7 Train Takes You Around the Food World, One Bite at a Time

By Paul DeBenedetto on March 29, 2013 11:36am 

QUEENS — Forget 80 days — you can go around the world in seven subway stops.

Long considered to be one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in the world, Queens boasts residents from more than 100 countries, speaking more than 138 different languages, according to city estimates.

To get a taste of the borough's diversity, you need only to ride the 7 line, the majority of which runs through an expanse of Queens from Hunters Point to Flushing.

From Turkish in Sunnsyide to Irish in Woodside and Indian in Jackson Heights, you can get a culinary tour around the world for the price of a subway fare or two.

Here are some of the best flavors Queens has to offer from around the globe.

Turkish Grill, 42-03 Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside (40th Street stop)

Siblings Jason and Sarah Dogan have Turkish cooking in their genes. Their parents own the Turkish restaurants Ali Baba and its spinoff, Ali Baba Terrace, in Midtown.

Opened eight years ago, the family-owned Turkish Grill had a mission to serve traditional Turkish food to the Sunnyside community, which about 700 Turks call home, according to Census statistics. 

"We wanted to open up a Turkish restaurant with Turkish food without all of this 'fusion,'" said Jason Dogan, 36, who moved to the United States from Turkey when he was 8 years old. "I live in the neighborhood, I know the people here. I think that's what makes it special."

Dogan, who doubles as the head chef, spends almost all of his time in the restaurant, preparing popular dishes like adana kebab, a grilled lamb kebab seasoned with paprika and grilled on a skewer with red bell peppers, and lahmacun, a Turkish-style pizza with topped with lamb and vegetables on flat bread.

For those unfamiliar with Turkish cuisine, Dogan recommends starting with the mixed appetizer, which comes with humus, eggplant salad, tabouleh and piyaz, a Turkish bean salad.

Donovan's Pub, 57-24 Roosevelt Ave. in Woodside (Woodside-61st Street stop)

 Customers enjoy their dinners at the Turkish Grill restaurant in Queens on Jan. 24th, 2013.
Customers enjoy their dinners at the Turkish Grill restaurant in Queens on Jan. 24th, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

Long an Irish stronghold, immigration and gentrification have made Woodside a more diverse neighborhood. Still, the Irish pub is a staple of the neighborhood, and perhaps no other place represents that better than Donovan's.

The bar looks unassuming enough from the outside, but pass the bar inside to find four large rooms with sitdown tables where patrons can enjoy pub fare like corned beef, pot roast and fish and chips.

The bar caused a bit of a neighborhood controversy last year when owner Jack Donovan, 79, announced he was selling the bar and retiring. Since then, talk of the space being turned into an empty lot or supermarket have swirled.

But rumors of the pub's demise were premature. James Jacobson, who started as a bus boy in high school and tended bar at Donovan's for close to 30 years, recently purchased the pub with brother-in-law Dan Connor.

Now 45, Jacobson says that while adding "modern" conveniences — like the ability to accept credit cards, something the bar has steadfastly avoided since opening in 1966 — he plans on keeping the neighborhood pub feel. 

"People are comfortable, friendly," Jacobson says of the bar's patrons. "They feel like when they're here, they're back in Ireland."

And although most people go for their classic hamburger, which has been called one of the best in the city by the Village Voice, CBS and the New York Times, don't overlook the pub's massive shepherd's pie.

The piping-hot plate is piled with peas, carrots and ground meat, then covered with creamy mashed potatoes and sprinkled with paprika before baking.

But be forewarned: you might not have room for that Guinness after finishing this huge helping.

Delhi Heights, 37-66 74th St. in Jackson Heights (74th Street-Broadway stop)

Steps from the 7 train on 74th Street, Delhi Heights is your first stop in Jackson Heights' "Little India."

This 4-year-old restaurant combines traditional Indian fare like tikka masala with Indian-Nepali and Indian-Chinese fusion, like "chicken Hong-Kong style," a dry diced chicken dish cooked with spicy red pepper, onions and cashew nuts.

