>> Hi Luck Restaurant | Eat the World NYC

28 November 2018

Hi Luck Restaurant


[UPDATE MAY 2019: The name of the restaurant has changed from Hi Luck to Minas]

This article originally appeared in the 29 November 2018 edition of The Queens Tribune:

A small detached building on a quiet stretch of Springfield Boulevard in Queens Village is the home of Hi Luck. The front is a patchwork of everything happening inside; signs for the law firm above and karate studio below the restaurant compete for visual attention with the year-and-a-half–old Filipino joint’s picture menu. The sometimes-steamy window also displays the simple greeting “Tuloy po kayo,” a formal welcome in Tagalog that is just a hint of the conviviality inside.

If you come to Queens Village via Hillside Avenue, you will pass the Benigno Aquino Triangle in Hollis, a tiny piece of land named in honor of a politician either loved or hated, depending on whom you talk to in the Philippines. The neighborhoods of Jamaica, Hollis and Queens Village, while not as dense with Filipinos as Woodside, have a significant population themselves. Many more have been moving farther out to Nassau County and beyond. This as a whole is the customer base for Hi Luck, although I did see a woman from New Jersey come in to pick up a large order as well.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for the Queens Tribune.

The face of the establishment is without a doubt Leticia, whose head swings towards the door every time she hears it open. Many customers are greeted by name as they walk in, while those she does not know still get a warm welcome. I spoke with her on multiple visits to the restaurant. Besides not being shy about saying her food is worth traveling from afar to eat, she told me it was important to make people feel like this is their kitchen—and even tells them as much. These feelings are similar to the ones of generosity I experienced while traveling around a few of the 7,641 islands that make up the country.

This kindness can also be felt from Leticia’s cousin Mina Clemente, the other woman you will always see when dining here. She is the wife of Arsenio Clemente, the man both women refer to as “The Boss.” During the week he has a job in New Jersey, so to catch him you will have to be here on a weeknight for a late dinner or sometime on the weekend. However, if you spend any time here it is obvious the real bosses are Mina and Leticia, who not only run the dining room and serve customers, but also cook.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for the Queens Tribune.

The format at Hi Luck is, like the majority of Filipino restaurants in New York City, a turo-turo. “Turo” is the Tagalog word for “point,” and the name originated from the style of ordering: The available items on any day are laid out on the steam table, and customers point to the ones they wish to order. A common order is the combo, which gets you two entrées with rice for $7.99, a massive amount of food for one person.

This style of eatery is common on roadsides in the Philippines, where Westerners might awkwardly ask for the menu but never see one. Filipinos themselves are more comfortable without written words, preferring to see, smell and sample the foods before ordering. No matter whether this is your first visit to Hi Luck or you just haven’t tried a particular dish despite being a regular, Leticia is always offering samples to make sure everyone is happy. Formerly an attorney back home and also involved in government, Leticia can speak at least five dialects as well as Tagalog and English, the main common and business languages.

The steam table here is usually loaded with 15 to 20 items depending on the day, but more can be ordered from the kitchen. Aside from a catering menu, I never saw these things written down; regardless, it is likely to be different from one day to the next, so it makes more sense to approach the foods and start a conversation. All manner of meats, fish, stews and soups are available. Famous Filipino dishes like sisig, a sizzling dish of pig parts seasoned with chili and calamansi; and chicken adobo, the de facto national dish marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, always seem to be around. Leticia calls her beef kaldereta “famous” for good reason: The slightly sweet stew is not to be missed.

The restaurant is also home to a lot of Filipino packaged goods stacked near the register and available for purchase. Bottles of banana sauce and Mang Tomas all-purpose marinade are watched over by the portrait of Mina’s mother behind the register. She has not been around for some years now, but her presence as the patron saint of the restaurant is obvious. A beautiful smile lit up Mina’s face when I asked about her.

On two recent visits before Thanksgiving, enormous orders of lumpia Shanghai were ready for pickup. These meat-and-vegetable spring rolls seem to be somewhat of a specialty here. One customer was taking them to a pre-holiday gathering of friends, while another was on her way to Brooklyn with an order to share with family. It should come as no surprise that the holiday-obsessed Filipinos have had their Christmas decorations and music going throughout most of November. You start to see signs of this holiday in September back in the country.

After the new year, Leticia and Mina will continue to look for another space closer to Queens Hospital in Elmhurst so they can offer their cooking to a larger number of area Filipinos. This move is not set in stone yet—but, like the restaurant’s name, it is an aspiration to good luck in the future if that is where the path leads.

Photo by Sasha Maslov for the Queens Tribune.

Hi Luck Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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