Tag Archives: Queens food

East “meats” West at Honoo Grill & Noodle

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks


When 9-year-old Samuel Lu’s family moved from China next door to the family of 10-year-old Ben Lam in Flushing, a lifelong friendship was started over some good old-fashioned rounds of hoops after school. Lu’s father had been a chef at a five star restaurant in the Guanzhong region of China, and while the two boys tossed the basketball, they dreamt aloud of one day opening their own restaurant together.

Just two decades later, that dream became a reality when Honoo Grill & Noodle opened its doors on Ditmars this past January. The Japanese word for “flame”—a nod to the grilled preparation of many of the restaurants offerings—Honoo is Astoria’s newest pan-Asian restaurant. Bringing together Lu and Lam’s favorite dishes from the diverse continent, they serve several Japanese-style street foods, Chinese entrees, and Thai, Malaysian, and Korean plates, all with a Western Twist.  The twist is “in the sauces we use, and in the presentation,” explains Lu.

A tasty introduction to the fusion going on here is the plate of three fried wonton tacos stuffed with braised beef and peppers. The seafood wontons are also standouts, hand-stuffed with white fish and shrimp, and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce. Other traditional street foods include fried takoyaki, as well as a broad selection of yakitori.

With kebabs ranging from just $2 to $7, these yakitori are ideal for mixing and matching as a full meal, or simply adding as a supplement to another entrée or noodle dish.  Try the herbed beef short ribs, spicy cumin lamb, or a family recipe of tare-glazed chicken skewers. A house favorite, the cumin seasoning crystallizes on the meats, a crunchy coating which gives way to sweet and juicy bite-sized meats.

The Honoo Special Noodles soup is exceptional, with a creamy broth rendered from boiling pork bones overnight, releasing the marrow and deep flavors into the soup. Take a moment to savor the egg crowning the bowl of soup like a cherry on a sundae.  Initially soft-boiled, the egg is then pickled in soy sauce and secret seasonings overnight, cut in half, then carefully stirred into the piping hot broth. The main ingredient, the cha-shu pork, is first seared and caramelized to seal in flavor, then slow-roasted for several hours, rendering it exceptionally tender. The sum of all of the components is a labor-and-flavor-intensive bowl of comfort soup.

Entrees of note are the bone-in lemongrass pork chops; sweet-and-spicy glazed jumbo tiger prawns; and a grilled chicken breast with a Thai basil pesto laced with mint, cilantro, and jalapeno.

Honoo now serves a full range of beer, wine, and sake. Lu also promises a soon-to-come sushi bar, which will offer a full selection of fresh sashimi and sushi, along with twelve special rolls.

The best idea—share the tacos, some cumin skewers, the special soup, and an entrée, all washed back with a Japanese brew. For lunch, build any combo of skewers with a salad and miso soup for $9.

Honoo Grill & Noodle
33-06 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria
(718) 606-0653
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.



The Thirsty Koala brings Queensland to Queens

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Bradley Hawks


The Thirsty Koala, Astoria’s new Australian restaurant, brings Queensland to Queens. Adorned with indigenous artifacts like boomerangs and didgeridoo (a long woodwind instrument) among vibrantly lit blonde onyx and pinewood-planked walls, the new menu reads like a comestible glossary of Australian terms, from jaffles and crosti to kakadu, kumara, and even kangaroo burgers with “the lot.”

Filling a longtime gap in the Queens culinary landscape, the eatery is the collaboration of three Astoria mates, Katherine Fuchs (former FDNY chief turned executive chef), Alex Styponias (Astoria-born mixologist, raised in Greece), and Christine Chellos (Aussie native and financial advisor).

According to Fuchs, the menu features “dishes that are familiar, but with an Australian flare” which she describes as “international…often British…with some Asian influences,” including herb-crusted lamb “lollies” over caramelized pumpkin; ginger beer-battered fish ‘n chips; boomerang tacos with grilled prawns (using Nixtamal tortillas); jaffles (Australian pressed sandwiches); and a variety of “crostis” (crostini).

A must-try crosti is the kakadu, an open-faced toasted sandwich with sweet and tangy kakadu plums, prosciutto, kalamata olive tapenade, shallots, house-made goat cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Burgers come as sliders or 8oz. monolithic sandwiches, available in either beef or kangaroo meat. Order it with “the lot” and it will arrive stacked with goat cheese, beet slaw, grilled pineapple, bacon, and a fried egg.

The hard-to-find marsupial meat is also available as a steak with pomegranate reduction over kumara mash.

The wild game meat is extremely lean, resembling a cross between bison and venison. The steak is best described as a sweeter filet mignon. On the flip side, there are several vegan and gluten-free options including an “Earth Chili,” loaded with edamame and black beans in a thick, piquant tomato stew. It has enough spice to warm you but not set you running to the fire hydrant.

