Fancy lunch in Queens? Here are some hidden gems for inexpensive Asian fare in unlikely locations, from a flower shop to a Hindu temple. While you don't need a big wallet, you do need a huge appetite.
1. LI'S LANZHOU HAND STRETCHED NOODLES: This is tucked away in the basement of the New World Mall, where most signs and customers are Chinese. The guo tie pork-and-leek pot stickers ($5.85) are outstanding. They come topped with a wafer-thin sheet of batter. You break through with your chopsticks to reach them. This is a dish with visual appeal that tastes great.
WHERE: 136-20 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing
2. SOY BEAN CHEN FLOWER SHOP: This Flushing establishment takes the prize for novelty. Tofu is served from a corner counter in a florist. It's soft and fresh and comes with a spicy or sweet-ginger sauce. You sit amid the flowers on a stool while the owner -- who just identifies himself as Soy Bean Chen -- entertains you. Although conversation may be limited if you don't speak Chinese, the warmth of the welcome needs no translation.
WHERE: 135-26 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing
3. XI'AN FAMOUS FOODS: This basement venue may feel like a hidden gem, but Anthony Bourdain is among those who have discovered it. There are four other branches in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn. Wherever you go, the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.25) is superb. The tiger vegetable salad ($4.75) with cilantro, green peppers, scallions, celery and jalapeño peppers, dressed in a sesame vinaigrette, came close.
WHERE: 41-28 Main St. #36, Flushing
4. GANESH TEMPLE CANTEEN: The full name of this Hindu temple is Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam. It is quite a mouthful before you even get to the canteen, in a basement reached via steps at the side of the building. It's like eating in a gymnasium, only the vegetarian food is probably better. The paper dosa ($3.50) -- a crepe that's bigger than your head -- is a must.
WHERE: 45-57 Bowne St., Flushing
INFO: 718-460-8493, nyganeshtemple.org/canteen
5. PHAYUL: Of all the establishments I visited, this small upstairs restaurant serving Tibetan food was the most charming. Block out the sounds and sights of Jackson Heights, and you might be in Lhasa. Momo dumplings are the house specialty, and there are six varieties, including Ja Sha (chicken) at $4.99. Another specialty is Tsak Sha Chu Rul beef and Tibet cheese soup. It is spicy and tangy. Butter tea is served.
WHERE: 37-65 74th St., second floor, Jackson Heights
6. BAUL DAADA JHAL MURI SHOP: This is a Jackson Heights food cart whose owner combines an array of puffed rice, nuts, chickpeas and dressings by hand into a crunchy snack mix called jhal muri. It's like watching a skilled bartender creating a fine martini. Alas, the flavor isn't that of a fine martini but in terms of spectacle, it's up there.
WHERE: 37-07 73rd St., Jackson Heights