Top Five Entrepreneurial Restaurants on the 7 Line

Joe DiStefanoBy Andrew Shilling

The 7 train: to some the line is forgotten or misunderstood, while to others it is nothing more than a tool for the work commute.

For foodies, however, the Queens highline is viewed as a $2.50 key to an array of cultures from around the world.

Joe DiStefano has made a career out of understanding the complex web of cultural boundaries throughout the borough, taking food enthusiasts to some of the smallest, most unassuming locations for a slice of; well, somewhere else.

“The MTA better pay me for this, but you can travel the entire world without ever leaving the 7 line using an unlimited metro card as your passport,” DiStefano said.

Food icons like Andrew Zimmern have tapped the Rego Park resident for his vast knowledge of the borough. He has since made a living out of taking tours to some of his favorite spots in neighborhoods like Flushing, Elmhurst, Woodside and Corona; all documented on his website (www.chopstickandmarrow.com).

When asked about where aspiring foodies can find the best of the best from Flushing to Vernon Boulevard, a frantic list of Filipino, Nepalese, Peruvian and Ecuadorian mom-and-pop eateries began pouring out over the phone.

It wasn’t until we met in Jackson Heights, or as he calls it “Himalayan Heights,” that he was able to narrow it down to just five.

Dhaulaghiri Kitchen Dhaulaghiri Kitchen
37-38 72nd Street | 74th Street Stop

This hole-in-the-wall family-owned food spot could be easily missed along the busy Jackson Heights corridor, as their name is completely absent from the storefront signage.

Traditional Himalayan food has been a part of Kamala Gauchan’s family for generations. Her grandfather had his own restaurant, her sister owns one of her own, and now she has been running her neighborhood location for the last two years with her son, daughter and brother.

“Everybody told me it was so good, and that makes me so happy,” Gauchan said. “My culture is cooking.”

Sharing space with the Tawa Food Corp. bakery, Gauchan’s tiny Nepalese restaurant, Dhaulaghiri Kitchen, is the real thing. Upon entry, the room is flooded with the smells of traditional spices and dried jerky – which hangs from the front window.

Recommended dishes include the goat sukuti (jerky), fiery radish pickles and tsel roti, which is something similar to a rice-infused donut.

Bring a big appetite because if there is one thing that can be said about Gauchan, it’s that she loves to make sure you have had your fill.

La Esquina Del Camaron MexicanoLa Esquina Del Camaron Mexicano
Roosevelt Avenue and 80th Street | 82nd Street Stop

“It’s all about the cocktails,” said La Esquina Del Camarom Mexicano owner Pedro Rodriguez.

Just two blocks west of the 82nd Street 7 train stop, Rodriguez has found his niche nestled beside a traditional NYC bodega. This outdoor Mexican-style eatery is surprisingly serving up some of the freshest seafood cocktails in the neighborhood, brought in from their kitchen just up the block.

Originally from Mexico City, Rodriguez first got into the food business just two years ago after years of making his living as a construction worker.

Today he follows his passion, making the food he calls home.

“This is something in America that is hard to find,” he said. “Not too many people here are making this kind of cocktail.”

His specialty: shrimp and octopus cocktails served with tomato sauce, clam juice, lime, onions, cilantro, avocado and a little touch of hot sauce – or a lot depending on your preference.

And if you want a little variation, Rodriguez also suggests the fish taco, fish empanada and fish tostada.

“We don’t want to be involved in pork, beef or chicken,” he said. “Just seafood.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 3.21.44 PMArepa Lady
70-02AA Roosevelt Avenue | 74th Street Stop

Lines have been tailing down Roosevelt Avenue for decades to try the legendary food from the Arepa Lady.

It was only recently however that this long-time family-operated staple opened up their first indoor location on the same street that birthed these one-of-a-kind Colombian creations.

Maria Cano’s son Alejandro Osorio and his wife are often found operating the family’s newest location, just steps away from the 69th Street 7 train stop in Woodside.

“The Colombian arepa is kind of like a bread,” Osorio explained. “Like tortilla are for the Mexicans; it’s a snack, it’s a meal, it’s a side dish… but it’s really a tradition.”

The arepa de chocolo is a ground up fresh corn pastry served with cheese and butter, along with a choice of chicken, steak or chorizo. The other option is an arepa tela, a plain corn tortilla that looks a little more like a traditional French crepe.

Also a must are the fresh juices like mango, maracuya or mora.

While they have found even further success in their new location, it hasn’t stopped Cano, 70, from creating lines along Roosevelt Avenue.

“Business has been really good,” he said. “People are coming from all over parts of New York and other states when they here visiting just to go see the ‘arepa lady.’”

Papa's KitchenPapa’s Kitchen
65-40 Woodside Avenue | 61st Street Stop

Just a few blocks south of the 69th Street 7-train stop in Woodside is one of the best-hidden neighborhood gems.

Owner Beth Roa started Papa’s Kitchen in October 2012 to honor her father, who also helps out with the business from time to time. And although her brother runs the place, serving up a wide array of traditional dishes like goat meat, deep-fried pig’s trotter and duck eggs, Roa and her family have made it a home away from home.

“A long time ago my mother opened a small (restaurant),” Roa recalled. “It gave me an inspiration for opening a restaurant here, because when we would go to restaurants here, the taste of the food is so different from the food that we grew up with.”

For larger groups, Roa suggests trying the salu-salo, a smorgasbord of Filipino eats including crab, crispy pasta, longanisa, tuna belly among other Filipino classics, for a truly authentic taste from her family’s kitchen.

Since the doors opened, Papa’s has morphed from a take-out place to a restaurant, inviting patrons out to try some of their favorite eats from the east, and also take part in the Filipino tradition of karaoke.

After eating and breaks from karaoke, Roa encourages her patrons to try halo halo, a Filipino snow cone topped with ice cream, sweet potatoes, yucca, beans and her own special ingredients.

Soy Bean Flower ChenSoy Bean Flower Chen
135-26 Roosevelt Avenue | Main Street Stop

The last thing you would imagine coming out of the Flushing floral shop is some of the best, and most innovative tofu in the neighborhood. The roughly 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition has found new life in this fast-paced business district just off the Flushing-Main Street 7 train stop.

“They’re like the only guys doing this,” DiStefano said of the restaurant. “I see it, but I don’t know that anyone else is making it.”

Soy Bean Flower Chen started serving their tofu out of a shopping cart in the neighborhood, but when they opened the flower shop they decided to keep the food as well.

For just $1.50, you can walk away with nearly a pint of cold or warm tofu fa with ginger or spicy flavored syrup, something this Queens foodie added is something that he has yet to find anywhere else.

“They’ll add whatever you want to it, so you can have it spicy,” he said. “When you go out for dim sum, you’ll see this with the sweet syrup, but I’ve never seen the spicy syrup. Then again that could just mean that maybe I’m not eating enough of this.”

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Posted by on Oct 30 2014. Filed under Top 5. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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