The Queens neighborhood of Flushing, and its Chinatown, have been in flux for a lot longer than the pandemic. Over the past decade, rising rents, changing migration patterns, and frenetic bursts of development have fundamentally changed the neighborhood from a working- and middle-class Chinatown to a dining hotspot brimming with swagger. You can still find many longtime favorites like $1 Peking duck buns (they’re a buck twenty-five now), but such humble stalwarts now sit across the street from restaurants where dinner can easily clear $50 a head.
Far from the tourist circuit of Manhattan’s Chinatown, and the generational property ownership in that neighborhood that’s led to relatively slow turnover, Flushing’s restaurants reflect the full spectrum of New York’s diverse and contemporary Chinese community. That means menus catering to regional cuisines from across the mainland and throughout the greater Chinese diaspora, and new shops with a close eye on food trends half a world away. (Deluxe hot pot with a manicure while you wait? Don’t mind if I do.)
The short- and long-term changes have their positives and negatives. However, Flushing’s reputation as the place for Chinese food in New York remains hard-earned. Entrepreneurial restaurant owners have adroitly adjusted their kitchens’ business models for a post-pandemic world, and while closings happen everywhere, population density and a preponderance of dishes suited for takeout have given many old lions the breathing room to turn out bao and bing for another day.
Few people eat their way through Flushing with the gusto of members of the hospitality industry. With that in mind, we asked a chorus of chefs, restaurateurs, and other notables to share the favorite spots they’re thinking of most right now.
Amelie Kang, co-founder, MáLà Project
Kang’s business partners first turned her onto this karaoke-destination-cum-event-space-cum-snack-bar; it’s hosted her company’s holiday parties a couple times. “It’s very high tech,” she says, “with a good selection of English and Chinese songs. You can order off screens, there’s quality speakers and lighting effects.” Shatteringly crisp fried chicken wings, skewered fish balls, ramen, and boba tea are usually in her food order, accompanied by plenty of Lana del Rey and Jay Chao. // 136-20 Roosevelt Ave., 3rd Floor, Flushing, therealktv.com.
Since the pandemic began, Kang, who lives in Clinton Hill, has “been craving Sichuan food,” and this spot, which opened in 2017, is her go-to for whole fish, numbing-hot stir-fried frog, and red-braised pork belly. “The food is really good, pretty similar to what we’d have in China” // 39-16 Prince St., 2nd Floor, Flushing, ambias.com/sa.
Matt Hyland, chef and co-owner, Emily and Emmy Squared
There’s a lot going on in this miniature food court, including a dim sum operation and a sushi counter, but Hyland always makes a beeline for the stall in the rear, which serves pillowy mantou filled with a generous piece of roast duck (with skin, natch), scallions, and a slick of hoisin sauce for $1.25. “I first started going [over 10 years ago] when it was outdoors near the train tracks,” he says, “and I think about it all the time. You hop off the train and you’re right where you want to be.” As of now, Corner 28 is on hold; duck lovers eagerly await its return. // 135-24 40th Rd., Flushing, 718-886-6628.
“One of my favorite dumpling places,” Hyland says of this neighborhood standard-bearer, whose #6, “wontons in hot oil,” is justly celebrated across the city. (“They know what you’re there for,” he notes, which while not strictly true for local customers, is a fair take about people visiting from other neighborhoods.) A dozen pork wontons wrapped in gossamer skins get topped with a gently incendiary chile oil topped with heaps of roasted chile, preserved mustard root, and fresh scallions. “The people who run it are really friendly. It’s such a warm, welcoming place to be.” // 135-02 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, 718-961-2322.
“Anything with ‘galaxy’ in the name, I’m gonna go,” Hyland says. A number of lamb dumplings on the menu — rare finds still, in New York — are added incentive. “Those are why I go,” he goes on. Dumpling Galaxy, set inside the Arcadia Mall, is currently closed, though Helen You’s Tianjin Dumpling House just opened a new streetside location on Kissena Boulevard. (Note: I co-authored a cookbook with Helen You.) // 42-35 Main St., with the new Tianjin Dumpling House at 37-11 Main St., Flushing, dumplinggalaxy.com.
“The food court’s okay,” Hyland admits, “but it’s just fun to have everyone in these color-coded uniforms [divided along gender lines] eating in a cafeteria together.” (In other times, one presumes.) Plus, of course, the actual spa, which includes a bar with some deceptively strong mixed drinks. “There are these jets that spray high-pressure water on your head. They hurt a little, but feel amazing.” Spa Castle is, bewilderingly, open at reduced capacity at the moment, though valet parking is on hold. // 131-10 11th Avenue, College Point, ny.spacastleusa.com.
