Time and again we've extolled the virtues of Flushing, the Queens neighborhood at the end of the number 7 line that's home to one of New York's largest and best-fed Chinese communities. Few places in this city will feed you better or cheaper, and with an empty stomach and strong resolve, you can fill up on killer dumplings, noodles, and crispy cumin lamb all within a few blocks.
When travelers to New York ask me where to eat, I send them to Flushing. When locals ask me about a new restaurant I'm excited about, the answer's often there. But let's say you have just one day to take a whirlwind tour of the neighborhood. What do you need to try?
Flushing veterans each have their own list of must-eats, and some may disagree with mine. But after years of leading groups of neophytes to feast around Flushing's busy streets, I've come up with an itinerary that's managed to satisfy the most ardent chowhounds. Take a few friends and, depending on how much you devour, you can get away with spending less than $40 a head all day.
Don't eat breakfast.
Mid-Morning Dumplings (and the Food Court of Your Dreams)
Hop off the 7 train and make your way up Main Street to a grubby-looking complex called the Golden Shopping Mall. There, you'll find two floors packed with food stalls hawking everything from hand-pulled noodles to spicy lamb sandwiches (this is one of the first locations of the mini-chain Xi'an Famous Foods) to exquisite dumplings.
How exquisite? Meet my favorite dumplings in the world: the lamb and green squash dumplings from corner stall Tianjin Dumpling House. This northern Chinese stall sells about 10,000 dumplings a day in over a dozen flavors, but these juicy, aromatic dumplings with tender-yet-chewy skins are the best item on the menu. Also seek out the ace vegetarian dumplings, filled with scrambled egg, glass noodles, and garlic chives. And don't be afraid to ask for some freshly made garlic sauce: raw grated garlic tempered by sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a touch of sugar.
You can get these dumplings (and 98 other varieties) at the nearby Dumpling Galaxy, but they're cheaper here—$5 buys you 12 lamb dumplings—and easier to eat on the run. But do stick around at the Golden Shopping Mall for some fiery Sichuan fare at Chengdu Heavenly Plenty, or Fujian-style tiny wontons at the upstairs Lao Wang Ji shop, or a plate of cold skin noodles from Xi'an. It's hard to go wrong here.
Don't fill up, though. You still have plenty of work to do.
Lunch, Part One: More Dumplings
With the Golden Shopping Mall behind you, it's time to start thinking about lunch. But first: appetizers. And yup, you'll be eating more dumplings. Flanking your soon-to-be-lunch-destination are two shops with exceptional wontons in very different styles. If you're feeling ambitious, you can tackle them both, or just stick with one to keep your metabolism from seizing up.
White Bear: A tiny, much-loved shop with a well-known specialty: menu item number six, "wontons in hot oil." Light, juicy pork and vegetable wontons with gossamer skins come dressed in not-actually-spicy chili oil, ground up roasted chili, and nubs of funky, salty preserved mustard root. They're as flavorful a plate of wontons as you could hope for.
Sifu Chio: Also known as CHML H.K., Inc., this is where you'll find the finest Hong Kong-style wonton noodle soup in New York. The wontons are packed with crisp shrimp and juicy pork, loaded into a rich chicken broth with some leaves of tender greens, and finished off with thin noodles that retain their bite.
Pro-tip: on a nice day, take either of these dumplings to-go and eat them in the quizzically-named Bland Playground across the street.
Lunch, the Main Event: Fu Run
A growing set of Flushing's Chinese demographic hails from Dongbei, a northeastern region of the country with a taste for sturdy griddled buns, doughy wheat noodles and dumplings, and simple country-style meaty seasonings. Witness the Muslim "lamb chop": a rack of lamb ribs braised until fall-apart tender, blitzed with cumin, sesame seeds, and ground chili to set your mouth on fire, battered, and deep fried. It's one of the main reasons you're heading to Dongbei-style Fu Run, but hardly the only one.
Fu Run's fish is also delicious, from delicate whole-fried flounder topped with chili bean paste to nubs of battered "crispy sliced fish" coated with chili and cumin (fish McNuggets!). An unassuming stir-fry of eggplant, taro, and green pepper ("triple delight vegetables") is a reliable hit with a deep, satisfying brown sauce. And for dessert: nubs of taro coated in molten sugar that you pick up with your chopsticks, drop into cold water to set the caramel coating, and pop into your mouth like candy.
