My friends and neighbors raise eyebrows when I, as a resident of Manhattan, tell them about the glories of food in Flushing. "It's so far away!", they insist. I can't disagree, but the LIRR gets you there in a whir, and I try to get the most bang for my buck during each journey. I seldom re-board the LIRR without a sack-full of cheap treats and authentic eats. And well before I started writing this column, Song's Family Food has been my pit stop before heading back to the city.
There are plenty of boonshik jips, or take-out restaurants that specialize in cheap comfort food, scattered throughout Flushing. I can't claim that Song's is the best at what it does (I'd certainly set off a firestorm of debate if I did), but I like them just fine. Their kimbap is good and filling and pairs well with the zippy bowl of kongnamul guk (bean sprout soup) which they include in every order. Sometimes the kitchen will throw in a hard boiled egg, gratis. It's certainly enough for a full meal, and an absolute steal compared to Manhattan prices.
I would recommend the bulgogi kimbap ($5) for beginners. It's packed with the slightly sweet, slightly salty crumbles of beef, and a full serving of vegetables, spinach, pickled daikon and carrots for textural contrast. And if you want something more exciting, the spicy tuna kimbap ($5.50) steals the spotlight with its surprising amount heat, balanced with the cool crunch of radish and the anise notes of kkaennip (sesame leaf). There's no seating here, but kimbap is the stuff of road trips, picnics, and school lunches. It's meant to travel well and it's at its best at room temperature.
Daheen Wang Mandoo is a relative newcomer to the area, but it's quite the upstart. They close early, sometimes run out of product earlier, and the lines can be fierce. Founded in Namdaemoon Market near Myungdong, the take-out joint, which specializes in jjin (steamed) mandoo has expanded to multiple locations in Seoul, and finally stateside in Flushing. Wang translates to King, although it can also be used to describe something that's big (there's a joke in here somewhere), and the moniker fits. One dumpling is a snack, two is a meal and three is a feast. And choosing your meal is easy—they only serve two dumplings, one savory and one sweet, $2 apiece.
The savory version is stuffed with oh-so-moist minced pork, finely minced onions, scallions, and tender sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon). Amongst the meaty notes, an invigorating wallop of black pepper and onion assert themselves. The dumplings come with a vinegar, soy sauce and gochugaru (crushed Korean red peppers) dipping sauce, but it stands up well enough on its own. For dessert, the enormous hoppang, a pillowy bun filled with tamely sweet red beans, is utterly filling, and satisfying, although an ardent sweet tooth may wish for a bit more sugar. Both dumplings are best fresh, but still quite good after a quick zap in the microwave, or even better, a steam bath in your kitchen (a friend swears by reheating them in his rice cooker).
Sure, there's destination food aplenty in Flushing, but at Daheen Wang Mandoo and Song's Family Food on Northern Boulevard, it's all about the journey.
Song's Family Food
16220 Northern Blvd, Ste B., Flushing NY 11358 (map)
Daheen Wang Mandoo
153-24 Northern Blvd, Flushing NY 11354 (map)