New Yorkers are snobby about a lot of things—what they wear, what they read, what they listen to, and most importantly what they eat and drink. Please see the coffee snob, the pizza snob, the cocktail snob, the sushi snob. And here now, for the people who don't know what the hell they're talking about, some primers. Welcome to A Snob's Guide.
There are a lot of Chinese restaurants in New York — you could spend years just trying to sample the good ones. But, if you don't want to look like a dope around your food nerd friends, there are a few basic restaurants, dishes, chefs, and restaurateurs that you need to know about. Here now, a Snob's Guide to New York Chinese food, in glossary form.
A-Wah: A popular Hong Kong-style restaurant near Confucius Square specializing in bo zai fan, or "clay pot rice." Get the sausage and minced pork over rice.
Big Wong King: Solid roasted meats on Mott Street. A great choice for lunch if you have jury duty nearby.
Cantonese: One of the eight culinary traditions of China. Cantonese cuisine consists of fresh seafood, soups, and all kinds of meat with the exception of lamb and goat. Staple ingredients include oyster sauce and sweet potatoes; representative dishes include sweet and sour pork.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory: Bayard Street ice cream parlor known for its taro, lychee, egg custard, almond cookie, red bean, and zen butter flavored ice creams.
Chin Chin: Jimmy Chin's elegant Midtown restaurant known for its doting service, Grand Marnier shrimp, and chocolate cake for dessert.
Ed Schoenfeld: The great curator of New York Chinese food. "Eddie Glasses" has worked in several of the most essential Chinese restaurants of the last 40 years, including Uncle Tais Hunan Yuan, Auntie Yuan, Shun Lee, Chinatown Brasserie, and most recently, Red Farm.
Grand Sichuan: Dependable mini-chain of Sichuan restaurants, with six affiliated locations throughout Manhattan, Queens, and Jersey City. You can't go wrong with the dan-dan noodles and tea smoked duck.
Great N.Y. Noodletown: The best late night eats in Manhattan's Chinatown. This Cantonese restaurant attracts chefs, cops, partygoers — pretty much everybody. Get any of the pan fried noodles or order one of the salt baked seafood dishes.
Golden Shopping Mall: A Flushing mall with a basement that is home to several solid Chinese restaurant stalls, including the first location of Xi'an Famous Foods. You can find English menus at most of the counters.
Golden Unicorn: New York's favorite spot for off-the-cart dim sum. Mayor Mike is a big fan.
Iconic New York Chinese Dishes:
Vanessa's sesame pancake with beef (Poo Loves Boo)
Shorty Tang's cold sesame noodles (guzzleguzzle)
- Joe's Shanghai soup dumplings (Gastrolust)
Lam Zhou hand-pulled noodles (Teresa Wu)
- Grand Marnier shrimp from Chin Chin (Chin Chin)
- Peking Duck House Peking duck (Bridge and Tunnel Club)
- Wo Hop beef chow mein (Cheap Ass Food)
- Prosperity Dumplings (The Eaten Path)
Liang Pi cold skin noodles from Xi'an Famous Foods (Me So Hungry)
Henanese: A regional cuisine, similar to Sichuan-style, that is relatively new to NYC. The hot dish of the moment is da pan ji or "big tray of chicken," submerged in a spicy pepper sauce, frequently served over potatoes. Get this at Henan Feng Wei and Uncle Zhou in Flushing, or Henan Flavor in Manhattan's Chinatown.
Hop-Kee Restaurant: This Chinatown gem serves authentic Cantonese cuisine, including pan fried flounder and spicy beef chow fun, in a family-style setting. Anthony Bourdain famously featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.
Hunan: One of the eight culinary traditions of China. Although it is spicy like Sichuan cuisine, Hunan food is much oilier and makes particular use of smoking and curing processes. Trademark dishes include crispy duck and spicy frog's legs.
Joe Ng: Often referred to as one of the best (if not the best) dim sum chefs in NYC, Ng's creations are currently served at Chinatown Brasserie and his hot new restaurant Red Farm. Joe was first discovered by Ed Schoenfeld when he was working at World Tong in Bensonhurst.
Joe's Shanghai: Serves the most famous soup dumplings in New York. A good place to bring out-of-towners, but head to the Downtown or Flushing locations as opposed to the one in Midtown.
Legend: A somewhat generic looking Chelsea Pan-Asian restaurant with a big secret: Sichuan master chef Ding Gen Wang. On weekend nights, he serves a special menu downstairs, which draws a huge crowd of Chinese-American food obsessives and Chinese tourists.
New World Mall: Opened earlier this year, this Flushing shopping center has a huge basement level food court serving all manner of cheap Chinese delicacies. A few floors up is the Grand, an elegant sit-down establishment that seats over a thousand guests.
Nice Green Bo Restaurant: A spectacular Chinatown "hole in the wall" praised for its scallion pancakes and crispy eel.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor: One of the oldest restaurant in Chinatown, the recently revamped Nom Wah — which had offered a limited menu featuring such traditional items as lo mein and taro root dumplings — is now praised for its oversized pork buns and scallion pancakes.
Oriental Garden: An excellent restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown that is particularly popular with chefs. The seafood specialties are the real star items here, but the dim sum is surprisingly good, too.
Pacificana: The Cantonese gem of Brooklyn. Very good dim sum, excellent fish dishes. If it's in season and you have a big appetite, get the king crab.
Peking Duck House: This upscale Chinese restaurant (with locations in Midtown and Chinatown) uses a sophisticated process to tenderize its duck, served with the customer's choice of “house-made pancakes, green scallions, or fresh cucumbers.” Some have criticized Peking for catering to American and tourist taste buds; others just care more about its delicious duck.
Signage from Old-School Chinese Restaurants:
Sichuan: One of the eight culinary traditions of China. Sichuan cuisine is spicy and bold; common ingredients include peanuts, sesame paste, peppercorn, garlic and ginger.
Shun Lee: Some call the restaurant that “brought upscale Chinese dining to New York” an overpriced and underwhelming establishment; others deem it a verifiable haven for the best Chinese food in the city.
Szechuan Gourmet: A garment district gem that offers a mix of standard (sesame chicken, spicy noodles, pan seared pot stickers) and creative (julienne jelly fish with spicy chilli vinaigrette) Sichuan cuisine. Always packed to the brim.
Uncle Zhou: This well-received new Henanese restaurant in Elmhurst has received some notoriety recently for its knife-shave noodles. Also, the "big tray of chicken" in a fiery chili and garlic sauce, with potatoes.
Vanessa's Dumplings: Eldridge Street's four-for-a-dollar dumpling destination, coming soon to Williamsburg.
Wa Jeal: Arguably one of the best new Chinese restaurant in the city, Wa Jeal dishes out super-fresh but reasonably-priced Sichuan cuisine of all flavors.
Xi’An Famous Foods: A growing chain of small, family-run restaurants. Make sure to order the “lamb burger” and chewy, tasty noodles.
— Matt Bock and Greg Morabito