Tangram Food Hall: The New Shape of Asian Cuisine


Customers look at different menus and decide what to order.

Evelyn Won

Tangram Food Hall, based in the heart of Flushing, is the embodiment of modern eating. Luminous neon signs decorate concrete columns and exposed ceilings. Illuminated vendor signs hook onto suspended lattice structures that hang above each restaurant. Pop songs fuse with table talks and bounce off half-full soda cups and takeout boxes that are scattered along every table. With customers constantly filing in and out, it’s easy to make your way through the hall. Customers glance over menus, and their fingers find the digital kiosks, while others turn away, with another neon sign quickly catching their attention. The food hall’s lively, twenty first-century aura is reflected in their vendors. Featuring savory and sweet foods and beverages from Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and other Asian countries, vendors do not fail to deliver the essence of Asian cuisine to customers, while infusing a modern interpretation into their food items.

From Na Tart’s Portuguese egg tarts to Zaab Zaab’s Thai Isaan dishes, there’s a vendor for everyone. The food hall has 12 vendors, all of which imitate the energetic ambience of night markets around cities in Asia. I tried three eateries: Joju, a (modest) meal, is a Vietnamese restaurant that offers a new interpretation of spring rolls, bánh mì sandwiches, and fries. Cruncheese (a snack) serves Korean corn dogs and offers a variety of fillings, sauces, and seasonings. Soft Swerve (a dessert) serves soft serve (and ice cream too!) on colorful, tasty waffle cones.

At Joju, a carefully stuffed bulgogi bánh mì arouses my appetite. A seasoned bánh mì connoisseur would note the unfamiliar filling and raise questions about the hidden location of the pork and páté, but experienced eaters and newcomers alike won’t hesitate to dive deeper. Its crisp, golden-brown baguette seems to envelop its fillings, but the presence of tangy strings of carrots and daikon jolt one’s senses and prove the existence of something greater inside. Moving past the pickled vegetables is a reward indeed: warm, tender pieces of bulgogi wring out juice that flows into every corner of the mouth. Thin slices of cucumber and kimchi, concealed in its folds, rejuvenate the palate for another bite.

Next door, Cruncheese serves piping-hot Korean corn dogs constructed from scratch and made to order. Decorated with butter yellow and cerulean, the restaurant has a childhood lightness to it. Churning corals and limes in slushy machines join with corn dogs bathing in frying oil to resemble a carnival concession stand. But a bite into the stick brings you back down from the ferris wheel. Stretched in yeasted dough, its bread is more chewy than crumbly. Rolled in a breadcrumb desert, its exterior is more crispy than toasty. Filled with cheese, its filling is more gooey than juicy. Not only does taste and texture distinguish them from American corn dogs, but their fillings as well: they offer various types of cheeses, but also rice cake, potato, and squid-ink.

If you’re willing to hop back onto the ferris wheel, Soft Swerve is the place to go. Jars of chocolate sprinkles and toasted almonds sit quietly behind the order counter, and the low whir of the soft serve machine is nothing out of the ordinary. It may even remind customers of Carvel, a nation-wide favorite, which sells soft serve and sundaes at a reasonably lower price compared to Soft Swerve. But a closer peek at the soft serve machine offers a different perspective: Asian-inspired flavors, including ube (purple yam), black sesame, and yakult (a sweet Japanese milk beverage), gently fall onto cones like swirls of creamy ribbons. 

The soft serve combination of ube and yakult creates an unexpected, yet harmonious relationship. On one side, a piece of Earth that was grown, pulled from the soil, dried and ground. On the other side, tangy remnants of a manufactured bottle that was small enough for a little child to clutch in their hands and down in a quick shot. Matcha is another notable flavor that satisfies those who crave underlying bitterness that lingers at the back of your mouth. All flavors are served quickly, but if you’re unlucky, you may be served by an employee who is an admirer of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In that case, make sure to dive into your tilting cone immediately. Or instead, you can choose from the variety of traditional ice cream flavors they offer and get it in a cup.

It’s guaranteed that Tangram Food Hall provides authentic, delicious Asian cuisine that meets the cravings of all restaurant-goers, whether they’re looking for a snack or a dessert, something sweet or something salty. Although some of these bites are pricier than their counterparts, these vendors offer new variations of classic Asian foods and hope that customers can have greater appreciation for deviating away from tradition. It’s not guaranteed, however, that you’ll find a place to rest your legs; you may just have to first-hand experience the joy of eating while standing.