If you've ever worked your way through Flushing's various stalls and restaurants on a weekend afternoon—give yourself a pat on the back. But as the Great Gray Owl knows: it's a whole different ball game when the moon comes out to play. As crowds thin after dark, the vibrant cultural hub shines bright with late night beacons.
I was already headed to Chao Zhou—named for the city in eastern Guangdong province—at the onset of this nocturnal undertaking, but the corner restaurant was not to be my final stop. Poking around the neighborhood yielded additional treasures my initial research had not revealed.
Situated across from a Starbucks on Flushing's Main Street, Chao Zhou's backlit signage stands out against the darkened windows of its neighbors, a giant bowl of noodles perched atop its roof. Its cuisine is best compared to the food of Fujian, primarily light and reserved in both preparation and flavor. The massive full menu—including an abridged "late night" section—is available until closing time at 1:30am, though they were out of several items by the time I sat down to order an hour earlier.
Chao Zhou specializes in soups and stews, and both the cuttlefish ball noodle soup ($5.75) and sweet potato congee ($2.00) exemplify this prowess. The soup's handmade ovoid fish balls, tender and almost fluffy in their subdued broth, shared the stage with slices of tofu, scallions and a choice of noodle (we went wide). Thick with starch, the yam congee—only offered after 9pm—approached blandness save for the bites that included the orange tuber, but at $2, it could make for an incredibly cheap late night meal on its own.
Exhibiting a powerful earthy funk, the pork kidney with sesame oil ($8.50) triumphantly escaped offal purgatory thanks to a pungent sauce, the slices scored to soften the texture of this famously chewy porcine organ.
The coating on the salt and pepper squid ($7.50) was heavier than most and missing its advertised peppery kick. Slightly sweet and reminiscent of funnel cake batter, it turned out to be a lackluster cloak for the springy sea beast.
1:30am isn't particularly late by this column's standards, so my group set off in search of more midnight snacks. A few blocks away in the shadow of a large parking lot, we found one of the Xinjiang BBQ carts that specialize in skewered animal parts covered in a fiery cumin spice blend.
At $1 per skewer, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more affordable nosh, but I'm sad to report that only the lamb skewer held my attention. Chicken hearts were too metallic, even when coated in cumin, and lamb kidneys too chewy. A beef skewer started out tender and suffered from tough gristle as I worked my way down.
Directly across the street stands Sunway Cafe, and it was here where we really tapped into late night Flushing. Open until 4am weeknights and 5am weekends, Sunway was crowded with fashionable Asian 20-somethings all supping from the hodge-podge menu of bubble teas, soups, noodle dishes and dim sum. You read that correctly—they serve dim sum until 5 in the morning. Full from our previous excursions, we stuck to sweets as a fitting end to the evening.
Doughy and slightly gummy, the steamed egg yolk buns ($2.95) concealed a sweet, custardy vanilla filling. A honeydew bubble tea ($3.85) was far too sweet and lacking a sufficient amount of tapioca pearls, while the chocolate "milkshake with cookies" ($3.55)m&mdashan abominable slurry of chocolate milk with cookie mush—tasted like something a hyperactive child would make if given the run of the kitchen.
On our way to these destinations, we passed a few other storefronts with signs of life inside (karaoke included), solidifying Flushing's place in the canon of acceptable haunts for the sleep-deprived. However, I'd recommended exploring during the day, as that's when the neighborhood is at its most vibrant.
40-52 Main St (map) 718-353-7683
Xinjiang BBQ Cart
Corner of Prince St and 39th Ave (map) 646-233-8772