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Main Street Imperial Gourmet – There’s A lot More To Taiwanese Food Than Street Food

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**For full post and pics**: https://www.lauhound.com/2013/04/main...

Taiwanese food is definitely one of my favorite Chinese cuisines. It’s a delicious mix of southern Fujian food blended with regional cuisines from all over China that came about because the large influx of mainland Chinese immigrants to Taiwan during the Communist Revolution. However, I feel like people often tend to only associate Taiwanese food with street food and maybe beef noodle soup. While these are certainly great and delicious there is much more to Taiwanese food than these two types of food. Main Street Imperial is a Taiwanese restaurant whose strong points are not street food, but rather more home style type dishes.

The restaurant is not located in Downtown Flushing, but rather further down Main close to the LIE, in the 2nd area in Flushing that has many Chinese restaurants. It’s small and homey with some décor in that it has colorful pieces of paper that have various dishes written in Chinese on them. The servers are really nice and are pretty helpful although I’m not sure they really speak English very well. The other issue you’ll run into is that about half the menu is not translated into English and some dishes are listed only on the wall in Chinese. I’ve provided the characters of the dishes I ordered since some of them are not translated to English, so I’d suggest printing them out if you don’t read any Chinese.

Here’s what we got:

Sauteed Cabbage (Chao Gao Li Cai 炒高麗菜):
This is one of the house specialties. It’s a simple dish of cabbage sautéed with oil and garlic. While simple they do a nice job on this dish and it’s quite tasty. The cabbage retains some crispness and the oil and garlic compliment it well. It also has some wok hay (the smoky flavor you get from effectively smoking food by cooking it at a very high heat in a wok). Overall, this is a solid dish. 8/10

Oyster Omelette (Hao Zai Jian / Oh Ah Jian 蚵仔煎):
I almost never order this outside Taiwan because it’s so easy to screw up, but a friend wanted it and surprisingly it was much better than the 1st time I came here (so can’t tell you it wasn’t a fluke). The omelette was crispy and not overly gooey. The sauce was sweet, but not overpoweringly so and the oysters were decent tasting. Overall, I actually enjoyed eating this which is rare in the US. 7.5/10

Clams in Basil Sauce:
I didn’t order this dish, so I’m not actually sure what the exact Chinese name of it was on the menu. This was clams cooked in a slightly spicy light brown sauce with basil. This is a pretty common Taiwanese sauce. I thought the sauce was nice being slightly spicy, sweet and salty and I love basil so that was great as well. The clams were decent quality, but not amazing. 7.5/10 (could’ve been higher rating if they used better clams


Three Cup Tofu (San Bei Tofu 三杯豆腐):
“Three cup” is a famous style of preparation that involves one cup of soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil hence the name “three cup”. There is also sugar, ginger and basil in it as well. While three cup chicken is the most common it can also be cooked with other meats or tofu. This was fried cubes of tofu in the three cup sauce. The outside was perfectly crispy while the interior remained soft, which was great texture wise. The sauce was both sweet and salty as it should be with the basil being a nice compliment. Overall, this was one of the best dishes I’ve had here. 8.25/10

Three Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji 三杯雞):
Oddly unlike the three cup tofu, this dish ended up being not sweet whatsoever and was a little overly oily. The chicken was very nicely tender, which was the best part about the dish. It was an alright rendition, but a little too oily and plain flavor wise. Gu Xiang’s version is much better than this and flavor wise Liang’s Kitchens’ version was better, but Main Street did a better job than Liang’s actually cooking the chicken (i.e. it was very tender here). 7.5/10 (could be a higher rating if they improved the sauce)

Sesame Oil Kidney (Ma You Yao Zi 麻油腰子):
This is one of the house specialties that I read about on a Chinese blog. Its slices of kidney sautéed in sesame oil based sauce. The kidneys are cooked very well so they are perfectly tender and they did a good job so the metallic flavor you can get in kidneys is only slightly present. The sauce has a slight flavor from the sesame oil and has some soy sauce flavor as well and because they seared the kidneys at a high heat in the wok you get a bit of the smoke-y slightly burnt taste which is nice. If you like kidneys this is a very good rendition of kidneys. 7.75/10 (I like kidneys, but don’t love them otherwise it’d get a higher rating)

