Tucked into a very quiet block of 37th Avenue in Flushing, sharing the street with a few low key Chinese bars, is another restaurant featuring the cuisine of Dongbei. This comprises the three most northeast provinces of China, bordered by Korea, Russia, and Inner Mongolia.
Walking in past the neon open sign, a bright dining room greets customers, as well as a menu that reads fairly comprehensively of mainstream Chinese cuisine. When you open it, it is somewhat hard to detect the Dongbei slant of the owners and chefs, which we came for on this day. Bring a friend who speaks Mandarin or press them hard for the true Dongbei dishes, and you will be rewarded with a very delicious and authentic meal.
Due to very harsh winters, Dongbei cuisine relies heavily on preserved and pickled foods. One of the most iconic appetizers is a cold dish of black fungus with hot and sour sauce ($9, below), an enjoyment that is more about the sour than the hot. It has a delightful tang to it, with some pickled vegetables providing a crunch to counter the chewiness of the fungus.
What appear to be flat noodles are actually the spicy tofu skin with hot sauce ($12, below). As with the other "spicy" dishes, the cuisine up here in the north does not compare with Hunan and Sichuan spice, but does have other tastes that will have your mouth wondering what is in it, a good experience.
More pickled vegetables are used in a sheet jelly dish that I did not catch the name of (below). It is sitting in quite a bit of sauce that is full of sesame, almost sweet. Recommended.
More jelly and pickled goodness are in the stir-fried sour cabbage with vermicelli ($11, below), which also has thin slices of pork inside. The thin glass noodles do not spoon so well, we all ended up grabbing our portions with chopsticks then spooning over the sauce.
For those in the mood for meat and potatoes, great for harsh northern winters, the stewed beef with potato in chili sauce ($16, below) is a must. It is surrounded by a puffy tasteless bread that is good for soaking up the meat fats at the bottom of the boiling dish. When it arrives at the table, a fire will be lit underneath, keeping the dish piping hot for quite some time.
The grand daddy of Flushing Dongbei restaurants and seemingly the go-to dish is crispy lamb rib with chili pepper ($26, below). The rack is as fatty as can be, in a good way, and piled high with cumin and pepper. The plate is worth every penny, and don't be shy to eat all of that meat off the bones with your hands.
So again, stick to your guns when you get here and try to fill your table with as much Dongbei cuisine as you can. You can try the other dishes in other restaurants, but now that winter is approaching it is the best time to bundle up and try the hard life up north.