I'm glad Jennifer was interested in meeting me in Flushing for a bite this afternoon--I might have wimped out on making the trek out there, but I'm always glad when I go. Today it was the Golden Shopping Mall Food Court, on the corner of Main St. and 41st Rd.
Much has been written about this place (by Chowhound-ers, Robert Sietsema, and others) so I'll simply add my voice to the chorus: if you want a unique food experience and to feel like you are no longer in the U.S. for a while, get on that 7 train and hie thee to Flushing. And at the Golden Shopping Mall, do not expect a food court anything like you'll find in your basic American shopping mall: here you'll find 8 or 9 cramped stalls along a lowercase-h-shaped passage on the lower level of the building.
With my particular food proclivities, three stalls stand out. The stall serving Sichuan food--just to the left of the bottom of the stairs at the Main St. entrance--is excellent. No English menu, and no English spoken. Ordering is a bit tricky for the non-Mandarin-speaker, to say the least, but some friends and I managed it on a previous visit. People say this joint serves the most authentic Sichuan food in New York. This may be true, but of the 4 dishes we tried, all were nearly as good or as good at Little Pepper. Where you can sit at a real table, have a little more confidence while ordering, and pay only very slightly more.
For me, the two real gems are side-by side at the back. You're likely to smell the cumin-infused lamb before you figure out which stall is serving it. Featuring specialties from Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi province, do not walk past without getting a "lamb burger"--ultra-tender chopped lamb seasoned with cumin, onions, and other spices, in a flat wheat bun ($2.50). Sauce made from that same lamb is served on handmade flat noodles that resemble thick pappardelle (made to order--you can watch the woman form them and drop them into the pot when you order) ($5.00). Stupendous.
(Sidebar to the employee of the Lanzhou noodle stall across the way who will never read this: if you expect customers to ever return to your establishment--and your stuff ain't bad, I've tried it--don't bitch them out for taking one lousy napkin off one of your tables.)
All the way at the back (or closest to the 41st Rd. entrance) is 南北水餃 (nán běi shuǐ jiǎo, or "south-north boiled dumpling"), a stall run by folks from Tianjin (near Beijing) that serves the best northern Chinese style boiled pork-and-chive dumplings I have ever tasted ($3.00 for 12).
(For contrast, try the equally wonderful but quite different Fujian-style pork and chive steamed dumplings at Sheng Wang.)
The same filling is used for the equally wonderful, albeit, by definition, much breadier steamed buns ($3.00 for 10). All the Chinese patrons eat these with dark vinegar and either minced garlic sauce or hot chili oil (and they're perfect that way), and more than one has asked me, "How did you find this place?"
Golden Shopping Mall Food Court
41-28 Main St., Flushing 11355
(7 train to Flushing-Main St., then 3 blocks south on Main)
Robert Sietsema's Village Voice article