Salt and Pepper Shrimp (Jiao Yen Xia 椒盐虾):
This was on the wall and I saw a couple of tables order it, so I decided to try it. This is just typical salt and pepper shrimp, but they did a nice job on it. The batter wasn’t too heavy or oily and had good salty flavor. The shrimps were fresh and good sized. I don’t have too much more to add to this other that it was good and worth trying, probably one of the better versions I’ve had in NY. 8/10

Putz Fish (Bu Zi Yu 布子魚):
Putz is actually something I’ve never had and I’m not even sure I’d even heard of it until ScoopG on chowhound mentioned it. So I made it a point to try it this trip. I tried ordering the whole fish on two occasions, but both times on of the waitresses told me that the pieces were better quality and flavor so I should order those instead of the whole fish. The fish pieces were nicely cooked and tender. The sauce was a nicely light soy sauce based sauce that wasn’t overpowering. The thing that I ended up liking the best about this dish was the putz; it reminded me of a sweet olive. Overall, while not mind blowing this is a solid dish and I’d recommend giving it a try for something different. 7.75/10

Red Cooked Ribs (Hong Shao Pai Gu 紅燒排骨):
I was trying to order another dish, but the waitress told me that that dish was too similar to the Hakka stir fry (which I forgot to take a picture of), so she recommended this dish. These were ribs cooked in a style called “hong shao” which you braise meat in a sauce made up of ginger, garlic, chilli, sugar, soy sauce and rice wine. The sauce here was pretty thick, thicker than normal. The ribs were cooked decently although I’d have preferred them to be a little more tender. The sauce was just ok, I found it to be kind of bland. I probably wouldn’t order this again. 6.75/10

Can’t Taste Stinky Tofu (Chi Bu Dao Chou Dou Fu 吃不到臭豆腐 ):
This is another one of the house specialties. It literally translates to “can’t taste stinky tofu”, which I think it’s called because the way the chef cooks it he cooks out most of the stink, so it’s only faint. The stinky tofu is fried in a slightly spicy and salty red meat sauce with cabbage. It’s a bit hard to explain, but definitely order this dish it’s very good. 8.25/10

Fly Head (Cang Ying Tou 蒼蠅頭):
This is my favorite dish here. It translates to “fly head” (I have no idea why it’s called that) and its diced garlic chives, red chili, minced pork and fermented black beans all stir fried together. This dish is the type of dish you really need a hot wok for because the wok hay adds a whole new level to this dish. It’s spicy, salty, smoky and just delicious. This is the dish to come here for. 8.5/10

Overall, this is probably the best overall Taiwanese restaurant in New York and it’s worth your time to check out.

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  1. Is it walking distance at all from the Main St. Station?

    4 Replies
    1. re: swannee

      apparently it takes 20-25 mins to walk from the train and i think there is also a bus you can take. i just rent a zip car when i go to that part of flushing

      1. re: Lau

        Glad to hear it's still on top (an improvement from your 2009 review). It's an easy 20 minute walk from Roosevelt and Main Street. The bus is located across the street from the Flushing branch of the public library. The dish is called "fly's head" because the fermented black beans in the dish look like them!

        1. re: scoopG

          yah my recent meals here were better than when i first came although i think its a function of me ordering better as the cang ying tou tasted exactly the same

          re: fly's head - that would make sense!

      2. re: swannee

        Hop on the Q44 Ltd (it picks up in front of Biang), or the Q20 Local, and get off after the hospital.

      3. I always go for a squid or cuttlefish dish here, never misses. Recently had a pork with chives dish that was excellent. Strong 3rd on the Fly Head, and agree about the friendly staff. Fried chicken with basil is surprisingly good; always wish I had a beer when I order it.

        This area has really picked up in the past year or two. This joint anchors a mini-scene that now includes Lake Pavillion and two new Shanghai eateries. There's also Tasty Roast House (which I've found to be hit or miss) and a Malaysian place (one visit has inspired no more). I'm lucky enough to have wheels and live/work nearby, but it's fast becoming an expanded scene on it's own and is definitely worth checking out.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Polecat

          which squid / cuttlefish dishes do you like there?

          yah that area is definitely picked up, i want to try happy garden which is a little closer to the LIE, supposedly the cantonese food is good there according to someone on a boards.

