New York is just getting all of the polished fruits of Los Angeles street experiments now.
Last week, we feasted on Dave's Hot Chicken, a California chain that started in an LA parking lot and opened its first East Coast outpost last summer near Columbus Circle. And this week, we got on the 7 train to Woodside for what turned out to be a gluttonous array of grilled meats and other delights at the wildly popular LA Filipino skewer spot Dollar Hits, which Elvira Chan initially brought to life as a food stand in LA in 2013. In New York City, Dollar Hits now commands a corner storefront in Queens.
At the restaurant's New York location, you definitely need to be comfortable with a bit of chaos to enjoy your meal. After some retooling since opening day, Dollar Hits now works like this: The skewers start coming out at around 3:30 in the afternoon and are greeted by a crowd hovering in some semblance of a line waiting for the signal to start self-serving, and then a kind of free-for-all begins, all while food is still being brought up from the back.
Some of the items on theskewers are self-evident, others less so (Are those...chicken heads? Hell yeah!), but who cares! Everything is only $1.50 each—up from the eponymous "dollar" of a decade ago, but still cheap as hell—so just grab whatever strikes your fancy. Our favorites included the beef intestine, the cubes of pork blood, the chicken skin, the fat sweet sausage, and the battered quail eggs. The skinny fried lumpia sticks are also really good—get at least one of those.
Oh wait, do you want some of the lechon on the trays in the back? Yes, you do, because it's delicious, with crackling pig skin and squishy, fatty meat, but you'll have to figure out how to get one of the extremely busy workers to stop for a second and hack up a paper boat's worth for you. And that huge tray of skinny stir-fried noodles back there, is that pancit, aka Filipino chow mein? Yes it is! You definitely want someone to fill up a pint container of that.
Once you've assembled your too-large meal, bring it around to the cluttered counter by the register where someone, maybe even Chan herself until she heads back home to LA, will total it up for you. The skewers are then whisked off to the kitchen for grilling (outdoor self-grilling stations are no longer an option, thanks to the FDNY), so find a table, ladle yourself cups of vinegary sawsawan sauce, and listen for your number.
The sidewalk seating situation is utilitarian but fine, and what the indoor dining room lacks in decor—the look here is pretty much "surplus restaurant furniture in a stock room"—it makes up for in customer enthusiasm. Chan told Hell Gate that the scene really gets lit when the sun goes down. "I am so happy to serve New Yorkers," she said. "Especially at night time. They are singing, they are dancing, oh my god, everybody having fun."
During the day, Dollar Hits functions as a canteen, with a turo turo—"point point" in Tagalog—steam table, shelves of Filipino snacks and chips, and pre-packaged treats like a bright green, jello-y buko pandan.
Woodside's Filipino community has come out in force for Dollar Hits, Chan's third restaurant overall and first in NYC. "Thank you to all New Yorkers for giving me a warm welcome," she said.
Hell Gate total for two (though we could have fed three), including tax but not including tip or beverages: $38.48
Dollar Hits is located at 39-04 64th Street, at the corner of 39th Avenue, and is currently open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for breakfast and the canteen, and from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. for skewers. It's closed on Mondays.