If you ever fly in or out of LaGuardia, you’ve probably grown to dread the experience; a delay of “only” 60-90 minutes is better than average. But I’ve discovered a new method for enjoying a LaGuardia visit. It’s simple: I leave Manhattan 90 minutes early and I stop in Flushing for a Chinese meal. Flushing has most of the best Chinese food in the city, especially adjusting for price. The trouble has always been getting there and back–but the simple solution is to fly more often. For great Chinese food, no price is too high and otherwise you’re simply not going to go.
The logistics are easy. All the best Chinese places are right off Main Street and even Manhattan cabs know the general area. To continue to the airport after your meal, just have the restaurant call you a ride. Many of the major Chinese places have private limousine connections just for this purpose; I’ve been charged rates ranging from $12 to $14. Conversely, you can arrive in LaGuardia and stop in Flushing before heading to Manhattan or elsewhere.
I went just last Sunday for what is, I believe, my sixth attempt at this strategy (I live in Virginia but I come to New York often). I’ve learned a few things. The Shanghai dumplings are supposed to be so hot they burn your mouth a little bit. Even if you are dining solo, order three dishes and just sample. (You needn’t be a hog, just ask yourself how soon you will get back.) Many of these restaurants post reviews, which usually have good ordering suggestions. If in doubt, it is more fruitful to look at the other tables than to read the menu. Not all these restaurants take reservations, so if you are going at Chinese lunch rush hour (10:30 to noon) leave some extra time. If you don’t have much luggage, Main Street in Flushing is one of the very best walks in all of New York.
The best Chinese places in Flushing change quickly, so one method is to Google “best Chinese restaurants Flushing” in the cab or in advance. At Joe’s Shanghai, get the hot and sour soup (the best I’ve ever had) and the juicy steamed pork buns, which are actually the famous Shanghai dumplings with liquid inside; the raw crab appetizer is a good dish not usually found elsewhere and it makes a nice cool offset to the other flavors. (There is a branch of this restaurant in Manhattan but I don’t think it compares.) At Spicy & Tasty, try the dry-cooked green beans, the dumplings in red chili sauce, the lamb dishes, the potato and green pepper (with vinegar), and the Dan Dan noodles, which I think are the best single dish for judging a Sichuan restaurant. Order fresh greens for relief, you will need it.
Overall the district is strong on Shanghai cuisine, Taiwanese cuisine, Cantonese, and Sichuan. If you’re undecided or can’t get into your favorite place, just walk up and down 37th Ave., near Main Street, and choose from a long row of excellent places. On Main Street you’ll also find delicious Chinese street food, pork buns, and dumplings, not attached to any formal restaurant.
And if you don’t care much for Chinese food, Jackson Heights, with some of New York’s best Indian food, is also only minutes away. Just think how much you are saving: what’s really scarce in life is your time and the mere willingness to get up and go. Just do it.
From “On the Way to the Airport . . .” on Bitten, a NYT blog, March 18, 2008
Joe’s Shanghai, web site, 136-21 37th Avenue, Flushing, NY, 718-539-3838 [NYT | Yelp | A Guy In New York | openlist]
Spicy & Tasty, 39-07 Prince Street, Flushing, NY, 718-359-1601 [NYT | NY Mag | A Guy In New York | Yelp]
See also Chinatown Bus.