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There’s probably a restaurant serving every cuisine in the world in New York City, but making authentic curry, dumplings, clotted cream or injera bread in your own kitchen gets tricky without the right ingredients. We go on a shopping spree for some of the more unconventional grocery list items at New York’s ethnic markets, starting with Asian groceries.  (more…)

Up until recently, I was wrong about some things. As far as Asian food was concerned, I always believed my world ended in Flushing. You could certainly travel east of there, but you’d find nothing but oceans – first, a traditionally liquid one; then, an ocean comprised entirely of European food. To my knowledge (or lack thereof), you’d have to travel as far as Kashgar before you found the next great Asian restaurant. But then we discovered  Mapo BBQ.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_Exterior

You could take the 7 train as far as it goes without ever reaching Queens’ Murray Hill. Far beyond Flushing, past dozens of nondescript apartment complexes and a handful of residential dentists, lies this tiny neighborhood where our real journey begins. Looking more like a suburb of Pittsburgh than a borough town, Murray Hill is strikingly quiet and empty, even on a Sunday afternoon.

We took the rare LIRR ride to try what many call a legendary BBQ experience. Mapo, like most restaurants we love, is nothing special in terms of location, decor, or atmosphere. The beauty, of course, is found in what can be eaten. We huddled through a small doorway and were met by a single family enjoying lunch together. There were almost a dozen of them, and ten times as many plates spread across their tables. This was the place.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_FamilyTried to be discrete. Was not discrete.

My favorite culinary experiences are exactly that – experiences. While most restaurants offer a standard, rushed itinerary, spots like Mapo treat you like family on Thanksgiving. It’s intimate and exhausting, and can easily turn into an all day affair if you’re not looking. Shortly after being seated, one server explained the menu while another prepared the charcoal. We knew we were here for ribs, and ribs we ordered: 2 orders of Kalbi Beef and 2 orders of BBQ Pork ended up being more than enough for five of us.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_CharcoalThe charcoal is prepared.

While we waited for the meat to arrive and the charcoal to warm, our servers brought out the “Banchan,” an endless array of carefully prepared vegetables, sauces, and sides. From kimchi and barbecued onions to grilled corn and spicy tofu soup, the selections were as eclectic as you’ll find in New York. I’m not exaggerating when I recall that we may have had three to four hundred thousand plates on our table. It was heroically overwhelming.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_GroupThe “Banchan.” This was just the beginning.

 After grilling our meat for us right in the center of the table, it was time to begin our long awaited experimentations. Using massive pieces of lettuce as our canvas, we got to work. At Mapo and other Korean BBQ places like it, there are endless combinations to try. On one piece, you might pile up Kalbi beef, kimchi, tofu, and the spicy house sauce; on another, you might try BBQ pork, cucumbers, jalapeños, onions, and crab. One thing’s for certain, though – whatever you try will be impossibly delicious.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_ServerGetting intimate with our server.

The complexity of the flavor combinations found here is currently unmatched, at least in my own personal history. Everything is seasoned to perfection, and there is truly something for everyone. Two hours later, after having tried dozens of things for the first time, our journey was coming to an end. Leaving the restaurant felt very much like coming back from a spirit-awakening adventure halfway across the world. There was suddenly so much to say; so much energy; so many realizations about the world that you didn’t see clearly before. And all of it just 30 minutes from Penn Station.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_MeatCU, meat.

It’s safe to say that this is the most inspired I have been to share in a long time. Though it’s certainly out of the way, and though it may take a whole lot of convincing to get a group out to Murray Hill, I implore you to try Mapo BBQ. It offers one of the few culinary experiences in the city that can take you far, far away from New York. You will likely spend $30-$35 a person here, but trust me – this is a meal you can’t get in Manhattan for two to three times the price. Go. Go now.

Mapo_BBQ_Queens_CreationOne of our many creations.

