What’s in a Name? Deciphering Chinese Restaurants in New York City
Chinese restaurants are a fixture of the American foodscape. As such, many of us are familiar with the slightly tacky, unintentionally funny names they give themselves (Fu King Chinese Restaurant in SF, anyone?). Restaurant names also tend to cater to the clientele they hope to attract. And in New York, even within the confines of Manhattan, every neighborhood has its own personality and distinct demographics. It turns out, where you eat says a lot about who you are. Can you guess the neighborhoods these restaurants belong to?
China Fun‘s glossy website shows pictures of cheerful families enjoying the food and boasts a singing deliveryman who performs Bejing Opera nightly. The menu includes Filet Mignon Chinese Style along with sushi–which, in my opinion, is a dead giveaway that a restaurant is catering to people who don’t know the difference between Chinese and Japanese food.
Our Place sounds like a restaurant an 80-year-old couple frequents because it was the location of their first date. Though you’d never guess it from its exterior, Our Place is apparently a fairly legit Chinese restaurant and is even rated by Zagat. Yelpers gush about the food, “The dim sum was moooonnnneyyy.”
Do you dare to descend? Wo Hop Restaurant is for the hole-in-the-wall thrill-seekers. Surprisingly, this basement joint is also Zagat-rated, but let’s just say you are much more likely to encounter a 2 am brawl, plates flying everywhere, at Wo Hop than at Our Place. I speak from experience.
When Pigs Fly
The name Pig Heaven has always baffled me. But once you step inside its pink interior you realize this restaurant is not for pigs but for people who like to eat them. If you ask me, a more apt title would be Pig Hell–the place no pig ever wants to end up. Regulars say the spare ribs and cha siu are tops.
Golden Unicorn is not only an authentic dim sum palace complete with food-laden push-carts, but it also doubles as a banquet hall, popular for weddings and Chinese New Year celebrations. Don’t be shy when flagging down the aunties pushing the ha gau and siu mai.
Some Like It Hot
The first question you should ask yourself when considering Szechuan Chalet is, what kind of Chinese restaurant calls itself a chalet? One where the chefs wear toques and serve razor clams in pesto sauce plated in the form of a peacock. Right.
Szechuan Gourmet is guaranteed to hit the spot if you’re craving that numbing-spicy-tingly feeling that is the signature Sichuanese flavor. Because it’s one of the more authentic Sichuanese restaurants around town (on par with Cafe China and Land of Plenty), make sure to taste some of these classic dishes: dan dan mian (noodles), spicy cucumber salad, and the lamb with cumin.
You say Grand Sichuan. I say which one? At least in New York City, Grand Sichuans are a dime a dozen. Some would have you think they are part of a chain. The more likely answer is a few enterprising restrauteurs thought they’d try and capitalize on one of their peer’s success. My favorite location was the now-shuttered Grand Sichuan famous for its spicy hot pot. Many sniffles and tears (induced the by spicy broth) were shed there.
You can’t miss Big Wong‘s large yellow sign when walking down the street, and you’ll be glad you stopped in for some Chinese comfort food favorites like duck over rice and wonton noodle soup.
Wok ‘N’ Roll sounds exactly like what its name suggests: a takeout joint. If you want to do the New York Chinese takeout thing, give them a call. I hope you like orange chicken and broccoli beef with a side of MSG.
Fresh Out of the Oven
Mei Li Wah Bakery serves up dim sum and many other delectable buns, but its crowning glory is its cha siu bao baked to perfection–hands down the best bao this side of the Great Wall. And for just under a buck, too, you can’t beat it.
Chef and personality Eddie Huang is the man behind Baohaus, an eatery that offers a modern take on traditional Chinese baozi. The menu includes sweet and savory bao sandwiches: morsels of pork fat and veggies with a touch of Asian seasoning are gently tucked into fluffy white buns. Yum.