          Yeh's bakery is close by which im about to write a post on, its one of the best bakeries in Flushing albeit it with a very limited selection

          1. re: Lau

            Either with chives (I love chive dishes, I admit). They also do a spicy squid dish which I've liked. Looking forward to trying the putz fish and re- trying the oyster pancake. It's been years since I first had it here.

            Haven't been thrilled with Yeh the few times I tried it but should have included it in my prior list, as it's very popular with the locals. Look forward to your recommendations.

            1. re: Polecat

              look forward to trying those dishes; check out some of the dishes i wrote up, i actually wouldn't haven known about some of them or at least might not have ordered them, but my friend's mom sent me some chinese blog links and also gave me some recs

              re: Yeh's - yah there are some very specific things to get at Yeh's

        2. By the way, that house cabbage is a special cabbage from Taiwan!

          3 Replies
          1. re: scoopG

            oh yah? its very tasty cabbage

            1. re: Lau

              You can buy this Taiwan cabbage across the street at the large gorcery store there...

          2. On a previous trip here I had what seemed like the most chicken chicken dish I've ever loved, something like Three Cups minus the basil and the sugar - just dark meat red sauce and lots of ginger which melded into the sauce. the dish included bamboo shoots. I had it again Tuesday and it was as good as I remembered it. A server told me that this was a winter dish. This was strange because I had never found an english speaking server here before.

            3 Replies
            1. re: wewwew

              do you know what the dish was called?

              1. re: Lau

                The sign towards the back, something like red cooked chicken with bamboo shoots, simple characters.- $12 - $16. Good complement to Fly Head (Cang Ying Tou 蒼蠅頭):

                1. re: wewwew

                  ahh i think i know what dish you're talking about although im not sure ive ever eaten it in the US...ill give it a try next time

            2. The supermarket across the street is pretty good as well.

              10 Replies
              1. re: MOREKASHA

                for anything in particular? or just to buy general stuff?

                1. re: Lau

                  I like their veggie assortment, also good on sauces in jars etc. Havent tried their fish though.

                    1. re: Lau

                      It's Taiwanese. Both selection and freshness of fruit and vegetables is spectacular, and Western ones too. A-choy is prominently there and is a of good quality. The quality control in general is way above your average Chinese supermarket. Eel is fresh and and field chickens are croaking behind the glass. Roast meats are not interesting, and everything is a few pennies more expensive than in other Chinese supermarkets.

                      I do shop there all the time but I am not sure it's worth a detour. Flushing Chinese supermarkets are regional: you have to plan what you are after.

                      1. re: diprey11

                        interesting, i dont cook that much, but ill take a look next time im there

                        1. re: diprey11

                          Yeah, interesting. If you have time and don't mind, can you share a primer on which market with which region?

                          Haha, from a selfish standpoint, I've been trying to find where they sell Master brand chili radish.

                  1. re: MOREKASHA

                    I usually stop by the supermarket after lunch to pick up a few things. I stick to the vegetables and dry goods. The meat and fish look terrible so I have never purchased those things there. As a general rule, I am pretty suspect of the meat purchased at Chinese shops. Always double check expirations dates on the dry goods--I have found a few things that that were either expired or near expiration. I purchased a package of cold bean jelly that ended up being moldy on the underside. I was really pissed. Buyer beware.

                    1. re: mielimato

                      Are you sure it wasn't Gristedes you were shopping at?

                      1. re: MOREKASHA

                        Ha! Based on the meat and fish quality I don't think most chinese grocery store rank much better than G. I'd welcome the day G starts carrying water spinach and laoganma chili oil. Would make my life easier.

