The invitation was as straight-forward as it gets: Jackson Heights and Elmhurst have good food. We're bringing good booze. You bring good conversation, and some greenbacks, and we'll eat our way through some of the most ethnically diverse blocks in all of New York City. How could we possibly refuse?
Once we got to the Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Avenue subway stop and locked up our bikes, we found the crew lined up outside a taco cart parked right under the El. Frank, our tour guide and a Jackson Heights native - praised this particular cart's beef paunch, con picante. A few of us got puerco, some ventured for the callos (tripe), and some for the lengua de chivo (goat tongue). We knew that this wasn't going to be your basic meat-on-a-stick kind of noshing tour.
Our sturdy group of 13 included an Asian, a Kiwi, a handful of Hungarians (including Frank and his girlfriend Zsuzsi), a laid back California surfer-dude, a Wasps, two Jews (soon to be three) an Italian, two Polacks, and one who pleaded "non-denominational." But good eats and early summertime drunk knows no color lines; we were all excited for our cross-cultural conclave of creative crunch-and-munching across Queens.
Frank and Zsuzsi had thought ahead and brought a couple of thermoses filled with Pimms Cup, a delicious (and strong) gin-and-juice-based summertime refresher. With our Subway soda cups stocked with Pimms, we made our way under the 7 train to our next stop, an Ecuadorian ceviche truck, for camarones (shrimp,) chivo and callos (tripe). each served in a thick soupy takeout cup.
Jackson Heights is an extraordinary neighborhood for its confluence of ethnic types, as well as the number of train lines that service it. You have the good old International Express (the 7 train) which rumbles on old steel I-beams along Roosevelt Avenue from Times Square to its terminal in Flushing. It was built by the IRT in different segments from 1915-1928, and therefore it shares a designated number, along with the other IRT lines 1 through 6.
The IND lines of E, F, G, R and V all share the same track, and were built by the city in the mid-to-late 30s. This new mode of public transit allowed immigrants to flood into the newly established garden community of Jackson Heights. What started out as Irish and Italian eventually became Ecuadorian, Mexican, Indian, Bangladeshi, Tibetan, Korean, Malaysian, Bhutanese and Fillipino. Ergo, yummy. Onto the elotes cart! Frank brought us to a tiny shack under the El and bought us a bunch of elotes - thick grainy stalks of corn, slathered with mayo, queso, a spicy ground pepper and lime juice. It started to rain, and we huddled under a modern FroYo shop's awning, devouring our elotes. Que sabor!
We hauled eastward, into Elmhurst, for Malaysian-Chinese. This is where one of our intrepid Italians bought, halved, scooped and served up Durian fruit to the crowd. Durian is the noxiously smelling-of-rotten-milk-and-eggs type asian monstrosity of a fruit. Our party was split down the middle on the disgusting/engrossing taste of the Durian fruit, but there was no denying the rank odoriferous. On the other hand, the Malasian takeout at Good Taste Malaysian Chinese was exquisite and yumtastic. Our third Jew arrived, in the form of BFU Will Meyer.
Back to Jackson Heights! There was more to eat! Samosas! Sammy's Famous Street Meat (being fought over here, in the concrete triangle, between yours truly and Mr. Aaden Stern.) Tibetan Momos (beef, chicken and veggies steamed dumplings,) and sticky Indian honey dessert! Our man Frank could do no wrong!It wasn't until we got to the Korean Fried Chicken takeout spot, complete with its own quirky mascot (shown here with Kate McCooliak) that we shouted, Enough! Enough! Too much deliciousness, Frank, let us roll home on our fat bellies! It had been 5 hours of wandering Jackson Heights, and enjoying no fewer than 9 different food stuffs from 7 different countries, found on 3 different continents, all under the El of the 7.
We love Queens! And Frank! (FYI, he's also available for private tours.)