This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.[Krieger, 2/11/10]
Suzie's Chinese Restaurant. The name is so plain, so charmingly unassuming that it actually stands out on Bleecker Street because of its mundanity. Bars are still named in that this-is-my-joint way, and pizza places. But restaurants? I doubt Batali ever thought of calling any of his places Mario's Italian Restaurant.
Actually, the business' full name seems to be Suzie's Finest Chinese Cuisine. It's not, but it's good enough Americanized Chinese and cheap enough and served fast enough to keep this place—one of the only notable, sit-down Chinese eateries left in the Village—rooted in the same spot for 37 years. "We're very popular," whispered the cashier, cupping her hand over her mouth when she said "popular," so as to ward off the evil eye. Popular with whom? Locals? "Here, there," she said, gesturing in all directions. "Everywhere." (Also, I'm thinking, tons and tons of sometimes-drunken NYU students. It's open until 2 AM on weekends.) She then added another important attraction. "Clean!" The place was spotless, I had to admit. "It's important!" she said.
And meticulously maintained. My waiter removed each plate as soon as I put down my fork, and, when I moved the plastic stand advertising the specials, he quietly returned it to its original location a minute later. My water glass never got below the halfway mark. The unsentimental decor is standard Chinatown tacky: slick, soulless black tables and chairs, brass railings, Chinese lanterns, glass wall etching of goldfish. You'd think for a place that's nearly four decades old, there'd be some signs of age. And there is! One. But you have to look hard for it. Up, high up, past the criss-crossing beams, painted pitch black, is the space's original tin ceiling.
Ninety percent of the sit-down customers the night I went were of Asian descent, and spoke in Chinese. One man was treating his elderly mother. The men tended to keep their winter coats and wool caps on; Suzie's has that kind of port-in-a-storm feel, even without the remnants of a blizzard outside. A couple of young, glamorous shopsters toting boutique bags chattered about the last two times they came to Suzie's—a touching devotion that tempered their otherwise vacuous, twittering auras. No one ordered the Blue Hawaiians and Zombies on the extensive retro cocktail list, as far as I could see.
The take-out customers, meanwhile, looked to my eyes to be sweetly grouchy Village veterans, aged and set in their way, but friendly enough. And of course there was a steady march of young delivery men entering and exiting, heads bowed from the cold. The hostess watched the front door like a mother at Christmas waiting for her children's arrival.
Suzie, by the way, is Suzie Ying, a woman with a large, black, bouffant hair style whose pictures—with Jackie Mason, Jackie Chan, Cindy Adams, George Pataki, David Dinkins—cover the front wall. She's retired. Her daughter, Julie Lau, now runs the restaurant. The Daily News seems to have reviewed this place a million times. It's a Daily News kind of place. That's not a bad thing.
—Brooks of Sheffield