Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, August 14, 2017-4:40 pm
I often worry that Manhattanites don’t venture outside their borough enough when seeking out a nice dinner. I’ll tell you one thing, though: If they did, they’d find a lot of wonderful eateries that they didn’t knew existed on their doorstep.
One of those establishments is Payag, a terrific Filipino joint on Roosevelt Avenue in Queens that’s situated right next to the elevated train. Fine, so it doesn’t look like much on the outside; the corner spot seems quiet and unassuming in its nook on the boulevard, but once you go in, there’s a whole host of wonders that await you from a culinary perspective.
No, it’s not haute cuisine. No, it’s not molecular gastronomy. Yes, however, it is good, authentic, hearty food. And you should try it.
The room: cool, comfortable, casual, spacious. There are wicker chairs. There are colorful pictures on the wall. There are beige tones and cloth napkins, but no tablecloths. So what? The extensive bar features a wide variety of adult beverages, and the long menu offers photos of what you may want to eat. That’s what you want, right? Unpretentious, tasty and filling.
Go for it.
Practically right away, you get a carafe of water with lemons in it; the liquid is refreshing, palate-cleansing. Other libations: exotic cocktails, plus some wines and Filipino beers. A kalamansi Margarita supplies a tangy, sweet kick with the booze; meanwhile, juices and shakes (including one made with avocado) fill out the rest of the drinks section. Still, if you want to get really authentic, try the sago gulamun: It comes in a tall glass, and it’s filled with a brown, sugary solution that may have you addicted at first gulp.
Don’t drink so much that you get full before the rest of the meal, though. There’s a huge list of options to consume, including sizzling sisig, which combines savory, succulent pork bits that are mixed, tableside, with unctuous fried egg on a hot skillet; you may not feel like lauding bacon again after trying its toothsome, pig-sourced cousins here. Other starters: crispy kangkong, a dish of fried water spinach that’s delicate, melty on the tongue and totally devoid of grease. The lumpia Shanghai are crunchy as well, though it’s the ensaladang langka that might capture your more immediate attention; the soft, vinegary salad is furnished with clumps of boiled jackfruit and is transporting, creamy, wild.
Go further, perhaps with pinakbet, a smooth collection of sauteed vegetables, including the bizarrely munchy bitter melon, which is as sour and uncompromising as a visit to the DMV, yet much more palatable. Or you could sample the snackable lechon kawali pork: golden, mild and fatty as all git-out. Pair that with the crispy chicken adobo, which comes to you on the bone in a rich, huggable sauce, and you’ve got it made.
Of course, the remarkable dessert menu might cause you to rethink your decision to pile up on all that food beforehand, because some of these meal-enders are absolutely luscious. Take the halo-halo, for example. You’ve got ube (purple yam) ice cream in all its colorful glory. You’ve got knock-your-socks-off flan that tastes like the epitome of condensed milk. You’ve got candied fruits. You’ve got ice. You’ve got spoons.
Service is jovial, perhaps a bit on the take-your-time side, yet very pleasant and accommodating. Prices are cheap as dirt. So … you got any more reasons not to go out to Queens for dinner?
Didn’t think so.
Photos by April Mutuc