Stepping off of the 7 train at 74th Street and walking through one of the more culturally diverse regions of Jackson Heights, or as DiStefano calls it, “Himalayan Heights,” the Long Island native confidently walks in and out of deceptively barren storefronts, many of which are former homes to flip-phone flea markets and convenience stores, in search of culinary gold.
“Jackson Heights is what really first inspired me to start writing about food and exploring food in Queens,” DiStefano said. “There’s just so much going on here.”
Aside from a growing Tibetan population, the corridor is also home to a wide variety of deep-seeded roots in India and Columbia.
“It’s a real tapestry of cultures and experiences,” he said. “You can walk around this neighborhood and see Tibetan monks and Sikhs walking down the same streets.”
DiStefano has made a living out of his explorations, hosting food tours through neighborhoods like Flushing, Elmhurst, Woodside and Corona, as well as documenting his tales at chopsticksandmarrow.com.
In his trip across Jackson Heights, where he often takes groups of six to 10 enthusiastic foodie tourists on four-hour tours at $75 a pop, DiStefano visits hidden restaurants like Bombay Chat (73-19 37th Rd.), a Himalayan snack bar meshed with a classic Eastern-themed convenience shop.
Other stops include Lhasa Fast Food (37-50 74th St.), tucked away in the back of an abandoned video rental store and home to some of the region’s finest beef momo dumplings, and Nepalese restaurant Dhaulaghiri Kitchen (37-38 72nd St.), with its goat sukuti (jerky), fiery radish pickles and tsel roti, which is something similar to a rice-infused donut.
“I’ve been immersed in this for quite some time,” he said. “This came naturally to me, but it’s sort of a natural extension to go from taking friends to turning other people on to something like this.”
In the past, DiStefano has written for Edible Queens, Food Republic and the New York Times, and is currently working on a book of culinary culture along the 7 train, also a trip that he takes every so often with tour groups.
“I think it’s valuable to have a guide, but I also think that there are a lot of young open-minded eaters out there,” he said. “Just don’t be discouraged.”