makes it the absolute best, though, isn’t its unique position in the tapestry of Queens street food; it’s the care owner José Moreno takes with his food. That care comes from years of working at some of New York City’s top Italian restaurants, including a stint as sous-chef at Del Posto. The rich blend of brisket, bone-in beef shank, and top round is served in tacos stained red from a dip in the broth as well as atop crunchy tostadas. And then there’s the mulita, a quesadilla-like creation that sandwiches the meat between two tortillas with mozzarella. Be sure to also grab a consommé, a birria soup that takes well to lime and is a renowned hangover cure. (Monday to Thursday 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday to 3 a.m.; Sunday to 2 a.m.)

2. King Souvlaki
31st St. at 31st Ave., Astoria; 917-416-1189

This Aegean-blue truck adorned with a crown and the words “King Souvlaki” looks pretty modern, but it dates to 1979, when the original owner, Lefteris Tsampas, started grilling succulent pork skewers over hardwood charcoal. Back then, it was a humble cart whose sole decoration was a silent flashing red siren. Today, the King’s nephews, Kostas and George Tsampas, carry on the tradition as the N train rumbles overhead. “I’m double-parked, don’t wrap it” is a common refrain of longtime customers who line up for the succulent pork skewers. These days, there’s also lamb and pork gyros. The latter meat boasts a crunchy bark that would do a North Carolina pitmaster proud. The skin-on fries cooked in olive oil are delicious; the Greek version topped with feta and oregano is even better. (Monday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday to midnight; Thursday to Saturday to 5 a.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

3. Mr. Khao Man Gai
Roosevelt Ave. at 73rd St., Jackson Heights; no phone

Photo: Melissa Hom

In a hood better known for halal chicken and rice than Thai street food, Sasikan “Chompoo” Kaewnongdang and her boyfriend, Bancha “Bank” Supanya, serve the absolute best chicken and rice in Queens. The cart’s titular dish, chicken that’s been simmered with garlic, ginger, and pandan leaves and then chilled to stop the cooking and ensure a slippery luxurious skin is plated over rice cooked in the chicken broth. Accompanied by a cup of radish soup and tao jeow, a spicy ginger sauce that’s great for dipping the bird in, it’s a Thai-street-food classic. There’s also top-flight gai yang, grilled chicken anointed with lemongrass served with tamarind fish sauce, and amazing fried chicken. The latter comes with a sweet chile sauce and gets its delicate, peppery crust from a combination of all-purpose and Thai rice flour. It’s best eaten immediately before the crust wilts. (Monday to Thursday 8 p.m. to midnight)

4. Tong
73rd St. at 37th Ave., Jackson Heights; 929-257-6996

Photo: Melissa Hom

Across the street from Raja Sweets & Fast Food, Delicias Caleñas, and Dosa Delight lies a cheery yellow-green-and-red cart bearing the words “The first fuchka cart in USA.” Inside, two Bangladeshi gents clad in polo shirts with the same color scheme as the cart and the tagline “I was made to satisfy you” prepare a specialty more common on the streets of Dhaka than Jackson Heights. Fuchka are golden fried shells of semolina and rice flour filled with potatoes and yellow split peas and topped with red onions, grated hard-boiled egg, and a masala made from 16 secret ingredients. They ring a pool of sour tamarind water seasoned with a tinge of the sulfury Bangla black salt called bitnoon. Pour a bit of the liquid into the opening of one of the globes and pop the whole thing into your mouth. One shattering bite gives way to a wave of textures — creamy potatoes, crunchy shell — and flavors, spicy, sweet, and nutty. It’s a combination that was indeed made to satisfy. (Daily
2 p.m. to midnight)

5. Antojitos Doña Fela
Roosevelt Ave. at Case St., Jackson Heights; 646-280-673

On weekend afternoons, Elizabeth Sucasaca, the matriarch of this Peruvian food cart, grills scores of the tender beef-heart skewers known as anticuchos. She serves them with papa a la huancaína, boiled potato in a creamy sauce kicked up with ají amarillo, or Peruvian yellow chiles. In addition to the cumin-scented pork tamales that first made its name, Doña Fela makes an invigorating ceviche de pescado sporting chunks of firm white fish in a lemon-juice marinade singing with the flavors of black pepper, red chile, garlic, and ginger. (Saturday and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.)

