by Josh Ozersky - 149 Reviews - 48 List
Citi Field has been hailed as a culinary wonderland, thanks to its in-house Shake Shack, Blue Smoke and Catch of the Day. But any real New Yorker knows that the true culinary greatness is to be found just minutes outside the ballpark, in the joys of Queens? Flushing Chinatown, Italian Corona and all the other gems that lie outside the nosebleed seats. The Mets may be going nowhere (though we have our fingers crossed!) but these restaurant neighborhoods are bound for the Hall of Fame. (Photo: Citi Field)
Updated: September 17, 2009
Perhaps the most famous Chinese restaurant in Flushing, this shrine to the Sichuan peppercorn produces some of the most refined (and spiciest) Chinese food in town. The signature dish is the tea-smoked duck, which is crispy and smoky and fatty in a way that only the best barbecue can be. But don't miss out on the equally legendary dan dan noodles, wontons in hot spicy oil, or (if you want something a little less incendiary) the big, puffy lion's head meatballs, served in a little crock of savory brown sauce.
If you have a meat eater in the family and want to play a nasty trick on him or her, this is the place to do it. So cunning is the mimicry displayed by Happy Buddha's mock meats that even the most committed carnivore would be hard-pressed to identify the "roast duck" or "barbecued pork" for the gluten creations they are. Aside from the illusion, though, this is one of Flushing's best restaurants, and the food is impeccably fresh and vibrant.
Old-school Italian restaurants don't get any more enjoyable or any more atmospheric than this Corona classic, where big parties eat big pastas and some of the city's best veal and steaks. The vibe is insular and familial and you should never be shocked to see dramatic displays of emotion at the next table; it's a special occasion restaurant for a lot of locals, and the wine pours almost as freely as the pasta pots. A bocce court next door helps the regulars work off the meal, but don't linger too long or listen in on too many conversations; this is the real thing, not a Mulberry Street knockoff.
The name is inexplicable, since there's no water anywhere near Flushing, and the region of Northern China this restaurant represents is similarly landlocked. But it doesn't matter: The brand of spicy, lamb-centric cooking associated with China's northern desert regions is elegantly expressed at Waterfront International, whether in Xiang Chang specialties like barbecued mutton with cumin and chili powder or in the various casseroles that feed families every night.
You want sandwiches? Big sandwiches? This is the place for big Italian sandwiches, heroes in the grand tradition. The fresh mozzarella is as good as it gets in the five boroughs, and the generous helping of cold fillings like "gobba-goo" (capicola), prosciutto and sharp provolone are worth the trip by themselves. But what really takes Leo's to the next level are the hot sandwiches, especially the dripping roast pork, which would justify a trip to Corona in itself. Just don't try to smuggle one into the stadium; it would be a shame to let a guard rob you of a sandwich this good.
Flushing's flourishing dim sum scene is shown at its best in this massive establishment, which doubles as a seafood restaurant at night. If you're going for a day game, you have a great excuse to stop in and experience the sheer joy of having dozens of rolling carts, each filled with delicious Cantonese small-plate specialties, none of which cost more than a few dollars each. Just point, eat and point again.
If it's hot, or if, say, you just finished a meal at Parkside, there's no way you should miss the Lemon Ice King of Corona, one of New York's last remaining neighborhood institutions. This place is the Di Fara Pizzeria of water ice; a bastion of stubborn quality in a world given over to high fructose syrups and mechanical slushy machines. Peter Benfaremo, the self-crowned king, does indeed make the city's finest water ice, filled with bits of fruit and understated sweetness, and kept at the perfect temperature for meditative slurping after a tough Mets loss.
The Manhattan version is better known, but this Flushing tribute to the sophisticated tastes of Shanghai is actually the better of the two restaurants. Naturally, this being a Shanghai joint, you'll want to get soup dumplings (which are to that city what beignets are to New Orleans), but you'll be missing a major pleasure if you don't try the yellow fish fingers, braised pork shoulder and prawns in chili sauce. Or just let the waiters guide you to some of the best dishes on the menu; everybody here speaks English well.