I recently took my family on a self-guided food tour of Flushing, Queens. We explored the bustling streets and restaurants for about three hours, sharing many different small bites of food. Eventually, we all became too full to keep going. It was an extremely satisfying and delicious afternoon, but as we were leaving, I couldn’t help but feel that we had barely scratched the surface of all that Flushing has to offer.
I could eat three meals a day in Flushing for a week straight without ever feeling bored. Even if I limited myself to just the restaurants near the thronged nexus of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue, the choices would feel endless. There are dim sum palaces, hole-in-the-wall dumpling vendors, steamed rice rolls, hand-pulled noodles, soup dumplings, and restaurants and food courts that offer regional Chinese cuisine from Sichuan to Hunan to Yunnan and more.
Amidst all these choices, it can be daunting for first-time visitors to decide where to eat. But this conundrum has a very simple answer: Your first stop in Flushing, without question or hesitation, should be White Bear. Specifically, the spicy chili oil wontons, or “Number 6,” as they’re commonly known inside this tiny restaurant.
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There are five small tables inside White Bear, with enough room to seat a maximum of about fourteen people. It’s cramped. The menu consists of 34 different items, posted on a large board hanging above the small open kitchen. Almost all of these menu items have English translations. But nobody seems to care much about the menu, as White Bear mainly feeds order after order of Number 6 to locals and tourists alike, all day long.
An order of Number 6 yields twelve succulent, tender pork wontons, bathed in a chili oil that’s heavily speckled with tiny fragments of roasted chilies. The wontons are garnished with a sprinkling of diced pickled vegetables. These pickled veggies are primarily salty and not too acidic, so they act almost like Maldon sea salt, lending a powerful boost of umami to each bite of spicy wonton.
The heat from the chili oil asserts itself gently, and the flecks of roasted chilies add a depth of flavor that can evoke memories of a campfire. These wontons will make you feel warm and happy. And they are far from a secret. Inside White Bear, it can feel like a parade of customers has arrived specifically to order Number 6. The good news is the line moves quickly.
There are generally two people working in the open kitchen at White Bear. They do everything, from taking your order to prepping and cooking all the food. On my most recent visit, the man who handed me a plate of wontons had a dusting of flour on his thumb, because he had also been the one forming and filling each wonton by hand.
The irony is that White Bear in Flushing has become famous for this one singular dish, even though other items on their menu are also unique and spectacularly flavorful. I recently observed a guest eating a plate of Number 6 while leaning towards the kitchen to ask, “So, what else is good?” The man inside the kitchen stared blankly back at the customer and deadpanned, “Number 6.” A moment later, someone else came in and asked for five orders of Number 6 to go.
So, I urge you to embody the diverse spirit of Flushing and branch out at White Bear. Try something else on the menu like Number 20 (“Dumpling w Leek”) or Number 32 (“Bean Curd Sheets w Pork Soup”). Just don’t forget to also order at least one batch of those famous spicy wontons. They’re not to be missed.
Not to Be Missed: Flushing
Where: White Bear (135-02 Roosevelt Avenue; 718-961-2322)
What: The spicy chili oil wontons, aka "Number 6"
Why: They will make you feel warm and happy.
Have you tried the chili oil wontons at White Bear? Let us know in the comments below.