From time to time we like to invite friendly food bloggers to write about their favorite places in the borough to eat. Tom Mylan is a food celebrity, blogger, and friend to BB (ok, he’s engaged to one of us) and in the wake of his wildly popular post about Brooklyn Chinatown we enlisted him to write about Sunnyside, Queens for the first in our Out of Borough Experience series.
Sunnyside is one of my favorite neighborhoods Queens to go and eat. The main reason is that I’m lazy and I’m not always in the mood for an hour-plus train ride to Flushing to eat at the secret places where the really cool people go. It takes 30 minutes or less to get to Sunnyside from most places in the gentrification corridor of Brooklyn (Greenpoint to Red Hook), it’s relatively uncrowded and pleasantly weird.
The first rule of eating in Queens is to skip breakfast. You will get into a fight on the way there because everyone is grumpy and hungry but tough it out so that when you get off the 40th Street/Lowery stop you can sprint for Chinese-Indian fusion place Tangra Masala. I could easily get distracted talking about the elaborate, mirrored dining room but instead I’ll just tell you to order the lolly-pop chicken (breaded in spicy pakora batter) and a mango lassi. Other things not to be missed are the hot and sour soup (the finest in NYC), the Tangra fish fingers and the curry chicken roll. My only other advice would be to be wary of any of the sizzling chili platters that are served on fajita pans as they tend to give off a pepper spray-like steam that will blind you at close range. The best part is that most items on the appetizer list clock in at well under $5.
Natural Tofu Restaurant is Tangra Masala’s competition for best lunch in Sunnyside. While the warm roasted barley tea they give you when you sit down may not be for everyone, pretty much everything else on the 15 or so item menu is a) thoroughly delicious and b) under $10 for more food than you could ever hope to eat. Recommended are the Kimchi pancake with pork and the hot pot that features their house made tofu. Be warned that the tofu hot pot is in no way vegetarian and the broth is the closest thing you may come to drinking a beef short rib. Add a bottle of Soju (Korean distilled spirit) or a bottle of beer and you’re still out the door for way less than a salad and a couple drinks at most places in Manhattan.
By now you will be entering a deep food coma and the idea of scaling the stairs back onto the 7 train platform will seem like a very bad idea. Not to worry! If you’re lucky something fun and cheesy will be playing at the New Center Cinema, a broken down movie theater a few blocks away that charges $5 admission before 5pm. I can’t vouch for the popcorn as I’ve always been too full to eat any, but watching an action movie there on a Sunday afternoon will take you back to the second-run theater where you saw Pulp Fiction re-runs in high school (or college). Keep an eye out for movie titles written above the theaters in dry-erase marker.
After you’ve had time to digest in the dark for a few hours you have some decisions to make: Eat more, shop for dinner or get a drink. Why compromise? Right next door to the Center Cinema is Flynn’s Inn, one of the MANY Irish pubs in this section of Sunnyside. I like Flynn’s because they have Irish cider and a backyard for smoking. Feel free to find your own favorite pub as there are three on that block alone.
After a drink or two I like to head to Baruir’s, the Turkish coffee place, for some freshly roasted beans and Halavah before hitting the Euro Shop where you can buy anything you want as long as it is either Hungarian salami or some type of paprika. My favorite is called Strong Steven. It comes in a jar and is a great base for BBQ sauce.
At this point I’d love to tell you that I always duck into what must be on of the strangest Key Foods in the city to buy some bitter melon and dried mackerel to take home and cook, but I don’t. This Sunday I bought a bottle of wine and a couple bottles of Nigori Saké from Lowery’s Wine Factory. If you were looking for that Japanese Scotch from Lost in Translation or a nice bottle of unfilterted sake, this is your place.
The last stop on my typical Sunnyside day trip seems to always be Mangal (46-20 Queens Blvd.), my favorite Turkish place, for a chicken and lamb sandwich and some salad. This place has a takeout counter and now a sit down place right next door that all comes out of the same kitchen. I usually get the take out but it’s a worthy venue for a third date with that somewhat special someone. No matter what happens make sure you get your meal with plenty of “home bread” which they constantly bake fresh in an old school pizza oven.
Eating well in Queens is cheap but climbing onto a Flushing bound 7 train to save a few bucks on a night out is missing the point. Eating in Queens is about stepping outside the narrow confines of gentrify-Thai and Sysco bistro food to taste things that are cooked for the people that make them.
A final note: This is not some sort of comprehensive guide to eating and shopping in Queens. It’s more like an easygoing Sunnyside primer where you can explore the wonders of Queens without ever being out of eye contact with the 7 train. I don’t want to get a bunch of comments about how I forgot to mention someone’s favorite ethnic dive. This is not that post. If you want to add your favorite place to eat in Sunnyside (I didn’t even touch the Mexican and South American places to the east of Queens Boulevard) feel free to pitch in and comment.
Text by Tom Mylan, sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of Brooklyn Based and Tom.