                        1. re: mielimato

                          bayard meat market in chinatown is good, thats the only one i really go to now

                  2. Do they have lunch specials?

                    1 Reply
                    1. Thanks for the extensive report. I've always found your posts and blog extremely informative. I personally found this place to be a bit mediocre with some solid dishes. I took my parents here a month ago and they were disappointed. Some dishes were good--the oyster pancakes, cabbage, salt and pepper shrimp. Like you, we found the red cooked ribs very bland. We ordered the liver dish and the liver was over cooked and dry. I have had the three cup chicken on another occasion and found it to be decent although I would complain about the meager portion they offered. We also ordered the stinky tofu which I did not know was called "can't taste stinky tofu" in Chinese because that was exactly my complaint--you can't taste the stink! Which in my opinion defeats the purpose of stinky tofu but good to know that that is the intent. My father was excited to order the pork sauce over rice because growing up in Taiwan that was a special treat. He was a bit angry with the dish which really didn't live up to expectations. We may have caught the kitchen on an off day. They were packed and the waitstaff seems very disorganized and harried, although everyone was extremely friendly.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: mielimato

                        thanks for the reply

                        liver: which liver dish are you referring to? i ordered kidneys not liver, which you may have had an off day or something bc these were very tender

                        three cup chicken: go to gu xiang for three cup chicken, their version is much better (see my post, but stick with the stir frys at gu xiang, their street food isnt good)

                        stinky tofu: did you order the regular stinky tofu or the one i ordered which is all red (see my pic)? bc ive had their regular stinky tofu and like almost every version ive had in the US, its not nearly stinky enough as you said. As you said the can't taste stinky tofu is meant not to stink that much, its very faint, but i think its a good dish and quite tasty

                        pork sauce over rice: when you say "pork sauce over rice", i believe you're referring to lu rou fan not the can ying tou i ordered, is that right? I haven't tried their lu rou fan, but ive kind of given up on NY places to make it bc i can make it at home tasting very similar to what you get in taiwan, its always either too dry or too salty here. I also don't order many street or standard quick dishes there as like gu xiang, i dont think its what they're good at. If you go back try their can ying tou, its one of the dishes they're well known for and its quite good

                        1. re: Lau

                          I wanted to order the kidney (especially after reading your blog) but was overruled by everyone at the table. We ordered the sauteed liver with leeks instead and it was not good at all.

                          I am pretty sure that we ordered the regular stinking tofu but it might have well been the one you ordered because it was very light in flavor. It was served with a tiny bit of the pickled cabbage with sichuan pepper but not nearly enough in my opinion. I much prefer the stinky tofu at King Five Noodle House on Prince. I still remember the best stinky tofu I've had in recent memory which was from a street vendor in Hong Kong...the smell hit you from blocks away, large blocks of tofu served piling hot on wooden sticks, crunchy on the outside but moist on soft on the insdie. There is just no way to replicate that here.

                          Thanks for the tip about Gu Xiang. Will have to take my parents there on their next visit.

                          1. re: mielimato

                            ah ok, so the kidney is what they are known for (its on alot of chinese blogs that my friends mother showed me). Never had the liver so i can't attest to it.

                            sounds like you ordered the regular stinky tofu not the "can't taste stinky tofu" that i ordered which is quite a bit different than regular stinky tofu (take a look at the pic on my blog). the "can't taste stinky tofu" is another house specialty.

                            if you have a chance give it another try and order the dishes that i rated higher in my post, i think you'll like them. Much like every chinese restaurant in NY not all of their dishes are good, its best to stick to what they are known for / make well.

                            Gu Xiang: definitely give it a try, but follow my blog post bc ive been there many times and stuff like their street food is pretty mediocre

                            1. re: Lau

                              That's the problem, isn't it? Why do Chinese restaurants feel compelled to offer 200+ items when it is near impossible to do them all well. You certainly don't see this at Italian or French restaurants. I think part of the success of Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao is that it has a much smaller (but by no means small) menu. In terms of individual items, I have had better in various places but because they concentrate on a smaller set of items they are much more consistently good.

                              1. re: mielimato

                                i dont know why they do that bc they dont do that in china, taiwan, singapore, malaysia etc. I prefer specialist restaurants or restaurants where they have a chef who really knows the menu well. If you read my posts you'll find I complain about that probably more than anything else

                                Part of the reason im so specific in my posts about what i ordered and what is good is bc its meant to be a sort of ordering guide. ive usually been to a restaurant several times before i review it and i try to order what they are known for in order for the review to be useful for to people.

