Fried chicken, with its juicy, tender meat encased by a crunchy batter, is classic American comfort food. When it comes to Asian cuisine the standard comfort foods that come to mind are dumplings and noodle soups. That’s not to say that fried chicken isn’t eaten in Asia though. In Elmhurst, Queens’ second, smaller Chinatown behind Flushing, there are three deliciously distinct versions: one from Thailand, one from Taiwan, and one from India by way of China. So why not grab some friends and take an Asian fried chicken tour of Elmhurst? Best of all, each place is far enough apart from the others to fool yourself into thinking you’re exercising or at the very least aiding digestion.
First stop: Thailand
Khao yum gai zabb, a tasty Thai take on fried chicken, is an invention of the cooks at Pata Cafe, a funky bubble tea shop serving snacks for the after-school crowd. Strips of top-flight bird sing with the flavors of a Thai larb—lime, chili, fish sauce, red onion and cilantro—and have a lovely crunchy batter. The secret ingredient behind that crunch is roasted Thai rice powder, which also imparts a toasty, nutty flavor. Served over rice, the juicy morsels call to mind a panko-encrusted Japanese pork chop.
56-14 Van Horn St, Queens, 347-469-7142
Second stop: India
Tangra Masala specializes in Indian-Chinese a fiery fusion that got its start in Calcutta more than a century ago. Chef Peter Lo keeps that fire burning with such specialties as chili chicken, a classic dish seasoned with plenty of peppers and garlic, and something I’ve dubbed hakka hot chicken. The latter consists of chopped up bits of fried bird sauced in a glaze that marries the flavors of chili, soy sauce, vinegar and garlic. Nashville has its hot chicken, but here in Queens we do it Hakka style.
87-09 Grand Ave., Elmhurst, 718-803-2298
Third stop: Taiwan
Yen su ji, or salted crispy chicken, is a classic Taiwanese delicacy and one of the best places to score a plate in Queens is the aptly named Taiwanese Gourmet. A crunchy greaseless batter encases juicy chunks of bird littered with basil leaves and chives. It’s salty, but not overly so, and the herbs provide a nice burst of flavor. Of the three places on this Elmhurst fried chicken crawl Taiwanese Gourmet’s is the one that hews closest to its American cousin.
84-02 Broadway, Elmhurst, 718-429-4818
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Joe DiStefano is a Queens-based food writer, culinary tour guide, and publisher of the Queens-centric food blog CHOPSTICKS+MARROW. He’s still waiting for downtown Flushing to get a night market.