The amazing “big tray chicken” at Manhattan’s Spicy Village
It’s been over two years since Fork in the Road appraised the relative merits of the city’s Chinese restaurants – things have changed so much in the interim. Northern Chinese fare continues to rule Flushing, Elmhurst has increased the breadth of its offerings beyond Taiwanese, and Sunset Park remains a bastion of familiar Cantonese eats – improved these days with Hong Kong style. Meanwhile, Manhattan’s Chinatown absorbs all these influences, while remaining a hotbed of Fujianese, Shanghai, Cantonese, and now Northern Chinese fare. Other trends include the outmigration of great restaurants from Chinatowns, and the hipsterization of various regional cuisines.
Anyway, here are our favorite Chinese spots today. After you’ve fully digested the list, compare it with the 2010 ranking.
10. Spicy Village – Henan Feng Wei, offering the food of the Henan province northwest of Shanghai, is an excellent spot off the beaten track in Flushing. It spawned Manhattan’s He Nan Flavour a couple of years back, preserving the quintessence of the menu, with a few neighborhood-pleasing Cantonese and Fujianese dishes thrown in. Now, with a slightly expanded menu, the place has changed its name to Spicy Village, and remains every bit as good. Go for the “big tray chicken” (above) or brisket hui mei (wide handmade wheat noodles). 68 Forsyth Street, 212-625-8299
9. Lotus Blue – Don’t let the appearance of this place deter you: it partly functions as a cocktail lounge for well-off 20-somethings on the make. But dig deeper and find a unique Yunnan menu, with its mushroom-heavy promise, and influences ranging from Sichuan to Thai to the westward-leading Silk Road. Shown above: puer-tea flavor potted beef shank and quail eggs. 110 Reade Street, 212-267-3777
8. Royal Seafood – Already one of the best dim sum spots in town, this sprawling Cantonese restaurant has undergone multiple transformations in the last decade. As Royal Seafood, it earned the attention of Times critic Pete Wells partly through the excellence of its seafood, and deserves to be classified among the best Chinese restaurants in town. Nevertheless, near-perfect dim sum – get there any day before noon for the freshest – remains the bill of fare’s bedrock. 103 Mott Street, 212-219-2338
7. Land of Plenty – Sichuan restaurants started out in the 1970s on the Upper West Side, beyond the boundaries of area Chinatowns. Located on the Upper East Side, Land Of Plenty keeps up the tradition, with white-tablecloth service and sumptuous renditions of standards such as ma po tofu and dumplings in chile oil, while further applying Sichuan techniques to such upscale fixin’s as whole fish, lamb fillet, and monster prawn, with no stinting on the peppercorns. Shown above: smoked tofu and Asian celery salad. 204 East 58th Street, 212-308-8788
6. Taiwanese Specialties – Taiwanese restaurateurs used to control a vast number of Queens restaurants in Flushing and Elmhurst. Now their hegemony remains mainly on the outskirts of those communities. Long-running Taiwanese Specialities – once known as David’s Taiwanese Gourmet – is one of the best in the city, demonstrating the wealth of influences governing the island’s cooking. Feast on udon, bao sandwiches, cryptic “fly heads” (above), and, of course, stinky tofu. 84-02 Broadway, Elmhurst, Queens, 718-429-4818
5. East Harbor Seafood Palace – In a perpetual war for dim sum dominance with nearby New Spring Garden, a couple of blocks east, East Harbor moves slightly ahead in our preferences due to its mastery of non-dim sum mainstream Cantonese, with crowd-pleasers like fried grouper, e-fu noodles with wild mushrooms, a soupy take on winter melon with bamboo pith, crispy chicken with dry minced garlic (above), and clams with black bean sauce (below). And dining in such a mind-bogglingly big room is a pleasure in itself. 726 65th Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 718-765-0098
4. Mission Chinese – While this wildly popular spot on the Lower East Side makes no claim to authenticity, you can’t deny the excitement of the reinterpreted Chinese food being offered, mainly in a Sichuan vein. Dishes like ma po tofu (reinterpreted with house-fermented fava beans and pork shoulder), chonqing chicken (made using wings and swatches of cow tripe), and kung pao pastrami (above) will leave your mouth in a burning smile. 154 Orchard Street, 212-529-8800
3. Sheng Wang – Stalwart of the southernmost block of Eldridge Street, the site of many lower-end employment agencies, this is Chinatown’s quintessential working-class eatery. Choose the hand-pulled noodles or the peel noodles – both made in-house – and have them deposited in soups or (our fave) stir-fried with eggs and greens. The pork-stuffed steamed dumplings are some of the best in town. Shown above: house special hand-pulled noodle soup, topped as is the custom with a wad of pickled mustard greens. 27 Eldridge Street. 212-925-0805
2. Hunan Kitchen – For those unfamiliar with this cuisine, said to be inherently spicier than Sichuan, the menu of Hunan Kitchen will come as a revelation. There are many opportunities for the vegetarian, too, including a stif-fry of smoked bamboo every bit as good as barbecued meat, and steamed winter melon with crushed pickled peppers (above). The food, often associated with Chairman Mao, is a pleasing welter of salty, sour, and smoky flavors. 42-47 Main Street, Flushing, Queens, 718-389-8100
1. Yi Lan Halal — This gem on Flushing’s Main Street showcases the Muslim cuisine of Northern China, rich in lamb, seafood, vegetables, eggs, and wheat-based noodles, breads, and dumplings, a perfect reflection of Mandarin cuisine in general. Standout dishes include sea cucumber and eggs, beef tongue and tail in brown sauce, delicate lamb dumplings (above), shredded potatoes with green chiles, and lamb home-style (below), which comes in gravy covered with an omelet and is way delicious. 42-79A Main Street, Flushing, Queens, 718-886-3622
Confused about dim sum? Take our Visual Dim Sum Dictionary along with you on your smart phone!