Simone Tong, chef and partner, Little Tong Noodle Shop and Silver Apricot
Technically in the adjoining neighborhood of College Point, this Sichuan spot is a favorite of Tong’s, whose family hails from Sichuan. “The green scallion fried rice is so good,” she starts. “Right now I’m craving the food I grew up with, and that includes really homey Sichuan food. [Little Pepper] is very authentic but quite innovative.” // 18-24 College Point Blvd., College Point, 718-939-7788.
A high-end hot pot chain from China, Haidilao is known not just for the quality of its soup bases, but for the manicures and massages guests receive while they wait for a table. Which, yes, is as wonderful as it sounds. “You have to line up to get a ticket, then line up to get in,” Tong says, “but it’s worth it. The service is amazing, the meat and broth are great, they treat their employees well, and the whole experience feels clean and delicious.” You can also buy those soup bases online, and when Tong needs a hot pot fix, they’re just the thing. // 138-23 39th Ave., Flushing, haidilao.com.
After a stint working in Singapore, this Jersey-based chef admits his high standards for Chinese cooking often leave him wanting: “The Chinese food in Jersey is so insanely bad!” But he’s quick to praise the nuanced Sichuan dishes at high-end spot Da Xi. Wood ear mushrooms, mapo tofu, and dry pot spare ribs are a few of his regular orders. “If someone didn’t invite me for lunch, I never would have found it,” he adds. “Because it’s inside a shopping mall.” // 136-20 Roosevelt Ave Suite 2R, Flushing, daxiflushing.com.
Also high end, also Sichuan, and also, for that matter, inside a shopping center (Fulton Square). “The quality is similar to Da Xi for me,” he says. Guan Fu specializes in live seafood, he notes, so be sure to ask about the daily catch when placing an order. // 39-16 Prince St., G01, Flushing, guanfuny.com.
Josh Ku, co-founder, Win Son
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
Ku has been coming to this soup dumpling champion since his college days, and its new expansive space has been on his hit list since before the pandemic. “I’ve been living vicariously through photos and reviews,” he says. “It’s been consistent for a long time.” New Nan Xiang offers a wide array of xiao long bao fillings and a rainbow of colored skins, along with Shanghainese specialties, a small dim sum selection, and frozen dumplings and buns to go. // 39-16 Prince St, #104, Flushing, nanxiangxiaolongbao.com.
Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet
“My dad lives out in Bayside, and in the first few weeks of [Win Son’s] shutdown I’d go out to eat with him at some restaurants nearby,” Ku says. His father is Taiwanese, and this restaurant has long been a staple of Flushing’s Taiwanese community. It’s best tackled with a large group so you can dig into dishes like smoked and pressed tofu, oyster omelets, “casseroles” of braised meat and tendon, and a regular dish for Ku, “fly heads,” which have nothing to do with flies and everything to do with a heap of minced garlic chives stir fried with ground pork that’ll leave you with a satisfying case of onion breath. “They usually send out this garlic cabbage, and if I’m by myself I always go for the oyster omelet and some stewed meat.” // 59-10A Main St., Flushing, mainstreettaiwanese.com.
If you’re looking to pick up groceries while in Flushing, this supermarket giant’s multiple Flushing locations are where Ku usually shops. He’s been keeping track of Chinese restaurants and groceries during the pandemic with this spreadsheet, a citizen journalism project noting grocery closures and reopenings. // Various locations, skyfoods.com.
Tony Liu, chef, The Queensboro
When taking his kids out to eat, an active and accepting-of-noise dining room is often priority number one, Liu admits. The palatial Grand Restaurant atop the New World Mall fits his needs well while keeping his children entertained. “Dim sum there is pretty good, and the live fish are awesome, you can get some unusual choices there.” He’s also a fan of the dim sum at Asian Jewels, nearby on 39th Avenue. // 40-21 Main St, Flushing, 718-358-3388.
“My kids love bubble tea,” Liu says, “and it doesn’t really matter where we go for that,” but the tea options at this Malaysian chain keep him coming back. “My kid is mesmerized by how they pour the milk tea back and forth between two cups to froth it,” he continues. A station where you can watch cooks hand-stretch roti adds to the show; it doesn’t hurt that the delicately flaky pancakes, served with chicken curry for dipping, are really good. // 39-16 Prince St, Unit 205 & 206, Flushing, papparichusa.com.
Soy Bean Chen Flower Shop
“I grow a lot of plants, and take care of the plants at the restaurant, so going to this plant store is relaxing for me,” he says. “There’s also a window at the front that sells silken tofu. It’s a very Chinatown thing,” he goes on, describing the mixed-use nature of the storefront common in Flushing. “You can get this tofu pudding with a sweet syrup or a savory chile oil topping.” //135-26 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, 718-321-3982.
