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Flushing has added a new venue for diners with curious palates looking for a cheap thrill. The New World Mall, on Main Street, has taken over the site of the long-defunct Caldor and turned it into a savory slice of Asia.
At the Mall’s street level J-Mart, a Chinese supermarket, offers all manner of fresh, frozen and packaged foodstuffs needed to produce a meal of any Asian cuisine. The quality, variety and reasonable prices of the produce and seafood should be a draw for any shopper no matter their ethnicity. Upstairs is a conglomeration of boutiques with most pitched towards the young and flamboyant. The top floor accommodates one of those very large buffet-style Chinese restaurants, but more about that some other time. What drew me here is the food court in the basement.
The periphery of the basement is populated by food stalls that seem to fall into two categories: very ethnic mom and pop (or some other combination of family members) businesses, and real or aspiring chain operations. We were mostly attracted to the former category.
The stall that was attracting the longest lines was the Live Seafood. Sure, everyone loves a bargain. The first time we were there, the lobster meal, which we ordered fried Hong Kong-style was $11.50. On our return visit it was $13.00, still pretty good for about a pound and a quarter lobster with fried rice and cole slaw. It was lightly battered and fried and hacked into sections. It was not easy to eat with either chopsticks or a plastic fork, and not one of the more gustatorily exciting selections in the context of all the exotica to be had. Even on off hours, there is a long wait, and they run out of lobsters with discouraging regularity.
For a little more taste excitement with a side of spectacle, head over to Lanzhou Handmade Noodle. I never tire of watching the guy play torso jump rope with skeins of dough — a magic show you can eat. But better still is the actual eating. For the uninitiated, a good starting place is No. 24, the House Special, a kitchen sink of a dish with noodles, a variety of meats and greens including a spare rib, and even a fried egg. The intensely meaty broth and elastic noodles ensure a soul satisfying meal, and I suspect you could throw a dart at the menu sign and come up with a rewarding option.
As long as you have an affinity for the hot and spicy, a stop at Szechuan Cuisine is a must. Here, the thinnest of wrappers enclose shrimp and greens with no fillers in a slick of hot oil. Cold cucumbers in vinegar want not for garlic or zip. Their specialty is various items, most notably fish or shrimp poached in chili broth, definitely worth a try.
Xiang Ba La, right next door, features the cuisine of northwestern China — a relative rarity around New York City. I snagged an order of spring rolls, expecting a couple of small, crunchy rolls. I was surprised by two gigantic halved rolls that kind of resembled deep fried shredded oriental vegetable omelets. The wrappers were more like eggs than bread. Tasty, though.
On the other side of the hall there are a couple more stalls definitely worth a visit. Tianjin foods has those little buns with the soup inside, and Wenzhou Local Flavor Snacks, along with scary looking things like trays of barbecued pigs snout and ears, has delectable whole or half roasted ducks.
I suggest you steer clear of both Japanese stalls. Shikoku Teriyaki Express serves mass produced, overly salty teriyaki style meats. Tokyo Kitchen promised have-it-your-way noodles with a choice of toppings, but contrary to the signs and menu, only had a limited variety of set meals. The tempura we sampled varied from OK to mushy. Also stay away from the pizza stall which serves pizza with the option of some unusual toppings, like seafood or the “Chinatown,” which is roast pork and Chinese sausage, that don’t do anything to improve the mediocre slice.
There was a greater proliferation of dessert stalls than I would have expected, serving shave ice, bubble teas, and, most intriguingly, Mojoilla Fresh, serving Japanese-style ice cream filled crepes.
Additional stalls not yet operational at this writing will be serving Vietnamese and Malaysian fare.
The Bottom Line
Try the New World Mall food court when you’re up for an eating adventure. It is not for the faint of heart, easily put off by the presence of offal. It is chaotic on the weekend, and not exactly relaxed at other times. You share long tables with all the charm of your high school cafeteria with 20 or so strangers. Anything prepared to order, which includes all the best stuff, can involve a considerable wait. You pay your money, get a number, and then wait to be called. The best strategy is to go with friends, assign each one a stall, and then meet up to divvy up the treats. If food absolutely trumps ambiance in your estimation, it’s worth it.
New World Mall Food Court
40-1 Main St
Flushing, NY 11354
Price Range: Miscellaneous Munchies from $1, Meals from $5-$16
Cuisine: Regional Chinese dominates with some Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Malaysian stalls.
Setting: Basement food court with long tables surrounded by food stalls.
Hours: 11 a.m.—10 p.m. daily
Parking: Underground garage on Main Street.
Credit cards: Mostly cash only with some exceptions.
Noise level: Very noisy
Handicap accessible: Yes
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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