“We eat with our hands here.”
That was Beth, daughter of the eponymous Papa of Papa’s Kitchen, warmly welcoming the six of us as we squeezed around a table at this 15(ish) seat Filipino restaurant in Woodside, Queens.
While I try to immerse myself in the food world of Queens, I can never manage to come up with a decent group dinner recommendation. So we ended up at Papa’s Kitchen because my girlfriend had read about it recently in the New York Times. “This place sounds perfect,” she g-chatted me at work last week.
It did, and it was. In fact, it ended up being one of the most fun meals of my life.
No sooner had we sat down when Beth and JoJo, our waiter, brought over the Salu-salo (or Basket Feast) along with a few accompanying sides: a plate with cubed tomatoes, tart crescents of mango and pickled egg, and a bowl overflowing with rice vermicelli.
The main basket stole the show, however, where piles of meat and fish encircled a ziggurat of white rice. A generous portion of garlicky, well-marinated Chicken Adobo shouldered up against a rich slab of grilled tuna belly. Two flavor bombs came next in the ring, addictive Longganisa, or sweet sausage, and Papa’s hot, crisp signature “Dynamite Rolls” stuffed with jalapeno, cheese and pork. My favorite dish in the basket was the Crispy Pata, tender pig knuckles (trotters) served with a refreshing vinegar soy sauce and topped with a lid of greasy, crackly pig skin.
Papa’s Salu-salo is $25 a head and worth every damn cent (and more) and reservations are strongly recommended because the space is quite small. It is also BYOB, but there is a convenience store directly next door where we happily picked up a few six packs, Coors Light, Brooklyn Lager and Sapporo.
We had just started plowing into the food when JoJo reached over to hand the karaoke mic to our table. We exchanged embarrassed glances for about 10 seconds before we all just started singing. By the end of the night we were belting along with JoJo, Chris, a Woodside resident who lives near by and just happens to be the reigning karaoke champion at Papa’s, and even the chef Miguel (Papa’s son).
Because what you do at Papa’s is you eat, and you sing.
I left with the warmest feeling that we’d just spent the evening being hosted in a good friend’s home, and I can’t wait to get back and visit them again.
Papa’s Kitchen: 65-40 Woodside Ave, Woodside