6. Tortas Neza
96-15 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights; 718-424-0999

Each of the gigantic Mexico City–style tortas made by Galdino Neza and served from a tiny streetside window in front of a bar is named for a Mexican football club and makes for a hearty meal. The Chivas combines a chorizo omelet, a fistful of quesillo cheese, lettuce, and mayo for Mexico City’s answer to New York City’s beloved bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll. The most over-the-top torta though is the Pumas, named for the owner’s favorite team. Among the 11 ingredients are the aforementioned chorizo omelet, deep-fried sausages, a fried chicken cutlet, ham, headcheese, avocado, and pickled jalapeños. Less hearty appetites may wish to opt for the excellent tacos de carnitas, a mélange of pig confit studded with bits of ear. (Daily noon to 4 a.m.)

7. Golden Eggies
Main St. nr. 39th Ave., Flushing; 646-387-3684

Photo: Melissa Hom

On most afternoons you’ll find affable Malaysian vendor Chee Ching stationed inside his tiny cart cooking batch after batch of Hong Kong–style bubble waffles. His cart is the only one in Queens selling the tiny, slightly crunchy vanilla-scented cakes. Before Instagram turned them into a vehicle for ice cream, the treats known in Cantonese as gai daan zai, or “little eggs,” were a legendary Manhattan Chinatown street food. In fact, Ching and his wife, Xue, who hails from Hong Kong and taught him the recipe, used to have a stand on Mulberry and Mott. “I’m just a worker, I work for her, my wife is the boss,” says Ching with a smile. Half the fun is watching him make them; the other half is popping them into your mouth. They come 15 to an order for $1.50. You should probably spring for two. (Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday to 6 p.m.)

8. Mom’s Momo
Broadway nr. 72nd St., Jackson Heights; no phone

Photo: Melissa Hom

Some half-dozen carts and trucks serve the Tibetan beef dumplings called momo in the area around 74th Street and Roosevelt Avenue, but there’s only one Mom’s. Jamyang “Jay” Gyaltsen slings the neighborhood’s tastiest out of his robin’s-egg-blue truck stationed in front of Buddha Tax & Accounting. The back of the truck is adorned with a cartoon image of a gray-haired mother and the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, including the treasure vase. Momo mavens including Jeff Orlick, founder of the Momo Crawl, an annual event that draws hundreds to the neighborhood, prize them for their thin skins and juicy innards. “The engine behind our momo is my mother,” Jay says of Yangzom Lhamo, who prepares the dumplings daily. Avail yourself of the incendiary Tibetan hot sauce. If it proves too fiery, mix it with a white sauce similar to the ones found at halal chicken and rice carts around town. (Daily 11:30 a.m to 2:30 a.m.)

9. One Love Jamaican Foods
Jackson Ave. nr. Queen St., Long Island City; no phone

Done up in black and bright green and launched in the summer of 2019, Theodore Russell’s food cart resembles a 3-D version of the Jamaican flag. His mother, Yvonne, taught him to cook more than 20 years ago, and he’s never stopped. The experience shows in soulful specialties like jerk chicken that’s marinated for two days in a mixture of ketchup, scallions, onions, allspice, and other undisclosed ingredients. “I don’t like to share too much; it’s a secret,” Russell says of the blackened bird, which is excellent over his coconut-milk-enriched rice and peas. Russell also cooks up jerk pork and meaty oxtails in a rich brown sauce that gets its sweetness from cooked-down carrots. Russell named the cart One Love because “everybody’s welcome, you don’t have to be Jamaican; it’s just one love. I’m all about love.” (Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

10. Bone Man
135-45 Roosevelt Ave., nr. Main St., Flushing; 626-278-7856

There are almost as many places to find fried chicken in Flushing’s bustling Chinatown as there are dumpling joints. Most specialize in Taiwanese-style yen su ji — boneless nuggets of popcorn chicken. Not so Bone Man, whose juicy bird, with its craggy, crunchy crust and five-spice and cayenne seasoning has more in common with the Popeye’s around the corner than the hood’s other fried-chicken spots. To locate it amid the competition, just follow your nose: The aroma of fried chicken and five-spice powder is so strong you can smell it inside the 7-train station that lies just below the streetside window. Go for the nuggets, which are actually ginormous pieces of boneless thigh. In case you’re wondering, Bone Man is a mysterious masked cartoon figure that looks like a cross between MF Doom and Skeletor and stands to the left of the counter flanked by the cryptic tagline “Bone Man be absorbed in secret fried chicken.” (Daily 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.)

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