J & W Restaurant Equipment
For a certain kind of obsessive cook, no trip to Flushing is complete without a visit to a restaurant supply store where you can ogle stockpots large enough to double as kiddie pools. “I like the big Asian-style restaurant supply store,” Liu says. “You can get everything and anything. European stuff, Asian stuff, and it’s all fairly inexpensive.” // 36-48 Main St., Flushing, 347-542-3515.
Theresa Wong, founder, T Shop
Dim Sum Garden
Though Wong and her husband, the Ecuadorian chef Humberto Guallpa, currently live in Sunnyside, they used to regularly visit Flushing for dim sum. “Humberto loves it even more than I do,” she says. Since January, though, with an eye on the pandemic overseas, the couple has stayed close to home, and Dim Sum Garden has been their delivery dim sum of choice, ordered through the Chinese-language delivery app Hungry Panda. “It’s new, and everything is pretty good. My husband loves the chicken feet, and they do baked roast pork buns with a sweet crumb topping,” similar to Hong Kong favorite Tim Ho Wan. // 135-05 40th Rd., Flushing, 917-207-6061.
Szechuan Mountain House
This Sichuan restaurant with a mammoth menu also has a location in Manhattan, but Wong has kept to delivery in recent months. “Their delivery packaging is the best,” she explains. “Get the spicy pepper chicken, which holds up well during delivery.” She’s also a fan of the chile-oil-slicked tongue and tripe appetizer. // 3916 Prince St., G03, Flushing, szechuanmountainhouse.com.
A holdover Taiwanese bakery from before Flushing’s modern (and more mainland-leaning) expansion, and a favorite of Wong’s when she lived in the neighborhood. “It’s not a new style place; it’s very traditional. But they have almost everything.” Red bean-filled mooncakes, plush cream-filled buns, and light-as-air sponge cakes are in her regular rotation. // 57-25 Main St., Flushing, 718-939-1688.
Mad for Chicken
When she lived in Flushing near Northern Boulevard, “I loved to go for Korean fried chicken,” and the battered-and-fried wings at this popular chain were her go-to. For best results, order a mix of mild- and spicy-sauced wings. // 157-18 Northern Blvd., Flushing, madforchicken.com.
Jason Wang, CEO, Xi’an Famous Foods
When your father is the head chef of a beloved Chinese restaurant empire, you don’t need to go out to get great Chinese cooking. “We can cook a lot of Chinese dishes easily at home,” Wang says. “The ever-popular hot pot is pretty easy to make when you have this much time at home, even for the most novice of cooks.” But for Wang, the buck stops at roast duck, which he’d much rather buy than make, and the roast duck at this longstanding pho shop is one of his favorites. “I look forward to having a duck chopped up on the usual wooden block, so I can store it in my fridge for late night snacks over rice.” // 41-01 Kissena Blvd, Flushing, 718-762-6151.
Ligaya Mishan, restaurant critic and features writer, The New York Times
Joe’s Steam Rice Roll
“Like everybody else,” she says, “I loved the cheong fun here.” This tiny Flushing spot has, since Mishan’s initial review, blossomed into a multi-location brand, all powered by sheets of rice-flour batter (made from rice milled in-house, an unusual level of extra for any cheong fun spot) steamed into tender rice noodle rolls, filled with everything from ground pork to whole shrimp and flecks of egg and scallion. // 136-21 Roosevelt Ave., #A1, Flushing, 646-203-7380.
“So many of the places in Flushing that I’ve reviewed have closed over the years,” Mishan laments, but this crepe stand in the New World Mall trucks on. Mishan’s a fan of their jianbing, a Beijing street-food favorite formed from a dosa-like pancake griddled with egg, fried wonton skin for crunch, and fillings like sausage, shrimp, and cilantro. Don’t sleep on the chile oil when they ask if you want it hot. // 136 Roosevelt Ave., #20, Flushing, 917-535-9099.
One of the only restaurants in Flushing that specializes in Uyghur food, a rich cuisine influenced by Central Asian spices and techniques, and currently under threat back in China from a systematic cultural genocide by the national government. Mishan is especially fond of the restaurant’s lagman, a dish of chewy hand-pulled noodles served in soup or tossed “dry” with spices like cumin and coriander. // 43-39 Main St., Flushing, nurlan-ny.com.
Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer from Queens. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and other outlets. He’s also the co-author of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You. Follow him on Twitter. Follow Resy, too.