                                I originally started the blog and focused on asian food more specifically chinese to be a guide bc you read so many posts saying ok i went to XYZ chinese restaurant and i ordered ABC dishes and those were all the wrong stuff to order (not usually their fault)

                      2. Had a late weekday lunch here a few weeks ago. We were planning to eat at a Cantonese noodle shop on the same block but then I saw this place and remember it being recommended here. I'm not at all familiar with Taiwanese food but thought it was pretty good. The menu is not very English-friendly as Lau mentioned but fortunately for me, my friend reads Chinese. They do have lunch specials but we ordered off of the regular menu.

                        The wok skills were clearly very good and portions were a good size. We had the 3-cup chicken which was cooked perfectly and had good flavors although I personally thought it could have used a little more seasoning. We also got another dish that was only written in Chinese but my friend translated as a Hakka dish? It was stir-fried pork and chinese celery. Very tasty and my friend described the dish as having good wok hay.

                        Overall a good lunch and I would definitely return. We also stopped by Yeh's bakery down the street afterwards. I'm not a fan of Chinese bakery goods myself but my friend enjoyed the Boston pie and a few other things (something with meat, another thing with preserved egg). The bakery didn't have English names for everything so we just picked what seemed to be the more popular items.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: churros

                          glad you enjoyed

                          the hakka dish you got is called hakka stir fry basically in chinese, they are known for it and ive eaten it but i forgot to take a pic of it. i thought it was decent although not great, it did have decent wok hay as you said.

                          Definitely go back if you have a chance and try some of the dishes i rated higher such as the three cup tofu, can't taste stinky tofu and fly's head

                          i love yeh's bakery for the boston pie

                        2. Coming late to the party here, but is there a menu online for Main Street Imperial Gourmet?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: IWantFood


                            the problem is half or more of the menu is only in chinese. i wrote the characters in my post for that reason

                              1. re: IWantFood

                                no problem

                                btw try the dishes i had, i think ive got alot of the dishes they are good at making in this blog post, id recommend trying them

                                1. re: Lau

                                  I eat at the Taiwan restaurant next to the "Roast" place. I thought it was Taiwan Cafe, but I'm wondering if it was Main St Imperial. I had stinky tofu and it was good. I guess I should be more attentive to names of restaurants. I'll be over in those parts this weekend. The fact that you consider Main St Imperial the best Taiwanese is good to know. I have Taiwanese friends I should take there. They usually go to places in the busier Main St. area.

                          2. Second your recommendation. I started my own string. I think more traditional "san bei ji" is sugar rather than wine. At least that's what a couple of Fujienese cooks (moms) told me. Loved the "san bei tofu" which had a very different sauce. It was elegantly set off with a savory vinegar that tasted to me similar to the vinegar used in the Hangzhou style of "sweet and sour fish". The lack of a braise makes this quite different than the "san bei ji". It too, was one of my favorite dishes. Here's my string:

                            We tried a noodle soup dish. The broth was very rich, and like tonkotsu ramen broth is highly extracted over many hours from pork (bones) and chicken. Fujienese consider it good manners to put lots of different items in their soups, so this soup had clam, shrimp, squid and pork and the broth was orange and rich tasting-similar to Japanese broths. My wife-raised 6 miles from Taiwan across the straights of Taiwan-said it was just like her mom's.

                            Your comments on the kidney dish are exactly my thoughts. This kidney dish reminded me of the clean tender quality of French preparation. The last time I had that was in Quebec at L'Express earlier this year. This was light, elegant, and not as minerally as most kidney. Nice.

                            We greatly enjoyed the bitter melon with these tiny fruity seeds that tasted like marinated plums. Good place. One of my new favorite Chinese in NY area. First favorite is China Gourmet in New Jersey. Haven't reviewed it yet. It is "chuan tsai" style with a very reputable chef who cooked in high government ministries before coming here. Food is elegant, clean and has great "mala". Very enjoyable. I was brought there by a friend from Chengdu who really knew what to order.

                            Thanks for recommendation! My wife was very happy, and I looked like a hero. Our friend, also from Xiamen (pretty much the same food as Taiwan) also liked this place immensely.

                            People who want intensely flavored salty food should not go here. This is Southern Chinese and will tend to be a bit less intensely flavored as other regions.

