I recently got word that one of my close friends is moving to Rego Park (also known to locals as Regostan). In an effort to help her feel at home in her new country, I decided to take a trip to explore the region. Two train rides and one hour later, I was pleased to find myself in a curious amalgam of Asian and Jewish cultures.
First stop- Tandoori Bukharan Bakery and Grill (Rego Park 99-04 63rd Rd 718-897-1071)
It’s hard to believe that this unassuming tiny restaurant, set off the main drag of Queens Boulevard, is home to such a vast assortment of delightful dishes. There isn’t much to talk about in terms of decor, but what you won’t be missing out on here is personality and great food. There are several different shish kabab dishes to choose from, like lamb chops, lola (ground meat), chicken, liver, salmon, the list goes on. Soups include borsch, shurpa and the popular lagman, a Chinese inspired soup with hand pulled noodles, meat and vegetables. I opted for the Pelmeni, a fine soup with handmade beef dumplings swimming in a warm broth of vegetables topped with bits of coriander. One part pho two parts pierogi married to create an intoxicating culinary collision of East Asian and Polish cuisine. Ordered alongside the main dish was a gigantic warm piece of lepeshka. Traditionally baked inside a tandoori oven, this circular loaf of chewy bread is a delicious example of how Russia met India, fell in love and produced a wonderful creation.
As I ferociously devoured my meal, the chef stops at my table and says in his thick accent- “Do you speak Russian? Do you speak English? Our food is Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan… and Jewish.”
That quite sums it up. I couldn’t have written it better myself. But hey, I tried.
Next Stop- Cheburechnaya (Rego Park 92-09 63rd Drive 718-897-9080)
I don’t hesitate to say that Cheburechnaya isn’t known for its ambiance or great service. The You Tube music videos playing on the overhead televisions and the abrupt attitude from the waitress weren’t exactly what you call characteristics of a five star eatery. Despite the lack of atmosphere, I grabbed a seat and proceeded to peruse the unlimited menu, made complete with enticing photographs of the dishes. With plates offering sizable portions of dumplings, meat kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, pilaf, beef brains, I once again found myself caught between cultures where east meets west. A full stomach called for a light snack, so a pumpkin chebureki was ordered with a splash of tarragon soda to wash it down. Much like a savory turnover, this crispy fried dough concoction stuffed with mashed pumpkin and herbs is a great compliment to any dish here. If you have a smaller appetite, you can lightly drizzle the spicy sauce over your chebureki and you practically have yourself a meal.
Balkh Shish Kabab House (23-10 31st Street btwn 23rd ave & Ditmars 718-721-5020) This unassuming restaurant serves authentic Afghan cuisine into the wee hours of the morning (12am) 7 days a week. If you are craving a unique taste that offers lots of variety in both halal meats and vegetarian dishes, this is a tasty alternative from the surrounding trendy restaurants. You will find mostly Afghani families gathered at this humble dining establishment, to ensure its authenticity. Many of the giant framed photos display the native landsmen on horseback. Other than that, the decor is sparse and nothing to um… write home about, but the food is worth mentioning ten times over again. Like many eastern based entrees, the taste is like no other. The bolanee kadu are fried turnovers filled with pumpkin and spices and mint yogurt sauce. If you want to make a meal of it and love the autumn squash as much as I do- order the borani kadu chalow- pumpkin with homemade sauce and delicious crispy bread. All of the Balkh special entrees are served with basmati rice, raisins and carrots- like the chicken kabab, tikka and ribs, salmon, lamb, and cow feet (!) It’s hard to go wrong at a place that offers so much variety. If you’re not sure about an entree- Balkh has many appetizers and sides to choose from. The lassi is made fresh to order and sweets include baklava and firny- a pistachio flavored milk pudding. Service can be scattered when the place is busy, but it’s well worth the wait, delivery available.