These ethnic eateries are cheaper than a trip around the world.
Mon Jul 26 2010
Cemitas and sensory overload
Sure, you could order tacos—the lengua (beef tongue, $2) is amazingly tender. But with such an extensive, colorfully illustrated menu, why limit yourself? Taqueria Coatzingo is two blocks from the city's most multicultural train station, and the place is hopping long into the night—it doesn't close until 4am on weekends. For fans of Mexican sandwiches, the cemitas ($6), a Pueblan specialty served on a sesame-seed roll, is not to be missed. Inside the bun, your choice of meat is layered with avocado, onion, beans, chipotles and milky, stringy cheese. The sensory overload is intense enough to drown out the blaring TV and jukebox. 76-05 Roosevelt Ave at 76th St, Jackson Heights (718-424-1977). Subway: E, F, M, R to Jackson Heights--Roosevelt Ave; 7 to 74th St--Broadway.
This new kid on an old block in gentrifying LIC opened early in July, in a bright, vintage silver diner adjacent to a train yard. The interior at M. Wells evokes your corner joint, with neat pastel colors on the ceiling, long wooden tables and classic padded booths. The menu ranges from sweet diner standards—cake doughnuts ($1 each), pie la mode in flavors like peach-blueberry ($6)—to savory delights from the homeland of co-owner Hugue Dufour, a native of Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec. A baguette with fresh tomato and Iberico ham ($5) is briny and tangy, with bread that's crunchy outside and soft in the middle. M. Wells's buckwheat crpes ($4) are the closest thing you'll get to pancakes here, and they boast a pleasing bitterness, balanced by the real maple syrup generously poured on top. 21-17 49th Ave at 21st St, Long Island City (718-425-6917, mwellsdiner.com). Subway: 7 to Hunters Point Ave.
Italian done right
The straightforward yet refined cuisine at Antica Trattoria keeps the Italian-American spirit alive in Ridgewood. The eatery is located right off one of the last stops on the M train, and loyalists call it a standout in an overlooked area. Quality standards include veal scaloppine ($15--$17), thin-crust pizzas topped with prosciutto, anchovies, artichokes and more ($9--$14 for a personal-sized pie), and an array of pastas like creamy penne alla vodka ($10), spicy rotini puttanesca ($13) and delicate lasagna ($10). Yes, you can find those items on menus around the city, but made with the care seen at Antica, and at such affordable prices? Not so easy. 68-10 Fresh Pond Rd between 68th Ave and 68th Rd, Ridgewood (718-386-1559). Subway: M to Fresh Pond Rd.
Lamb like you've never had it
Flushing's regional Chinese restaurants are worth a tour of their own, but Fu Run in particular has been gaining acclaim for its Northern-style cuisine. The lamb is a specialty; sample the Muslim lamb chops, the restaurant's signature dish, which braises the meat, batters it, then covers it in cumin and dried peppers ($18.95). The restaurant's other offerings win plaudits too, including pork belly in brown sauce ($10.95) and vegetables, like the country-style cucumbers appetizer ($5.95). 40-09 Prince St at Roosevelt Ave, Flushing (718-321-1363). Subway: 7 to Flushing--Main St.
Maima's Liberian Bistro
This one is a ten-minute walk from the train station, but Maima's is fast becoming one of the new darlings of the Queens eating scene: This family-run restaurant serves traditional West African dishes like pepper soup ($6, with rice $10) and palm butter ($10), a stew that incorporates beef, chicken and seafood in one pot. Pair either with a ginger beer ($2 a bottle) that rivals the food in its spiciness. But get there early; supplies are limited. When we called ahead to inquire what time the joint closes, we were simply told: "It depends how long the food stays." 106-47 Guy R. Brewer Blvd at 107th Ave, Jamaica (718-206-3538). Subway: E, J, Z to Jamaica Center--Parsons/Archer.
Located across from a park that's crowded with basketball and chess players into the wee hours, Taste Good Malaysian Cuisine is small and easy to overlook, and it's not the spot for candlelit romance. But under the fluorescent lights, by the hum of the air conditioner, you'll tuck into some deliciously spicy Malaysian food. The menu here is long enough to get lost in, but a good place to start is the roti canai appetizer ($2.35), a buttery flatbread with smooth chicken curry sauce, and the beef rending ($6). The latter showcases cubes of tender meat in a rich, sweet and peppery sauce, served with just enough rice to sop it all up. 82-18 45th Ave between Broadway and 82nd St, Elmhurst (718-898-8001). Subway: M, R to Elmhurst Ave.
At least a few of the foodies on Chowhound's forums have awarded 2006 phenom Chao Thai the ultimate compliment: "better than Sripraphai." That venerable Woodside joint still wins acclaim from Thai lovers across the city, but the tiny Chao has a great deal to offer as well: Devotees swear by its salads—try the papaya ($7.95), the watercress ($11.95) or the meaty larb ($8.50--$8.95). If you're ready to splurge, the whole fish with lime juice sauce ($20.95) has become a local legend. 85-03 Whitney Ave at Broadway, Elmhurst (718-424-4999). Subway: M, R to Elmhurst Ave.
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