Desserts include a lamington, with strawberry jam sandwiched between slices of yellow sponge cake, rolled in a dark chocolate ganache, then dusted with fine coconut shavings. The sweets menu is rounded out with palova, a Tim-Tam tiramisu, and extensive array of “flat whites” (Aussie espresso with microfoam) and other java featuring Intelligentsia Coffee.

Presently BYOB, the liquor license has been approved on its way. Coopers and Fosters will be served on tap, headlining a beverage program of Australian and New Zealand wines and craft beer. Aussie-inspired cocktails created by Styponias will include a Hooly Dooly caipirinha and the Gabba—a gin and honey blend named after the Brisbane Cricket Ground. Even without a bar, The Thirsty Koala has already proven itself a bloody fantastic addition to Ditmars Boulevard.

Thirsty Koala
35-12 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
(718) 626-5430
Tue-Thu 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Fri & Sat 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Sun 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.



Authentic Japanese noodles and more in Astoria

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Bradley Hawks


When HinoMaru first opened on Ditmars just about a year ago, it caught the eye of noodle enthusiasts everywhere, especially considering the lack of slurpable options in western Queens.

Featuring a menu focused around eight regional ramen preparations, Chef Koji Miyamoto’s soup broth simmers with pork bones for nearly 12 hours.

The 60-seat space is comfortably open, with two large rooms separated by a long noodle bar, where guests can watch the chef at work in the large open kitchen. HinoMaru means “circle of the sun,” a nod to the Japanese flag.  Masks of Tengu (the Japanese spirit of mischief) adorn the walls.

The cooks can regularly be seen preparing housemade gyoza (pork dumplings), or a rendition of takoyaki that surpasses any other version in the city—even the popular East Village stands. Takoyaki, a common street food, are like piping hot seafood-stuffed zeppoles topped with bonito flakes that dance in the steam.

The menu now includes all of the original regional soups and dishes, along with the addition of a chalkboard of daily specials and a second printed page of nearly 20 Japanese tapas-style plates and seasonal noodle and rice bowl additions–even a few sushi rolls–almost all under $10.

A recurring favorite is the uni ramen, like a seafood carbonara, with the noodles tossed in a very light parmesan cream, with a generous heap of sea urchin on top, along with fish cakes and nori shreds. During the summer, look for the cold seafood ramen, topped with crumbled bits of yuzu jelly that melt into broth as they are stirred in.

The softshell crab nikuman (steamed buns) with scallions, cucumber straws, and sriracha mayo are exceptional. The crunch of the breaded shellfish tucked into that soft (even the slightest fingerprint dimples the bun) Pac Man-shaped rice flour bread is fantastic. The steamed nikuman are also available stuffed with spicy crab, tender pork belly, and even tempura shrimp.

The menu also includes some less traditional and surprising dishes, like browned, scored links of kurobuta sausage, served on a bed of satsuma potato puree, a golden sweet potato whose rich color symbolizes wealth. Or perhaps try a basket of fried pig ears, heavily seasoned and playfully crunchy.

Expected sweet endings include chewy, frosty orbs of various flavored mochi, but a delicious surprise reveals a silky coconut panna cotta, topped either with strawberries or diced mango, like a heavenly creme parfait.

The service is impeccable. The prices are extremely affordable. The space is pristine, and surprisingly spacious, including a sweet graffiti garden patio in back. HinoMaru recently attained a beer and wine license, but also serves tea and traditional Japanese sodas. The chorus of staff chiming “domo arigato gozaimashita” as guests exit the restaurant may be unfamiliar to the neighborhood, but it’s music to the ears, and a siren song to return soon and often.

HinoMaru Ramen
33-18 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
Sunday – Thursday noon -10:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday noon -11 p.m.







Flo Lounge Restaurant

| editorial1@queenscourier.com


The menu at Flo Lounge Restaurant of Astoria is eclectic, including everything from spinach pie to sushi to marinated skirt steak, from the Mediterranean branzino to the 16-ounce rib-eye steak. And there is a pasta menu which includes classics such as penne a la vodka and simple customer favorites, such as the cappelini.

The drink menu at Flo Lounge Restaurant presents martinis, sangria and classic cocktails. My favorites include the Pai Mei martini or the “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere,” which combines coconut rum, pineapple juice, a touch of blue curacao and fresh lemon juice. If you’re searching for something fruity, order the Havana Mistress – raspberry rum, muddled fresh strawberries, lime and mint.

Appetizers include Latin-inspired items such as the crispy tacos and chipotle chicken quesadilla – complete with guacamole. In the mood for comfort food? Order the BBQ pulled pork sliders or southern fried chicken strips.

If you’re searching for something bold, order the yellow fin tuna tartare – ahi tuna, avocado salad, all served with a pineapple vinaigrette. The quality of the tuna is extraordinary, and the chef, Aaron Block, explains that quality ingredients are the foundation to each item on the menu. At Flo, most ingredients are organic or natural from sustainable sources. It uses fresh farm eggs and organic greens.

