Restaurant Review: Happy Buddha

Happy Buddha
135-37 37th Avenue
(between Main Street and Prince Street)
Flushing, Queens

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

We recently trekked out to eastern Queens to watch the 13.1 Half-Marathon at Flushing Meadows Corona Park (congratulations to Griffin and Warren for running the event in just over 2 hours), and we found that our spectating companions were eager and willing to join us for some post-race culinary experimentation.

With families and friends in tow, we set off for the Happy Buddha restaurant, located just off the bustle of Flushing’s Main Street and offering a wide ranging menu of fully vegetarian Chinese cuisine. The interior is spacious and conservatively decorated, making the dining space comfortable though not particularly memorable.

As a party of 12 ready for a family-style meal, we had the opportunity to really explore a broad selection of their kitchen’s creations. To drink, we mostly went with water and the complimentary house tea (on which they kept us well stocked).

The assorted appetizer platter held a mixed bag of treats: an egg-stuffed sesame roll, a very tasty vegetable medley wrapped in crisp red shells, faux-duck (whose layered, gummy texture I can never appreciate, but which is common on nearly every vegetarian Chinese menu), tofu ham slices, and a liberal pile of cold noodles.

The soups we tried were delicious. The wonton soup was hearty and flavorful, with spinach bringing an earthiness to the broth. A pumpkin soup had the simple, rich flavor of freshly puréed squash.

We also had luck with orders of basic vegetables; the asparagus remained crisp, but had been steamed long enough to remove any bitterness. The eggplant had been sautéed to an appropriate softness, with ginger and scallion adding some depth to the dish.

The typical Szechuan entrées lacked precision. The General Tso’s chicken and the orange chicken both had nice tastes, but neither had the crisp exterior texture that helps to define the dish, and their interior “meat” was slightly tougher than expected. The bean curd was the kitchen’s biggest miss; the tofu was soggy and the only discernible taste was an astringent hint of hot sauce.

In contrast, their signature entrées really stood out. The pineapple duck (served in a hollowed pineapple half) was composed of nicely sautéed medallions surrounded by a variety of vegetables which had all soaked up some sweetness from the fruit’s juices. The Mango Madness was also well composed, with large chunks of seitan mixed with mango and vegetables on a beautifully arranged plate. The most interesting success: a honey walnut shrimp (the faux shrimp cooked to a creamy texture) was surrounded by a perfectly crisped batter, all candied with a honey walnut coating… it was sweet, unique, and delicious. These three specialty entrée plates were beautifully presented with impressively carved garnishes (the flowering beet on the shrimp plate being particularly striking).

For dessert, we found a slice of tofu cheese cake to be too rigid, though the taste was great.

We found ourselves full and contented with the meal overall, but the story of this particular review does not end with the food; our table had the good fortune of being visited by the restaurant’s loquacious owner, Lina Lin, who regaled us with a boundless series of tales (and photos) on a broad array of topics… her journey from Taiwan to Flushing, the trials and tribulations of her entrepreneurship, her strong reliance on Buddhism for guidance as she emigrated to New York and became a restauranteur.

Her energetically spoken stories progressed into a bewildering physical tour, first introducing us to an event room at the back of the dining room (a nice venue, and the owner seems highly flexible toward any desired arrangement), and then sweeping our increasingly giddy group through locked doors and into an elevator to visit the Buddhist temple sitting atop the restaurant. In the interest of time (and to relieve the growing comic tension), we forewent the owner’s strong desire to perform a blessing over our group or to discuss the available literature regarding the Buddha, though her heartfelt convictions gave us a much stronger appreciation of her restaurant’s character.

With the final bill averaging to about $15 each, the meal was a bargain for the amount of food received. While not necessarily any stronger a culinary experience than some of the city’s other vegetarian Chinese establishments, it’s well worth a visit should you find yourself in the neighborhood (particularly if you have the luck of meeting the owner).

A quick final note: on-site parking is free, but not for the faint of heart – be sure you’re comfortable in navigating tight spaces with your vehicle before taking them up on that offer.

Food (3/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (3.5/4)

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