                            Whoever recommended the grocery across the street, thanks. It was great, cheap, fresh. Fish was wonderful and cheap. Vegetables fresh and-did I say-cheap. Meat looked good-and, yes, cheap. The variety was great for a not so humungous store.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: foodlovergeneral

                              glad you enjoyed! its def a good restaurant if you know what to order

                              For everyone else:
                              - chuan cai is a shorthand term for sichuan food in chinese
                              - xiamen is a city in the southern part of the fujian province where they speak minnan which is the language known as taiwanese in taiwan and hokkien in singapore / malaysia / southeast asia and what original taiwanese chinese and much of singapore / malaysia's chinese food is based on

                              1. re: Lau

                                I finally got a chance to go with a group including a friend from Shanghai who knew nothing about Taiwanese food and was very curious. Overall, very good, but also a tad disappointing. I loved the atmosphere, very crowded, very convivial, and the waiters were great (although no English was spoken at least that I heard the entire evening). The portions were very small--am i just a pig, or has anyone else foud this to be true? Too many dishes tasted too much alike---but this could be the ordering by the Shanghaiese friend. We had:
                                Oyster pancake/omelet--not as good as the Taibei Night Market of course, but good
                                Bitter melon with salted egg--very simple, very good
                                Cang Ying Tou (the 'flyhead" dish)--delicious, clearly the best diah of the night
                                Sauteed Taiwanese cabbage--very simple, very good
                                Red-cooked tofu--OK, bland
                                3 cup chicken--disappointing. It is better at other places in Flushing IMO, even Spicy & Tasty. It is too dry and without enough ginger flavor, very one-dimensional.
                                Some kind of shrimp in the shell (not salt and pepper, we had people who would not eat fried food)--bland
                                Some kind of conch with garlic and ginger---good
                                A Kejia (Hakka) stirfry with chinese celery--bland----the waitress really pushed it, but I can't see why.
                                A rather deluxe seafood soup that I found very bland and with some delicious seafood and some rather suspiciously over the hill prawns, The broth seemed completely unseasoned.
                                It was strange getting Taiwan beer (lukewarm) in a can. The furu, boiled peanut and potato string amuse-bouches were good.
                                I have the feeling that we could have ordered better if he had not had to avoid spicy and fried foods. The fly-heads were spicy---and delicious! We had to wait 45 minutes on a Sunday night.
                                I think I am not as big an enthusiast for Taiwanese food as Lau is. I had eaten at Fu Run two nights previously, and although I think it has slipped a bit, I still find it far more appealing food. But it is also true that I ordered myself there, whereas at IMS I did not.

                                1. re: swannee

                                  yah not everything here is great, certain things as you said can be bland such as the 3 cup chicken which is decent but not great. you missed a few of their star dishes such as the 3 cup tofu (totally different sauce) and the don't taste stinky tofu which i think our the stars along with the cang ying tou

                                  i didn't write about the hakka stir fry bc i forgot to take a picture of it, but i agree with your assessment of it not being that good. next time you go (if you go) def try the 3 cup tofu and the don't taste stinky tofu; give it another whirl, feel free to send me an email about what to order

                                  1. re: Lau

                                    Thanks! I would have definitely gotten the chou tofu, but the people with me didn't want it on the table. One dish I forgot to mention is the putz fish, which was delicious. The puts seems to me to be a kind of tiny olive, treated with sugar as well as salt in the usual Chinese manner.
                                    I wonder why the san bei tofu is so much better than the more usual san bei ji?
                                    Did you ever try the ma you ji? They were really plugging it?

                                    1. re: swannee

                                      fyi, its not chou dou fu, its different than the regular chou dou fu...read about it on my post above, its not stinky at all actually hence why it's called "can't taste stink tofu"...look at the pic of it, it looks different than regular chou dou fu (which btw i wouldn't recommend here)

                                      if you look at pics of my post you can see the putz, in the pics of the putz fish

                                      the san bei tofu uses a different sauce than the chicken, its way better, i have no idea why they use a different sauce

                                      according to a few chinese language blogs they are famous for their ma you yao zi (kidney) which i wrote about, but i hadn't heard about their ma you ji