A talented rap artist and humble soul, Meyhem Lauren possesses an exceptional palate and an unceasing love for food, the latter of which is on full display each week on VICELAND series Fuck, That's Delicious. A Queens native, he was raised between Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill, and met FTD star Action Bronson back in the seventh grade. "I grew up having friends from all over the world, from Albania to the Dominican Republic," he says. "Growing up in Queens meant being surrounded by a lot of culture, and food came with that."
Never separating those two things, Meyhem often lards his rhymes with food references. He named his third album Piatto d'Oro, meaning "plate of gold," after one of his favourite restaurants in East Harlem, which is now closed. "For a lack of a better word, I've always been a foodie and food has always been a part of my life. I have the same philosophy toward music as I do for food. Ratings don't matter—it's either good music or it's not. Same with food."
I recently joined Meyhem on an edible tour of his stomping grounds in Queens, where we gorged on lobster tail Greek salads and truffled green beans, classics like bagels and pizza, and even vegan chicken wings. While getting to taste a slice of real NYC, I got to the stomach of what makes Meyhem's appetite tick. He constantly credited the immigrant communities he grew up around with inspiring his palate. "I grew up around so many cultures and food came with that," he told me. I wondered what would New York's food landscape look like if it weren't for those immigrants who brought the flavours of their homeland to America.
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For the first stop on our tour, we head to Il Bambino in Astoria to whet our appetite with a roasted chicken and chili mayo panino and a green bean salad doused with a light truffle vinaigrette. As a food writer who is usually based in Italy, I'm initially hesitant about an Italian-themed spot, but the beans prove better than anything I can find back on my home turf: crispy and barely coated with truffle vinaigrette, and given some salty contrast with grated Parmigiano. "You gotta get the maple milk!" Meyhem insists. "I used to record nearby and ordered from here regularly."
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We then jump in the car and head to Astoria Seafood, my new favourite seafood spot in America, where we are immediately greeted with an ocean of chatter. It's part fish market, part BYOB communal dining room. As with many places in Astoria, the management here is Greek-American, so in addition to fish—which customers hand-pick and is cooked to order—there is a slew of Greek comfort food specialties like ricotta-rich spinach spanikopita and Geek salad with the perfect balance of acid, feta, and olives. "Shout-out to Spiro!" Meyhem yells. The rapper has a tight rapport with the staff here, including the head of house, Spiro, who makes sure we are well-fed. "I like long walks and I discovered this treasure chest by accident." The must-haves here are the scallops, swordfish, and the jumbo prawns, which seem bigger than lobster tails.
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A food tour of NYC wouldn't be complete without bagels and pizza, right? Meyhem's neighbourhood staple for slices is the family-run Dani's House of Pizza in Kew Gardens, our next destination. "Shout out to Sabri! I've been coming here for as long as I can walk." Meyhem suggests the regular cheese slice, but he has a fondness for the pesto slices and other menu fare. "Chicken marsala, chicken Frances—these are special things to have. The baked clams complement the slices in such a way," he says.
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As if we're not already fully carb-loaded, we head to family-run Baker's Dozen for a spot-on NYC bagel. "People talk about New York bagels all the time," Meyhem says. "This is one of my favourites. They're close to Dani's and have a wide variety of cream cheeses." If you're a Nutella fiend, the egg bagel (with a bit of salt baked on top) thickly slathered with Nutella cream cheese is obligatory. Meyhem's pick is the birthday cake cream cheese.
Much Respect to @Bambambaklava and @meyhemlauren passing thru Veggie Castle This Morning! #ActionBronson #Meyhemlauren #HipHop #VeggieCastle #Vegetarian #Vegan #Veggie #Healthy #Health #Fitness #LifeStyle #Calcium #Vitamins #Fresh #WheatGrass #Smoothie #Fruits #Greens #GreenJuice #JuiceBar #Facts #Nutrition #Culture #Ital #Queens #NewYork #Brooklyn #WestIndian #Caribbean #GoVegan
A video posted by Veggie Castle (@veggiecastle) on Nov 21, 2013 at 7:03am PST
To cleanse our palate and repent for all of the decadence we inflicted upon ourselves, we land at Veggie Castle in Richmond Hill for fresh juices and vegan dessert. "It's just an amazing place" says Meyhem of the joint, which is equal parts hot food take-away, juice bar, and bakery. "These guys taught me about the benefits of wheatgrass and I'm amazed by how they master their vegan chicken wings, [which] I'm still not convinced are not made of meat." Peeking in the kitchen, I find mountains of fresh chopped produce destined for the grill. I'm also delighted by a sweets case, full of dark chocolate cakes and coconut pudding squares that look too drool-worthy to be vegan. One of Meyhem's favorites is the Ital Jockey, a smoothie with bananas, oats, almond milk, and sea moss. "It's like dessert in a cup that's somehow good for you."
While we've barely scratched the surface of Queens' edible offerings, Meyhem is loyal to a select handful of spots, the majority being family-run.
The secret ingredient? "You gotta cook with love," he says.
Need more recommendations? Check out the MUNCHIES City Guide: NYC.