The “boiled beef with hot-spicy sauce” is every bit as mouth searing as it looks, but there are plenty of blander options — such as “special spinach pancake” — on Lu Xiang Yuan’s menu.
Like an arcing missile, Chinese cuisine in New York moves so fast, you can barely keep track of it. Thus, our list of favorite Chinese restaurants is quite different from the one published 15 months ago, which also indicates how much our own tastes have changed under the influence of newly introduced regional cooking styles. Where once the city had mainly Cantonese places, now we have at least 15 regional cuisines, and we only expect that number to grow as new immigrants arrive.
Here, then, are Our 10 Best Chinese Restaurants.
Dim sum Sunday at Royal Seafood
10. Café Kashkar — Named after a town in Xinjiang that’s really just one gigantic medieval bazaar, Kashkar offers the Silk Road cuisine of far-western China, which means heavy on the Asian cumin, wheat-based breads resembling pitas, humongous lamb dumplings, and the rice dish called plov in Uzbekistan — here comically referred to as “fried rice.” 1141 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, 718-743-3832
9. Royal Seafood — The premises have changed hands several times over the past few years, but the dim sum remains just as good, maybe the best in the city. After brunch hours, the place reverts to its status as a southern Chinese seafood specialist, but it’s the perfect shrimp rice noodles, pork har gow, and homemade tofu with ginger syrup that we’ll return for again and again. 103-105 Mott Street, 212-219-2338
8. Xi’an Famous Foods — The lowly but impressive stall that started out in the basement of Golden Shopping Mall has now spread like a friendly virus to Manhattan, and the liang pi noodles, lamb noodles, and so-called lamb burger (cumin-braised meat in a homemade pita) are every bit as good as at the original establishment, which is why we’re listing all the addresses. 81 St. Marks; 88 East Broadway; Golden Mall, 41-28 Main Street, Bsmt #36, Flushing, Queens; Flushing Mall, 133-31 39th Avenue, #FC10, Flushing, Queens
7. Szechuan Gourmet — The second branch of an always-crowded West 39th Street lunch spot is even better than its sire, with a commodious second floor able to accommodate large parties. The restaurant offers a refined take on the world’s hottest cuisine, and, while the spice component has been toned down somewhat, the peppercorns are still there, along with standard Sichuan dishes pristine in their preparation. 244 West 56th Street, 212-265-2226
Dotted with cracked black peppercorns and pine nuts, mounted on a bed of rice noodles and fried spinach, Yee Kee’s Chow Zhou chicken represents the cooking of the city of Chaozhou, as interpreted by Hong Kong chefs.
The clam with fresh garlic at Best Fuzhou is just about the best seafood salad you’ve ever eaten
6. Yee Kee H.K. Style — the “H.K.” refers to Hong Kong, and this restaurant is one of several establishments offering the cuisine of that international city, which have migrated out to various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. The emphasis is on seafood, but English, Japanese, and regional Chinese influences are also at the forefront. 1232 Avenue U, Homecrest, Brooklyn, 718-336-2338
5. Best Fuzhou — King of the Fujianese places, Best Fuzhou fiddles with a diverse range of seafood, prettily arranging it with the care that a florist arranges flowers. Witness “clam with fresh garlic,” an almost Sicilian salad mixing scallions, onions, and enough raw garlic to blow the top of your head off, tendered in a trio of large clam shells, or the relentlessly red Fujianese signature, “pork with lichee.” 71A Eldridge Street, 212-219-3328
4. Henan Cuisine — Latest cuisine to pop up in Flushing is Henan, a tiny but populous province on the Yellow River, said to be the site of China’s earliest civilization. While the food includes commonplaces of northern cuisine featuring lamb, cumin, chile oil, and even the occasional dash of Sichuan peppercorns, chicken is a major focus, in salads and in stew pots. The walk-down space is so casual and friendly, you should have no trepidations about diving down the stairs. 136-31 41st Avenue, Flushing, Queens, 718-762-1818
3. Sheng Wang — The mainstay of the Eldridge Street pulled-noodle scene has undergone a complete renovation, so that now you could take your grandmother there. Over-rice dishes are now in evidence, but stick with the house special pulled noodles (including all sorts of offal) or the much milder stir-fried peel noodles. If you’ve never tasted noodles made just minutes before, this place is a revelation. And dirt-cheap, too. 27 Eldridge Street, 212-925-0805
2. Lu Xiang Yuan — Flushing’s second restaurant from Qingdao features the mind-bogglingly strange and wonderful cuisine of that city, including bubbling chafing dishes of lamb in red oil flavored with cumin, fried pork dumplings shaped like crepes, soups favoring such unexpected ingredients as pumpkin and milk, and tangy composed salads of seafood and vegetables. 42-87 Main Street, Flushing, Queens, 718-359-2108
The spacious new dining room at Sheng Wang
Next: Ta-Dah! Number one
Hong Kong style lo mein separates the broth and the noodles — here seen squirted with the metropolis’ thick soy sauce at A-Wah.
1. A-Wah — This humble little café just off Confucius Square specializes in the commonplace food of Hong Kong, including scrumptious bo zai fan (designated “World Famous Rice in Casserole” on the menu), rice in a stone crock topped with an assortment of fishy, meaty, and mushroomy ingredients, then steamed to allow the flavors to penetrate every grain. Japanese influences also abound at A-Wah. 5 Catherine Street, 212-925-8308
My dining crew one evening at A-Wah