The Queens International Night Market kicked off its third season last night in Flushing Meadow Corona Park and, as expected, huge crowds showed up to feast from some 45 different food vendors. But not as huge as in years past, due to a concerted effort to curtail the borderline chaos and definite discomfort of previous opening nights.
The opening Market was a ticketed event, with a limited number of $5 admissions sold in advance. Next Saturday will also require advance tickets, before the Market moves to free, walk-up admission for the rest of the summer starting May 5.
Make no mistake though, even with the entry price (half of which, by the way, was donated to three local Queens non-profits), there were still long lines at many of the food tents, especially for the Duck Buns at Cbao, the Ube Rolls (along with about a dozen other snacks) at Hong Kong Street Food, the Sisig Tacos at Lahi, and the octopus balls at Karl's Balls. Not that people were complaining. Bridget from Sunnyside, for example, waited 45 minutes to get three orders of the latter, and didn't mind one bit. "Takoyaki is my favorite food," she explained.
I ate as much as possible before the lines got ridiculous—most everything is $5 or less—with standout dishes including:
• The Keema Palata at Burmese Bites, for which thin layers of grilled wheat-flour dough are filled with minced chicken, egg, and onion, and served with a creamy, fiery slaw.
• The Tamale de Chapulinas at Rudy's, its masa stuffed with fat, chewy crickets and salty quesillo cheese. This is served with a zippy corn and bean salad, too.
• The Persian Love Cake and Halva at Zahra's, by far the best sweet dishes I tried all night. The former is a wonderfully moist cake infused with cardamon, almond, lemon, and topped with rose petals and pistachios; the latter a small, almost fudgy square, the intense, buttery sweetness cut with the essence of saffron and rose water. Delicious.
• The "Ramly" Burger at the Malaysian Project (though they can't call it that because Ramly is a very popular brand back in Malaysia), which is a beef patty completely wrapped in an egg omelet, seasoned and drizzled with spicy mayo, and served on a greasy grilled bun with crisp cabbage and lettuce. This is a great $5 burger.
• The Bolivian Anticuchos at Renacer, skewers of juicy, thinly sliced beef hearts, served with a potent chimichurri and a thick peanut sauce.
There are also non-food vendors at the Night Market, selling everything from Queens-branded gear and vintage baseball cards to handmade body-care products, emoji pillows, and jewelry from an outfit called Unicorn of Doom. You can drink beer and wine, there are carnival-style games with silly prizes, a "human dodgeball" field, and live entertainment in the form of a cover band blasting through songs such as Comfortably Numb.
The overall atmosphere was festive and relaxed. As a young Queens resident named Dylan told me, "If I had an endless stomach and an endless bank account, I'd be here forever."