On a recent Sunday afternoon beneath the No. 7 train tracks in Woodside, Queens, a thin, pale man with a goatee approached the 30-odd people waiting to enter the shiny new restaurant with the friendly apian mascot, and asked what was going on. A jumble of excited responses followed, which he summarized thusly: “So it’s a Filipino thing?”
Yes, Jollibee is a Filipino thing, a fast-food chain from the sprawling archipelago, with 600-plus outlets there, across Asia and on our own West Coast.
The Woodside branch is New York’s first, and since its mid-February opening, expatriates have lined up for a taste of home, on weekends waiting as much as an hour just to get in the door.
Jollibee is known as the McDonald’s of the Philippines, and its menu will be familiar to anyone who’s passed under the golden arches.
Chickenjoy, Jollibee’s specialty (one piece, $2.99; three pieces, $6.89; 18 pieces, $38.99), is straightforward fried chicken, with moist meat, a crispy but not too thick batter and, when ordered spicy, a dusting of potent chili powder. It’s a bit salty, but as one diner explained, that’s why Filipinos enjoy Chickenjoy.
After a passel of forgettable burgers ($1.39 to $6.29) and fresh, honest sides (buttered corn, mashed potatoes — regular $1.99, large $3.59), the menu heads for odder territory.
Spaghetti ($4.49) is topped with a sweet, hot-dog-and-ham-studded tomato sauce, and is frighteningly addictive. Palabok Fiesta ($5.79) is the only recognizably Asian dish: rice noodles in a gummy-but-yummy sauce of fish flakes, pork, shrimp, egg and crumbled chicharrón.
Jollibee’s signature deep-fried peach-mango pie ($2.29) is crusty and intensely fruity, at once a Filipino thing, a Georgia thing and something else entirely. It’s worth the wait.