Joe DiStefano has been scouring the streets of Queens in search of the borough's best bites for well over a decade, with a ferociousness that has led New York Magazine to dub him "the man who ate Queens." His childhood trips to Chinatown laid the seeds for a future passion for Chinese food, and few know the streets of Flushing better then him: the man who introduced Fuschia Dunlop, Eric Ripert, and Anthony Bourdain to the now legendary Golden Mall (an event that helped propel favorite son Xi'An Famous Foods to stardom.)
The voice behind Edible Queens' World's Fare blog, for the last two years he's been putting his street cred to further use guiding cooks, fans, and tourists through some of Queens' most fascinating neighborhoods.
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Last week, he hit the pavement with four food-obsessed couples, who, when asked how they felt about the "weird stuff," provided him with some pretty lenient guidelines: "bring it on...will there be starfish skewers?" Per their request, the crawl combined elements of his Flushing Chinatown and Southeast Aian Elmhurst tours (DiStefano also offers a third tour called "Himalayan Heights," focused on South Asian food in Jackson Heights.)
While Jeff Orlick's Midnight Crawl of Roosevelt Avenue is very much about exposing social issues and connecting entrepreneurs with potential customers, DiStefano's tour was more about "the secret restaurant in the secret neighborhood...that is catnip for a certain type of food nut."
Beginning the afternoon at Flushing's New World Mall, we zigzagged along the peripheries of Main Street eating fresh dou hua (fresh, silky tofu), dried seaweed, and xiao long bao (soup dumplings) before landing at the Golden Shopping Mall food court. Along the way, DiStefano highlighted points of interest, from amusing billboards to the city's top purveyor of wontons in chili oil, to help flesh out the neighborhood for his guests.
After a short ride on the Q58 bus, what Joe dubs "the international local," we arrived in Elmhurst: the borough's second Chinatown, but more notable for its growing Southeast Asian population. Durian, fish sauce, and coconut milk take the helm from vinegar and ginger here.
Joe kept the bites small to avoid fatigue, focusing on the best bites from takeout-centric spots. "I plan the tour by using a complex algorithm that allows for maximum deliciousness without it feeling like a gourmet death march. Just stuffing your face stop after stop is torturous."
We took a break from the eating to visit some markets and get a more intimate look at the food cultures around us. As Anthony Bourdain himself has said, these are the best places to really get your finger on the pulse of the community. We found ourselves wandering the aisles of a Korean Costco; jammed inside a tiny, combo printer shop and deli; and checking out traditional Chinese medicinal foods including, ahem, lamb placenta.
When all was said and done, we'd traveled from Yanbian in China down to the Indonesian city of Surabaya, noshing on 16 different and distinct dishes along the way. It was an afternoon packed with good bites, but if we had to call favorites? Highlights included Diverse Dim Sum's xiao long bao, Java Village's delicious jackfruit, the juicy potstickers at New World Mall's Sliced Noodle, Jo Ju's wacky Linsanity banh mi, and—for some—a funky durian cake from corner store OK Indo.
For information on booking a Worlds Fare tour, Joe can be reached at [email protected].