HK Food Court transports an Asian utopia to the heart of Queens

By | July 27, 2019

Craving soup dumplings for dinner? Sure, but why not have it all: shrimp skewers and egg pancakes, Taiwanese fried chicken and chili-boiled fish, squishy coconut squares and bubble tea.

We know just the place: the new HK Food Court in Elmhurst (8202 45th Ave.). In a single-floor space that used to be a Chinese supermarket, it’s a sprawling, cheery affair just a block from the Elmhurst Avenue stop on the R, M and E lines. Two dozen stalls hawk Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese fare. On a recent weekday, its 200 plastic chairs in between the stalls were filled with families, couples and groups of friends chowing down on savory dumplings, fried pork cutlets and sweet beverages in neon colors.

Must-visit spots include Khao Ka Moo, an offshoot of brick-and-mortar neighborhood restaurant Chao Thai, which specializes in plates of tender pork and chicken over rice served with cucumber and a tangy, sweet-and-sour sauce. Save room for the desserts a few shop fronts away at Khanom Thai, where Poky McCarthy hand-makes gelatinous desserts in traditional flavors such as milky-sweet pandan and coconut-y butterfly pea jelly. The most popular item, though, is mango sticky rice, the glutinous starch molded into the shape of a heart.

HK’s Khao Ka Moo serves a chicken over rice with cucumber and a tangy sauce.
HK’s Khao Ka Moo serves a chicken over rice with cucumber and a tangy sauce.Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Cousins Sarah and Esther Malonda, both 22, were trying out the food court for the first time and were impressed by the selection. The Elmhurst natives ordered a bento box with fried squid tentacles from Hey Chick, a purveyor of Taiwanese fast-food snacks, and an oversize, Sichuan-style, choose-your-own ingredients hot pot from LaoMa Spicy.

“The bento box was very good and very cheap,” says Sarah. (Most of the food court’s dishes are $ 10 or less.) “I will still definitely go back to try other things.”

Seek out harder-to-find regional cuisines at XinJiang House, named for the northwestern Chinese province populated by the Uyghur people and best known for hearty halal dishes with lamb and potatoes, and Yuan Muwu, which serves snacks such as barbecued skewers, peanut butter noodles and grilled oysters from eastern China’s coastal Fujian province.

Many patrons come to HK Food Court in search of dumplings, and they do not leave disappointed. At the Famous Food stall, workers churn out trays of neatly folded dough pockets; out of more than a dozen varieties, highlights include juicy pork soup dumplings and wontons in spicy chili oil. Nearby, Khawachen cooks up Tibetan staples, including the steamed, crenulated dumplings called momos. Whether you opt for the beef, chicken and chive or beef and chive filling — served in broth or on their own — don’t scrimp on the zesty orange sauce that goes on top.

Cousins Esther (left) and Sarah Malonda sample some Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes at HK Food Court.
Cousins Esther (left) and Sarah Malonda sample some Taiwanese and Sichuan dishes at HK Food Court.Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Elmhurst is known for its diverse Asian community and according array of cuisines, but Flushing is the undisputed food-court king. HK Food Court is actually a spinoff of Flushing’s Super HK Food Court (37-11 Main St.), in the basement of a grocery store. (Tip: The Elmhurst food court bathrooms are new and immaculate.)

While Flushing’s most famous food court is in the basement of New World Mall, its vendors are largely stable. But the Asian food hub has other food halls, including one at F&T Group’s new development, Queens Crossing. There, recent openings include Lin Lin & Leong, a Taiwanese eatery whose go-to dish is beef noodle soup, and Taiyaki, whose vanilla, chocolate and green tea ice cream arrives in red bean-flavored, fish-shaped waffles.

At Canal Street Market (265 Canal St.), which opened in 2017, plant-based frozen treat purveyor Sweet Nova is offering a “freeze bowl” with its signature “ice cream” in dragonfruit blueberry, sunflower cacao or matcha kale flavors topped with a liquid matcha or espresso “shot” and fruit via regular vendor, Office Coffee.

A chef at the Famous Food stall in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court is ready to cook some dumplings.
A chef at the Famous Food stall in Elmhurst’s HK Food Court is ready to cook some dumplings.Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Along the East River, Time Out Market New York debuted in May with 21 vendors at Empire Stores (55 Water St.), Dumbo’s coffee factory-turned-retail space. Two notable outposts serving Asian fare are Fish Cheeks, with a focus on spice-infused Thai seafood, and Mr. Taka Ramen, which specializes in tonkotsu, a creamy pork broth that’s been simmering for hours. In Williamsburg, the year-old North 3rd Street Market (103 N. Third St.) tapped two new businesses: Vietnamese noodle and sandwich shop Bun and Hawaiian dessert maker Brooklyn Shave Ice.

The food hall craze has extended to new neighborhoods this year. Washington Heights’ first such venue, Northend Food Hall, opened in the spring at 4300 Broadway near West 183rd Street with Dashi Noodles and Rice. Then there’s District Kitchen (210 Hudson St.) in Jersey City, whose March opening included Little Sushi Shop (Japanese), Kimchi Grill (Korean) and Canteen Desi Dhabha (Indian).

Even old-guard food halls are constantly adding new offerings. In June, Chelsea Market unveiled a 45-seater offshoot of Elmhurst’s Thai staple Ayada (75 Ninth Ave.)

Though Chengdu Heaven at Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall, which Anthony Bourdain loved, is closing at the end of the month, there are plenty of other places this summer where you can savor the tastes of the East.

Khanom Thai's mango sticky rice, shaped like a heart.
Khanom Thai’s mango sticky rice, shaped like a heart.Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Drink up!

Check out these three new Asian beverage spots to cool off for summer.

Tiger Sugar

Stefano Giovannini

Thirsty customers wait on line for more than 45 minutes at this first North American store from the beloved Taiwanese brand, which opened in May. The bubble teacup’s sides come streaked with brown sugar meant to look like tiger stripes. Drinks $ 4 and up. 40-10 Main St., Flushing

Spiritea

Yuchen Ye

No tapioca pearls here! This gorgeous East Village tea shop uses house-brewed tea and milk blends — plus fruit and pure cane syrup — to craft irresistibly Instagrammable concoctions. Its rosy peach jelly drink takes 14 hours to prepare. Drinks $ 5 and up. 300 E. Fifth St.

Fong On

Paul Eng

In 2017, the Eng family’s soy milk and sweet tofu Mott Street shop shuttered after more than eight decades. But Chinatown residents are delighted that Paul Eng is set to reopen the store Saturday at the family’s longtime manufacturing location. Drinks $ 2.50 and up. 81 Division St.

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