If you’re craving something packed with flavor, try the ginger-sesame marinated skirt steak salad. Exotic mushrooms and marinated skirt steak are placed on a bed of baby spinach, drizzled in a red onion balsamic vinaigrette. Tender meat, fresh spinach, savory mushrooms – this dish combines a variety of flavors that will quickly become a customer favorite.

If you’re a sushi eater, the dragon roll is a colorful presentation of eel, spicy mayo and avocado – high quality ingredients, fresh fish, beautiful presentation. The sushi taco presents an eccentric twist on traditional Japanese cuisine – utilizing minced tuna, rice and spicy mayo all stuffed within a crispy wonton taco.

Block brings out an assortment of entrees including the pan seared salmon and stuffed chicken. The salmon is cooked to perfection, served with wilted baby spinach, toasted garlic, grape tomato and garlic smashed potato. The stuffed chicken is breaded and lightly pan fried, wrapped delicately with roasted red peppers, spinach, feta, porcini demi-cream served with chive mashed potatoes.

For the “grand finale,” Flo Restaurant Lounge offers an assortment of sweet treats including fried Oreos and warm crepes. I recommend the crepes, served with fresh strawberries – rich, gooey, delicious. Complement your dessert with an espresso or cappuccino and enjoy the atmosphere – modern, chic, elegant.

Flo Lounge Restaurant
37-20 30th Ave
Astoria, NY 11103

Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. – 3 a.m.
Friday 11 a.m. – 4 a.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 a.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 a.m.

Dressy Attire, Full Bar



New book offers guide to diverse Queens dining scene

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Globe Pequot Press

Chinese in Flushing, Greek in Astoria, Indian in Jackson Heights — these are just a few of the cultures and cuisines representing Queens’ diversity.

Those that live in and around the borough are lucky enough to have access to an international menu that is not only varied, but also delicious. But with all those choices, navigating the Queens restaurant scene can be daunting. A new book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Culinary Offerings, makes it easier.

Its publisher, Globe Pequot Press, has put out dozens of other “Food Lovers” guides to cities and areas across the country, including Brooklyn and Long Island. For each one, they seek a local food expert to research and write it, and selected blogger Meg Cotner for the Queens guide.

Cotner has her own food website, HarmoniousBelly.com. She is cofounder of the blog We Heart Astoria and editor of QueensNYC.com. She has been living in Astoria since 2005.

When she moved to the borough, she brought her passion for good food, and was able to expand her palate with Queens’ diverse dining.

“Growing up I didn’t eat the most elaborate stuff,” said Cotner. “But I always liked food and I liked talking about.”

In addition to writing for the previously mentioned sites, she also wrote about Queens for About.com. Through that job, her editor connected her to the publisher of the Food Lovers’ Guide books.

The book allowed Cotner to indulge in her passion for Queens and its food. “It was exciting to get to know parts of Queens I hadn’t gone to before,” she said.

“It was a lot of fun to discover these hidden spots.” But it was difficult narrowing down what to include in the guide. “I feel like I just scratched the surface of Queens. I feel like there’s so much out there,” said Cotner.

Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens is organized by neighborhood and subdivided into local foodie faves, landmarks (restaurants with a multigenerational following that have been around a long time), specialty stores, markets and producers and street food.

There are also additional sections with recipes from local chefs and food artisans, a list of Queens food festivals and events, information about community supported agriculture and local food-related websites.

Cotner hopes the guide, which is aimed at both locals and tourists, will bring more people to Queens.

“[The borough] offers the opportunity to have an amazing meal for a small amount of cash,” she said. “Almost any ethnicity you can imagine is represented by food. You can have incredibly authentic food here.”

The following recipe, created by the author, Meg Cotner, appears in Food Lovers’ Guide to Queens:

Mexican Panzanella

Serves 6-8

1 small loaf of crusty yeast bread (Italian-style is good), preferably stale
4-5 large tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 ears of corn, kernels removed
1 red pepper, seeded, cut into medium dice
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into small dice
1/2 red onion, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Cotija cheese, crumbled (to taste)
1 avocado, chopped (optional)


1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider or sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon crushed Mexican oregano
1/4 red pepper flakes
1/4 smoked paprika
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
Salt and pepper
Honey, to taste

Chop the bread into 1-inch cubes. If you are using fresh bread, toast the cubes in the oven or toaster oven for 5-10 minutes.

Combine the tomato, corn, red pepper, cucumber, onions, and garlic in a large bowl. Add a little salt to draw out the vegetable juices. Let rest for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the cilantro. Add that to the vegetables when they are done resting.

Add the bread cubes and lightly toss. Let rest while you make the vinaigrette.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together everything except the honey. When everything has come together, add a little bit of honey. Taste the vinaigrette adjust seasoning as needed.

Add half the vinaigrette to the bread and vegetables and lightly toss. Wait a minute. See how much vinaigrette is absorbed by everything, then add enough to achieve your preferred texture. Let rest for a few minutes. Add the cotija cheese and toss lightly. Taste the mixture and season with salt and pepper to your preference. Top with avocado, if using.