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Deshi Biryani (75-18 37th Ave Jackson Heights 718-803-6232) offers traditional Biryani dishes at decent prices. Biryani is primarily south Asian rice dishes- mainly basmati rice served with meats and spices like cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and cloves. It’s difficult to imagine a restaurant serving dishes smothered in exotic meats and rich spices could fall so short of expectations, alas it did fall hard and short. The menu held such promise, but the entire experience from start to end was an unfortunate disappointment. Upon entering the restaurant, and standing and then waiting almost five minutes to be seated by one of the three servers. It’s a tragedy in the food business to have more waitstaff than there are occupied tables, but still having to wait to be seated. Brought by the first waitress was the crispy nan, hot and buttery. The mango lassi (yogurt drink) was palpable, thick and sweet. But the main entree-brought by a second waitress- left much to be desired. The Cocktail Seek Kabab with spicy minced chicken seasoned with coriander (cilantro) and ginger consisted of barely luke warm chicken sausages on a bed of iceberg lettuce, not so flavorful. The food here is lackluster and the service is scattered and inconsistent. Perhaps another visit will bring a more gratifying experience with some of the other dishes like the Sabji soup (carrots, cabbage, peas and lemongrass) or the Kaci Biryani- (baby goat & rice with raisins), but wait if I can only find my server…Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
2535 Steinway St, Queens, NY 11103, USA – Astoria (718) 204-760
Steinway street is well known for its wide variety of middle eastern eateries, but Eastern Nights is one that stands out from the rest. The quaint cafe and new dining area can be spotted miles away. A human size replica of the Statue of Liberty and a palm tree made out of Christmas lights adorn the sidewalk, drawing patrons in at all hours. The decor is almost as eclectic as the menu. Arabic music videos play endlessly on the big screen tv. Egyptian inspired paintings bedeck the walls while the east-meets-west menu arouses taste-buds. Cardamom infused Arabic lasagna (without tomato sauce) gives a traditional Italian feast an unusual kick. The Viagra sandwich and stuffed pigeon are only for the brave. The arrangement of the chicken and lamb entrees finds the hearty meats on a plate in a bed of rice with a few scattered french fries on top. Although the choices are quite inventive, the flavor is more than adequate and the portions are filling. There are a variety of teas and exotic hot drinks to sip- as the restaurant does not serve alcohol. Eastern Nights is a festive yet cozy place to brings friends, as the restaurant welcomes everyone. These days- the cafe seems to draw young adults and families of all races. Be sure to check out their back yard patio in the spring/summer. Order a delicious meal, light up a flavored hookah and don’t be afraid to relax and stay a while.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
Kabab (25-12 Steinway St at 25th Ave) If food can be called sexy, you want a poster of this stuff pinned to your ceiling… above your bed. Just walking into Kabab is an experience in itself. The small restaurant is decorated with colorful tiles and old artifacts like photos, turn of the century subway maps and antique instruments. The world music playing is almost as seductive as the aroma of the food. This tiny eatery’s kitchen is situated in the middle of the cozy restaurant. You can watch as Chef Ali prepares your savory meal with special herbs and spices. Ali not only prepares the food, but also is your host for the evening. Restaurants don’t get much more intimate than this. Ali won’t be giving you a menu- rather than taking your order, he caters to your particular taste. Serving you mouth watering duck or lamb with apricot brown rice and seared greens. Don’t eat meat? Try the vegetarian friendly cous cous with vegetable medleys. Looking for a lighter meal? How about the savory fish or chicken entrees. The apple and beet salads are arranged on your plate in such an artistic way you almost hesitate before biting into the delectable morsels. Kabab is a restaurant of grand taste but not grand expenses. Ali doesn’t take credit so be sure to bring cash. It’s best to bring your own wine of choice- as the selection is limited. If the restaurant is full, you can head over next door to the bigger version, Mombar-it’s partner serving up a similar menu. Air conditioning is limited so if you’re thinking of going in the hotter months you might want to get take out. Although you will miss out on the scarlet colored hibiscus tea brought to you in a wine glass.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
El Shater Corp- Middle Eastern Gourmet Food (43-02 43rd Ave 11104) With all the ethnicity of Queens, it’s no surprise that this little gem is in the heart of Sunnyside. This tiny Lebanese food market packs an astonishing selection of teas, rice, home made sweets, freshly packaged spices and every kind of olive imaginable. It’s a great place to get food to-go or fresh spices like cardamom, cloves and fresh curry. El Shater has a deli counter serving Mediterranean meatballs, falafel, spinach pie and other pastries stuffed with savory fillings. And for dessert, try the kataifeh- honey shredded wheat or if you’re adventurous- the Madluet Ashtah- cream filled rosewater and pistachio delight.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )