13. Golden Palace
140-09 Cherry Ave., Flushing 718-886-4383
Like Fu Run across town, this off-the-beaten-path restaurant traffics in boldly flavored Dongbei cooking at its gut-busting, lip-smacking, mind-blowing best. The crispy flounder with chili pepper is battered and fried and thoroughly festooned in the Dongbei everything-bagel style: cumin seeds, chiles, black and white sesame seeds, and whatnot—in short, the works. The signature sauteed potato, green pepper, and eggplant is one of those ho-hum-sounding side dishes you have your doubts about ordering but will never neglect on subsequent visits. If you like dumplings, the leek-and-pork-stuffed ones are rich and satisfying, and at $6.99 for a pile of twenty, almost as cheap as what you’d pay per dumpling on Eldridge Street. Best of all are the pork and Chinese cabbage cakes, stuffed and griddled rounds of dough (a.k.a. bings) with a terrific chewy-flaky texture—like a cross between an Indian paratha and a Hot Pocket. They come four to an order for $4.99, and one imagines that two alone would make an excellent snack for a Dongbei lumberjack.
14. Spicy & Tasty
39-07 Prince St., Flushing; 718-359-1601
Even a Duane Reade assistant manager would say that it’s a little bright in here. But no one comes to this Sichuan smorgasbord for mood lighting. Rather they go for a friendly, family-run vibe; lickety-split service; and a crackerjack kitchen that doesn’t dumb it down for the nonnatives. You can’t go wrong with anything from the excellent cold-appetizer display case at the front of the house. (The beef tendon in red chile sauce—a gateway variety meat if there ever was one—and the sea-breezy sliced conch in same are particularly toothsome.) Nor will you be less than ecstatic with any of the classics: dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, tea-smoked duck, and dry-cooked string beans among them. The shrimp with hot green peppers in black-bean sauce is a worthy detour, and so is anything that falls under the heading of “pork.” Along with Sripraphai in Woodside, Spicy & Tasty has been perking up taste buds for a long time—fourteen years in one Flushing location or another which, in restaurant years, as in those associated with dachshunds and labradoodles, must be multiplied by seven. Does the name still say it all? You bet.
15. Rincon Criollo
40-09 Junction Blvd., Corona; 718-458-0236
For some outlandish reason, your waiter—as nice a fellow who’s ever worn a plaid necktie with a floppy tuxedo vest—will try to steer you away from the “arroz con pollo por 2 personas.” “Oh, no, señor,” he’ll say. “It takes 45 minutes.” Stand firm. Do not dither. Because while everything from the house sangría to the guava with cream cheese at this 35-year-old Cuban restaurant is terrific, the arroz con pollo for two is the last word on the subject of chicken and rice. Not to be confused with the regular arroz con pollo on the menu that’s offered as a daily special, this made-to-order version arrives in an old pot the size of a washtub. It’s super-moist and creamy, more akin to an Italian risotto than a Spanish paella, its succulent short-grain rice imbued with the heady fragrance of sofrito and chicken stock. Your waiter, with whom by now you have settled your differences and become old pals, dishes it out with a flourish. One bite and it’s over. You’re done with all other arroz con pollos for life.
16. Mustang Thakali Kitchen
74-14 37th Ave., Jackson Heights; 718-898-5088
Himalayan cuisine used to be a novelty in Queens. Now, thanks to an immigration boom, it’s a bona fide attraction, especially in Jackson Heights, where one could make a satisfying (if bloaty) momo crawl among at least half a dozen spots. Those indigenous dumplings are on offer at Mustang Thakali Kitchen, an elegant outpost specializing in the sort-of-Chinese, sort-of-Indian, and ultimately unique foods of Nepal and Tibet. Thali platters arrange restrained portions of curry, vegetables, and tangy pickles around a mound of rice for an edifying Intro to Nepal; choose the farsee-goat option, submerged in pumpkin gravy, and don’t neglect the extra-gingery dal. Ghoken materialize as perhaps the sturdiest buckwheat pancakes you’ve ever seen, and the sensational sukuti sadeko is a sort of beef-jerky ceviche—tangy, limey, spicy, with a jolting astringency and a jaw-muscle-defying texture.