Mapo Korean BBQ   [Map]
41st Ave and 149th Place
Murray Hill, NY 11355
718.886.8292

Afterword:  Thanks to Connor for the recommendation!  

Sunday in Park Slope – Dumplings and Things

As much as I love spending each and every Sunday exploring the back alleys and underground eateries of Chinatown, I’d be doing a disservice to the rest of New York by not exploring its boroughs’ other offerings. So, once a month, I’m going to take a step out of Chinatown to seek out the best Asian food to be found in the city’s other neighborhoods. As the Googa Mooga festival invaded Prospect Park this weekend, I thought it fitting to start in an area I have not explored much – Park Slope. There, just across the street from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Shop, is Dumplings and Things.

Dumplings and Things w/ Typical Abandoned Stroller Outside

On the surface, Park Slope might not seem like the kind of place where a cheap dumpling house would thrive, let alone be found. After all, it’s the place where every child in the world under the age of three is currently living… and babies don’t eat dumplings. Those 4WD super strollers aren’t cheap, though. Park Slope parents need affordable pork and chives as much as anyone. Lucky for them, Dumplings and Things is treating them to some of the best in the city.

Sriracha, Vinegar and Dumpling Sauce. The Staples.

At first glance, Dumplings and Things looks like any takeout joint you’d find in Chinatown. Step inside, however, and you’ll see this dumpling spot has put on its best pair of Park Slope pants. Exposed brick, hardwood floors, and inviting decor remind you immediately that you are not in Chinatown, despite the familiar scent of Sriracha sauce and vinegar. The menu is simple, drawn from both Chinese and Korean cookbooks. And it’s cheap.

Pan Fried Dumplings

Ease into the experience with an order pork and chive pan fried dumplings, just $3 for 5. Fried entirely, unlike the dumplings you’ll generally find in Chinatown, they’re packed with more pork and chives than any we’ve ever had. And they’re pretty incredible. Add an order of spicy beef and kimchi dumplings ($3.50 for 5) to make things a bit more interesting. Fermented vegetables and beef with an intense kick are fried together to create the best dumpling I’ve had yet in New York. To battle its dry texture, use plenty of dumpling and sriracha sauce.

Peking Duck Bao

If you’re there on a Sunday (or Saturday), you’ll be lucky enough to be able to order the Peking Duck bao, a hugely flavorful sandwich full of duck and greens, surrounded by a soft yeast bun. At just $3.50 for two buns, you can’t beat it. If there’s any room left inside your stomach (there’s a great chance there won’t be), finish your meal off with some mango mochi ice cream, only $1. A soft, sticky rice cake filled with frozen mango ice cream. Though small, it’s just enough to round out the meal.

Mochi Ice Cream

I initially didn’t expect much from my first Asian meal in Park Slope, an unfounded mistake I’m glad I fixed. Dumplings and Things is everything it needs to be – small, stylish, delicious and cheap. It’s the perfect end (or beginning) to any sunny day in Park Slope. So, next time you find yourself west of Prospect Park, leave your all of your worries (or your baby, as some do) at the door and give Dumplings and Things a shot. A $10 bill is all you’ll need to get so much more.

Dumplings and Things  [Map]
375 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY  11215
718.768.2200

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Read more from the  Sunday in Chinatown column.

When Korilla BBQ comes to Columbia University, it parks on Amsterdam away from the slew of other food trucks on Amsterdam. There’s a great visual menu (the X’s are to tell you what’s out of stock, which was a lot today but substituted by other things it seems). There’s an assembly line of workers, a mirror above to show you what they’ve got and my favorite was that they ring you up with in iPad app. Their website has a map of the truck’s location and a twitter feed update to keep the obsessed in the loop.

For $8, I got the bulgogi (beef) chosun bowl with rice, salsa and a variety of veggies to choose from. It’s a mix of Mexican and Korean, exemplified by their other offerings of burritos and tacos. It looked and tasted awesome, powering me up to do some afternoon reporting.