The neighborhood of Jackson Heights is midway between Manhattan and Flushing. The ethnic diversity of the neighborhood covers almost the entire continent of Asia, and some of Latin America. When you get out of the subway without a destination -if you, by any chance, find your self in the 'hood- it can be extremely distracting; Bollywood theaters, gold chains, Sari, Asian markets, Korean fried chickens, Thai restaurants, etc, etc... All of which are fascinating to the eyes, and offer competitive qualities and prices. The smell of the streets vastly changes from one to another. Spices, spices, and spices in oil!
Speaking of smell and cuisine, one must visit Patel Brothers on 74th St, a festive street everything Indian. Want some frozen Naan? They got it. Stalking up on spices for CHEAP? No problem! Offering "kit" for your Ganesha shrine? They're between incenses and almond oil. The friendly staff may also help you pick the best brand of Tandori mix for tomorrow's dinner. Plus all of the exotic produces and frozen products (of produces) you won't find in Whole Foods. I was on a mission to stalk up my spice drawer (next stop, a container store!) for my next Indian inspired feast for $42, including, of course, impulsive items. Enough said.
Just minutes walk around the corner from Patel Brothers on 37th Ave is Mehfil. An Indian restaurant that's fairly new to this saturated neighborhood. One late night on my cab ride to Brooklyn, my cabby happened to be an Indian, who also happened to live in Jackson Heights. This is where he would eat, if he doesn't eat at home. On a Monday night like this one, the restaurant was on the sleepy side, but who cares? It's Monday night. People actually pay attention to you! Some of our party was already seated in a booth, and a basket of thin Indian bread (I need help figuring out the names of these. My knowledge and vocabulary of Indian cuisine is LIMITED) and 3 different sauces, a green chili sauce, some kind of chutney, and a type of sweet sauce. Being as hungry as I was, nothing welcomed me more warmly. The wait staff seemed to be Chinese, which wasn't surprising, as I've heard about the cross-over between the two cuisines happening in the neighborhood these days, including Indian-Chinese restaurants -another trip!
Between the 5 of us, we ordered 3 appetizers -besides the King Fisher beer to start. Vegetable Pakora($3.95) is basically fritter of vegetables. Pretty straight forward. Arrived hot and crispy. Samosa Chat($5.95), is like an inside-out, deconstructed Samosa dish topped with chickpeas, green chili sauce, yogurt sauce, and the same sweet red sauce on the table. It looked and felt like an Indian Nacho, and it is genius! Paneer Pakora($10.95) is fried cottage cheese in gram flour batter. Cottage cheese was dense than what one could imagine, and the gram flour contributed as an incredibly crispy yet an interesting contrast to the texture and taste to the dish.
Even after were were so stuffed, we managed to think about desserts. Once we thought of the Indian pastry shops nearby, it had just passed 9 PM, which is when the ALL close. It's okay, Mehfil has a solution for you, too. They don't have coffee, but offers nice array of tea selections. Gulab Jamun($3.95), soft cheese and nuts fried and soaked in honey arrived hot. It was soft and dense in texture, and had complex yet simple sweet flavor. I was tempted to buy the packaged one at Patel Brothers, then, maybe not. It was actually delicious at the restaurant, especially when still hot. Kheer, basmati rice pudding cooked in milk and sugar. Straight forward, though I wasn't crazy about it. With all the flashing the camera, and me making notes, they must have thought we were critics or something. They gave us couple extra pieces of Tandori, and two extra desserts on the house. Or maybe they were just happy to see us on this sleepy Monday night, as much as we were happy to share our good time with them. Get out there! Whether it's on a sleepy Monday night or a hopping Friday night, you will be pleasantly surprised by what Mehfil has to offer.
Patel Brothers 37-27 74th St Jackson Heights, NY
Mehfil 76-05 37th Ave Jackson Heights, NY