Despite the "fusion" moniker, manager Hari Acharya, 32, says the food maintains an authentic taste because of the diversity of the kitchen. There are three chefs: one from India, one from China and one from Nepal, Acharya said.

"It's an important thing," Acharya said of the kitchen staff. "They have to know what the real taste is."

More traditional Indian dishes include chicken makhani, a chicken dish cooked with tomato sauce that is then mixed with fresh cream, and bhuna goat, a thick and spicy goat curry.

La Porteña, 74-25 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights (74th Street-Broadway stop)

Meat is on the menu at La Porteña, and a lot of it.

This dimly-lit Argentinean steakhouse features an attentive wait staff dressed in gaucho attire, an Argentinean cowboy decor, and specializes in beef and pork.

As an appetizer, there's no going wrong with one of their flaky empandas, filled with ground beef, onion and olives, or the cheese proveleta, an Argentinean-style provolone cheese that's cooked over a grill.

But don't fill up too early. La Porteña features a grill menu with 20 perfectly-cooked types of beef, chicken and pork, with five kinds of steak including filet mignon.

While most would opt for the steak, more daring customers can choose the restaurant's mixed grill, which features both pork and blood sausage, skirt steak, short rib, sweetbreads and tripe on a still-sizzling skillet. Although the menu says "for one," it's more than enough to share.

Tortas Nezas Truck, 111th Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Corona (111th Street stop)

Galdino Molinero has been making these mouth-watering Mexican sandwiches for 13 years — each one named after a Mexican soccer team and served on a crusty roll that can hardly contain the ingredients within.

Any of Molineros' whopping 18 varieties of tortas is worth the trip, including the Tortas Chivas, made with eggs, chorizo and Oaxaca cheese, and the Torta Tuzos Pechuga, a Mexican equivalent of a Philly cheese steak served with onions.

But it's clear where Molinero's soccer allegiances lay: the Tortas Pumas, named after the Liga MX team from Mexico City, a hearty $14 sandwich that includes chicken cutlets, eggs, ham, beans, cheese and fried hot dogs.

Be sure to wash that all down with an agua fresca, refreshing drinks which come in melon, pineapple and watermelon flavors.

101 Taiwanese, 135-11 40th Road in Flushing (Flushing-Main Street stop)

At 24, Flushing-born Michael Chuang might be one of the youngest restaurant owners in Queens — but he certainly isn't the least experienced.

Having worked in his father's restaurant since he was 16, Chuang started out mopping floors and chopping vegetables until moving back to Taiwan for 11 months, where he trained with 5-star chefs as part of an intensive chef's training program. 

After moving back to the United States Chuang took over 101 Taiwanese from his father and decided to turn it into a more modern, upscale establishment.

"When you think about Chinese food, you think of takeout," Chuang said. "When I think of American food, I think of something like a steak. I don't think of McDonalds."

Now, none of the food leaves the kitchen without Chuang inspecting it. And thanks to family in the fish and meat distribution industries, he's able to to keep the food fresh.

Specialties include pork nuggets, a dish of thin-sliced pork marinated with fish paste and steamed, and a wine chicken, which is steam-cooked, soaked in a rice wine for two days an served cold.

But a stand-out, Chuang said, is the "stinky tofu," a fermented tofu that's cut into pieces and deep fried in a wok with soy, chili, scallions, garlic sauce and kimchi, and gives off an interesting smell.

"You walk past that thing, it stinks!" Chuang said. "But as soon as you have it, you're like, 'That's not bad!'

"I mean, you might not want to talk to your girlfriend or anything," he added.

White Bear, 135-02 Prince St. in Flushing (Flushing-Main Street stop)

Before heading home make sure you head to this out-of-the-way dumpling shop.

Tucked away across the street from the Bland Houses in Flushing, White Bear is a nondescript Chinese take-out restaurant that seats no more than four people.

An old menu lists 34 options in two languages, but the owners behind the counter let you know, confidently, that what you're looking for is "number six."

"Number six" is a steamed pork wonton dish, served with chili oil, scallions and vegetables. Flavorful without too much spice, these wontons are a light, delicious snack: The perfect ending to a trip around the world.

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