I know how you feel now. You are bloated. You have dumpling sweats. You are ready to roll yourself home.
Don't give up. Now's time for a tea break.
Head around the corner and halfway down Roosevelt Avenue to a near-unmarked storefront that leads you down a long hallway. This is in fact one of Flushing's many mini-malls, and if you take the last door on your right, you'll find yourself at Fang Gourmet Tea, a shop where a fiver will buy you a tasting of world-class tea.
Fang specializes in fine teas from China and Taiwan with prices that can climb to several hundred dollars a pound. But for five bucks you can taste any of them in a serene tea ceremony, a half-hour-ish process that shows off the full range and depth of flavors in a tea by steeping it five times. The merchants are some of the city's most knowledgeable but also the most approachable—don't think you need any tea know-how to love this place. And if you're looking for a place to digest your meal(s) in peace, there's no better spot in Flushing.
I know—no more food! (Not yet, anyway.) Instead, we're going grocery shopping, because half the fun of a day in Flushing is bringing the neighborhood home with you.
With 30,000 square feet of space in Flushing's largest shopping mall, JMart is a supermarket to be reckoned with, one of the largest Chinese markets in New York. The selection is astonishingly vast: a lengthy fish and meat counter; aisles and aisles of sauces, condiments, sweets, and instant meals; high quality produce; dry and bulk goods; frozen dumplings, seafood, and buns; and small shops selling Chinese sausage.
Also of note is a small stand called New Flushing Bakery, the sister shop to the location on Roosevelt and Main, and home to New York's finest egg custard tart. Go for the Portuguese variety with its vanilla-flavored custard, burnished top, and beyond-flaky crust. It's best fresh from the oven, but a room temperature tart for the subway ride home is always a good idea.
Dinner: Barbecue or Dosas
It's getting close to dinner time, but your appetite may not be back yet. So that's why your next stop will take you on a 15-minute walk outside of downtown Flushing and into the neighboring suburban communities. Hike one way and you'll hit Murray Hill, a Korean enclave with some great barbecue restaurants. Walk up Kissena Boulevard instead and you'll eventually find a large Indian community clustered near a beautiful Hindu temple.
Mapo: If you're feeling the craving for flame-licked Korean barbecue, Mapo is tops, with its real-deal charcoal grill (for a smoke flavor that will permeate your meat and your clothes) and superior marbled short rib for kalbi. The banchan here are plentiful and delicious, and sides like soups are deeply flavorful (and may come on the house if you're nice).
But this place is really all about the beef: order the kalbi (and plenty of it) and watch the servers grill, flip, and snip your barbecue to perfect doneness; no sauce required to cover up this beautiful meat. A meal here is a little pricier than other barbecue spots, but the upgrade in quality is certainly worth it.
Ganesh Temple Canteen: For something completely different, visit the basement of America's oldest Hindu temple for a taste of the finest dosas in New York. The temple's canteen, which is open to the public seven days a week, serves a whole roster of south Indian vegetarian food, but crackly-crisp, ultra-buttery dosas are the best of the lineup. Try the paneer dosa, with chunks of paneer folded into spicy mashed potato, and the ghee roast, shaped like a traffic cone and loaded, if you can imagine it possible, with even more browned-butter flavor than the others.
While eating at Mapo can get pricey—as much as $50 a head for a big, meaty meal with drinks—you can stuff a crowd of eight at the canteen for 40 bucks.
And for the Subway Home
You've done the hard work now and you're ready for a nice trip home on the 7 train. If you haven't bought some already, head to the Roosevelt-and-Main location of New Flushing Bakery to pick up an egg custard tart. Do note they run out in the late afternoon and close for the evening.
Fortunately, Coco is open later and is even better for soothing stomachs. The international chain makes consistently delicious, high quality tea; you can control the level of sweetness, and the bubbles are fresh with a soft chew. My go-to refreshing specialty: a tart, bracing grapefruit green tea with no milk or bubbles whatsoever. It's exactly what you need after a feast day of epic proportions.