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Seems like old times: Dining out in Queens, whether we’re grabbing a quick bite or sitting down for a meal, is nearly as exciting a prospect in late 2023 as it was in the first few months of 2020, before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yes, serendipitous encounters with friends are still less likely, and scheduled lunches and dinners are sometimes painstaking to arrange. But when we do get out and about, there are many new restaurants, cafés, bakeries, markets and street vendors to discover, many new dishes to try, many old favorites to revisit. We keep a list (it gets longer all the time), and we imagine you do, too. Here are a few of our recent favorites for you to keep in mind.

Camarones Zarandeados at Mariscos El Submarino

There’s no shortage of Mexican seafood in Jackson Heights. While writing my story on La Esquina del Camarón Mexicano, which is shoehorned into the back of a convenience store, I also visited the nearby Mariscos El Submarino, a full-sized restaurant that recently expanded its dining room. (Plans are in the offing, too, to open a downstairs menudería, dedicated to spicy tripe soup.)

Lots of room to spread out and eat – ideally, as part of a group – goes hand in hand with a menu that features many large, shareable plates. Camarones zarandeados, grilled butterflied shrimp, is a dish that I insist on ordering every time. There’s a carnal pleasure in prying the meat from the split shells, and the texture – on the fingers, on the tongue – contrasts nicely with Submarino’s many ceviches, aguachiles and cocteles. Also, frankly, I really love grilled shrimp. – Dave Cook

Jjajang Noodles at Little Banchan Shop

Before sitting down at the windowside counter of Little Banchan Shop in Long Island City, I didn’t get all the fuss about jjajang noodles. Jjajangmyeon, as it’s properly called in Korean, has its origins in Chinese zhajiangmian, and it was mainly under that name that I’d tried the dish over the years. In theory, I could see how thick wheat noodles and pork-enriched black bean sauce would be considered comfort food, but in practice I was never impressed.

Not until Little Banchan Shop, that is. The richness and the subtle sweetness of the sauce was a superb counterpoint to the (optional) egg on top. Normally I dispatch a bowl of noodles in short order, but I lingered over these, wishing they could last longer.  – Dave Cook

Pastafrolas at Empanatidas

To my knowledge, I Love Paraguay, in Sunnyside, is the only restaurant in the city featuring food from that namesake country. As I was reminded while researching my story on empanadas, it’s also one of the rare places in New York to find the lattice-topped fruit pastries called pastafrolas, but it’s not alone. Not far away, on weekday afternoons, what might be the city’s only Paraguayan street-food cart is stationed in the plaza under the elevated 7 train.

As you’d imagine, I was able to get a baked empanada at this stand, called Empanatidas. (“Nati,” I soon discovered, is the proprietor’s nickname.) The greater temptation, however, was her variety of personal-sized pastafrolas: sweet, jam-filled tarts. Nati bakes perhaps a dozen flavors – in rotation; about half that many are available on any given day – including guava (the classic), quince, peach, raspberry and a favorite of mine (shown here), fig. I might never be able to try them all unless I start buying them two or three flavors at a time.  – Dave Cook

El Sol Boulevard’s Jalea

As the number of Peruvian restaurants in Queens has gone down in numbers in the last few years, it is really great to see some places carrying the torch. El Sol Boulevard is one such place, recently reopened after a renovation and a change of menu. El Sol Boulevard is ample, well lit and usually crowded with people from the local Peruvian community. As is tradition for Peruvian restaurants, they offer a lunch menu during the weekdays. A full lunch (including a glass of chicha morada) runs about $12. The menu itself changes daily – usually it includes traditional Peruvian dishes like arroz chifa, the stir-fried rice that showcases the widespread Chinese influence in Peruvian cuisine, roasted chicken, tallarines verdes (green noodles with spinach and a touch of basil, garlic, queso fresco and pecans), and on Fridays, there is usually a seafood option.

The main menu features a jalea, a Peruvian dish consisting of fried fish, squid, and other seafood, originating in the north of the country, specifically in the regions of Lambayeque and Piura. The jalea comes in a variety of sizes, the large one enough to feed four people easily. Classics like ceviches are always an option as well.  Esneider Arevalo

Nana’s Kitchen

Nana’s Kitchen is a recently opened locale that offers a fresh take on a traditional Colombian restaurant. While the menu includes all the typical dishes, the execution is a bit more modern. The mini bandeja paisa (I only order a full bandeja if I am with friends who can help me finish it or I intend to take at least half home!) consists of stewed cranberry beans, white rice, chicharrón (Colombian chicharrón is fried pork belly with some of the fat, meat and skin) chorizo, sweet plantains, avocado, a fried egg and an arepa (corn cake). Nana’s has a rotating daily menu as well, but I like to stick to the classics. If there is room, I love to get one of their pastries and coffee. A favorite is a chicharrón de guayaba (a guava pastry with a shape that resembles the pork chicharrón). Esneider Arevalo

Pakshala

Pakshala is a tiny Bangladeshi hole-in-the-wall with modern decor. Usually when we visit, it’s filled with families sitting down for a meal. The menu runs from the better-known Desi dishes like chicken tikka masala to a mixed grill platter with pieces of lamb chops, chicken and beef kababs, vegetables, rice, bean sauce, and salad. I have stopped here often just for a snack – chai, samosas or even a chicken roll or a paneer kathi roll (always with an extra naan). Service is prompt and efficient, and even if you are not familiar with Bangladeshi food, the server will take their time to explain every dish, making it a great place to immerse yourself in the cuisine. Esneider Arevalo

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Published on December 28, 2023

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