My friend and I stopped into Dee Thai on a sunny afternoon in hopes of a cheap satisfying meal. This place has mixed reviews, but we decided to give it a go anyway. The empty chairs and dimly lit atmosphere among the contemporary decor, were cause for alarm. Though, despite of the sounds of crickets in the air… the experience was a pleasant one. The lunch specials offer several entree choices that include appetizers. Our mid-afternoon meal began with Thai dumplings served with honey-ginger sauce and kyo koong tod- a crispy wonton packed with shrimp and garlic served with sweet chili sauce. We slaked or thirst with a traditional Thai iced tea (not included in the lunch special price), hallelujah for sweetened condensed milk! The soft creamy layers of orange and white glided down our parched throats. A generous portion of time passed before we received our main courses, pad kee mow pork and pad kee mow shrimp. Although I normally don’t mind a wait for evening dining, this was lunchtime and the place was empty. When we were finally served our entrees our stomachs couldn’t have been happier. The satisfying helpings didn’t last long on our plates. The rich pork and shrimp mingled gracefully among the deliciously sauteed flat noodles. The vegetables were like colorful crunchy gems that floated throughout the dish. Green beans, baby broccoli and red peppers were sauteed just enough to maintain there raw hue and crisp. The flat noodles were tender and not over or under cooked. I haven’t tried Dee Thai for dinner yet, but judging by the lunch special, I would return. The ambiance was lacking, though I suspect it is livelier for evening diners. There is a full bar and delivery available.
Dee Thai 46-17 Queens Blvd Sunnyside NY 11104 718-786-8220
I try to avoid the suburbs. I would rather find myself lost among the trees and rolling hills of the vast countryside or racing for a cab (or the N train) between two concrete and steel slabs before I set foot in the Anytown USA that is the American suburbs. Kew Gardens however, is an exception to the rule. The neighborhood’s million dollar tudor-style homes with their pristinely manicured lawns make for a luxurious break from the Queens norm. Forget the luxury condos that are sprouting up all over the borough. If you want quiet decadence, take a stroll amid the streets of Kew Gardens just as I did last weekend. You will either be pleasantly surprised, or bored to death. Upon visiting this unchartered territory for a few hours, I was the former.
My friend had just gotten some new wheels and we decided try them out, taking a ride to the other side of our borough. Walking among the neighborhood we stumbled upon Tu Casa, a peruvian restaurant on Metropolitan Avenue. It appears to be a sleepy casual joint during the weekday lunch hours. Though sitting among the bustling main strip, it offers a more animated experience for evening diners. The Spanish and Peruvian choices on the menu revealed their stamp of authenticity at first bite. The Carne Guisado (beef stew with rice and beans) was a hearty explosion of juicy meat and its accompaniments. The tender cuts of beef seemed to melt in our mouths as they slid effortlessly off the bone. And the good part is, we got this meal for under $7 from the lunch menu. Next stop was the pricier ceviche. Our server bestowed our table with a large plate of healthy chunks of seafood marinated in lime juice served with corn nuts and sweet potato. The delicate tastes of cod, octopus and tender calamari balanced the citrus infused nectars as they swam freely throughout the dish. Sweet potato and corn nuts seem like an unusual side with this entree, but combine the flavors of sweet and sour on your palate and you will forget everything you thought you knew about taste and texture. The soft sweet mush of the potato and the crispy salt of the nuts mixed together with the ceviche is an unique mouthful all skeptics must experience. We stuffed our hungry faces and as a result saved no room for dessert, but a return visit is in order. Check Tu Casa’s website for information on when they set-up shop in Astoria on Steinway Street!
Tu Casa 119-05 Metropolitan Ave. | Kew Gardens, NY | 718.441.6363
As I was waltzing around in the sweltering heat I made my way to the Side Door. I was in need of something cold to pour over my head, but I got a drink instead. My self created ice cream float (not on the menu) included lemon sorbet and seltzer water, sort of like a frozen lemonade. It was crisp and refreshing. A perfect drink for the heat wave.
Side Door- 1933 Ditmars Blvd Astoria
Hankering for a burger, I zipped by this place many times on my bicycle, only to find that they were closed. I decided to inquire within. A helpful voice on the other end of the line informed me that the Burger Garage should open sometime in July. In the meantime I will have to wait at their doorstep, drooling in silence.
Brothers Jim and Adam Pileski take their food expertise gained from working at the Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse and The Palm and pour it all into our favorite borough. Their vision- to serve “the most delicious high quality burgers, fries, shakes…” I can’t wait to try them!
The Burger Garage 25-36 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101, Ph: (718) 392-0424 http://theburgergarage.com/home.html
I was invited to a preview opening at Five Napkin Burger (formerly known as Cup Diner) in Astoria. In addition to meat burgers they also offer veggie burgers and sushi. Everything was absolutely delicious and the service was flawless and friendly. Traces of a meat packing factory were brought out in the restaurant’s decor, such as the ominous meat hooks and lone light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. This is a classy place to go for a burger or a larger social get together. They have a large oak bar, outdoor seating and a private party room for those special occasions. Here are some photos of the things I tasted- my favorite being the tempura pastrami with pickle… and of course the burger!
Five Napkin Burger 3501 36th Street, Long Island City – (718) 433-2727
I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Sweet Afton ever since they opened. As a general rule, any bar that offers outdoor seating and caters to the hipster crowd is often overflowing with praise, whether it’s warranted or not. I was in no hurry to try this place because I figured it would be exactly what I imagined it to be; a bunch of young scenesters sipping over priced microbrews and eating overpriced novelty foods (such as fried pickles) while referencing some obscure facts about the neighborhood or their record collection they bought for 50¢ at some garage sale upstate… Oh wait, that was me. But… am I wrong? Though a pleasant place to have a drink, Sweet Afton presents a typical hipster scene in a typical hipster setting, a sight that is becoming more popular in the neighborhood as the early onset of gentrification sets in. Sweet Afton has a substantial range of draft beers to choose from for an average price of about $6, including Guinness, Red Wagon IPA, Abita Amber, Palm, Chimay Triple, Kelso Nut Brown Lager and Ommegang Witte. They also have a surprise beer of the month and a few traditional cocktails and some house specials.
Aside from the great choice of drinks, I was excited to try the food, apparently it was voted the best bar food in Astoria. I ordered the grilled cheese, toasted on pullman bread (a fancy word for regular white bread) made with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions and served with pickles and whole grain mustard. The sandwich was tasty, but I could have ordered the same sandwich at the nearby diner made with artificial Kraft slices with a side of fries and it would have tasted just as good, for a fraction of the price. Next on my plate, fried pickles. I had eaten fried pickles once before, they didn’t do much for me. Personally, I’m not a fan of the fried pickle, but diners who favor the sour delicacy will find Sweet Afton’s pickles to be on the top of the pickle pedestal. A spicy crunchy pickle is nestled in the middle of a warm and fluffy outer breading. For just a few bucks ,you will receive an entire basket of these little critters. Aside from my harsh depiction of the place, overall I did enjoy the ambiance at Sweet Afton, although I was there before the after work crowd sauntered into the bar. It can get pretty noisy during the evening hours as they are often crowded. The service was extremely warm and friendly and is enough reason to make a return visit to try their overpriced burger. Sweet Afton has beers on tap and outdoor seating for summer drinking.
Sweet Afton 30-09 34th St Astoria, NY 718-777-2570
Long live the quest for that authentically great tasting cubano in Astoria. The highly coveted sandwich rarely makes an appearance in the neighborhood, but I found one that is sure to please even the pickiest of taste buds. I have passed by Havana Express many times before I noticed their vast array of grilled sandwiches. Being a sweet fanatic I usually fix my eyes on the cupcakes. However, today was an exception. I sauntered into the tiny cafe and decided to try their cubano. And to cure my sleepy state, I washed it all down with a cortadito. While they don’t have outdoor seating, Havana Express offers an open store front, so it is much like sitting outside in the shade. Being a sunny afternoon I picked a spot near the front (great for people watching). The spot has a real neighborhood appeal to it. Diners chat merrily with the servers and everyone seems to know the owner by name. The red bar stools give the place a touch of that 1950s diner ambience. Shortly after placing my order a sweet young woman gracefully placed the giant cubano on my table. Another server brought me my drink. Fearing that the beverage would tumble onto my laptop computer, she strategically positioned the drinks so the had little chance of spilling. Now that is what I call customer service! Not only were they prompt and friendly, but also highly aware of their patrons’ needs. The cubano consisted of grilled pork and ham smothered in melted cheese, with mustard and thinly sliced pickles. The bread was crispy and warm with a soft fluffy center. I gobbled-up the delicacy within minutes. The only remains were the crumbs that covered my lap. Havana Express is a great spot for casual and cheap neighborhood dining. They have free wifi for those workaholics who want a quiet place to log-on while they dine.
Havana Express Cafe & Bakery 21-37 31st Street Astoria 718-545-9344
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