One of the city’s most exciting Henan restaurants is back, in a much larger space. Taste of Northern China, which hunkered for nearly five years in a tiny storefront beneath the Manhattan Bridge but closed years ago, has thankfully reappeared on East Broadway, serving a much longer menu of freshly made Chinese noodles, charcoal-cooked kebabs, and more.
The restaurant originated in a storefront so small, a few stools was the extent of its seating. Despite its size, it gained attention for a variety of noodle soups, as well as kebabs cooked in the Xinjiang style. But it closed, and the same space is now home to Hak Box, another tiny yet magical restaurant.
When a friend sent me a message that he’d spotted a new location of Taste of Northern China, I soon swooped down. Compared to the old spot, this place is huge, with 40 or so seats, and extensive decoration on the walls, mainly posters showing styles of Chinese cooking, but also including fanciful murals made of jagged plastic. The owner is Hui Jun Wang, same as at the old place. She’s from Henan, which at least partly explains the focus of the menu.
On a menu that runs to around 100 selections, including a new section of dry hot pots, the two sections that form the heart of the menu are “Main Dish” and “China Local Famous Food.” The second section includes the type of Chinese lamb and beef burgers on small, flat, round rolls first popularized in New York by Xi’an Famous Foods in its original Golden Shopping Mall location in a Flushing basement, while the first is a series of regional noodle soups made with so-called hand torn noodles: broad noodles ragged at the edges, shaped something like pappardelle.
I went with the Henan lamb noodle soup ($7.50). Starting with a splendid broth of medium weight, with droplets of oil glinting on its surface, it added a quantity of hand-torn noodles, along with fatty lamb that had been cut into perfect cubes. Other inclusions ran to floppy cloud ears, wiggly lily buds, rubbery kelp, and chopped cilantro, including the flavorful stems. Wang, who makes a point of checking on her customers in the course of a meal, brought over a container of chile paste and obligingly spooned it into my bowl as I began eating.
The soup was ethereal, showing how much care had gone into its preparation. As a coda after the soup, I selected five charcoal kebabs, from a list of dozens divided into three sections: meat, seafood, and vegetable. At your discretion, a handful of powdered cumin and red pepper will be tossed over them after cooking, and I urge you to accept this option. Most kebabs are $1.50 each.
The hot dog was crosshatched and particularly filling; the tendon a little chewier than I would have liked; the gluten bouncy but just OK; the lamb splendid and flavorful; the broccoli better than it sounds.
Really, you can’t beat the kebabs for snacking, but you’d be hard pressed to make an entire meal of them. With dozens of soups to try, I vowed to return again with a group. I strolled out into a stiff winter breeze, glad that this dining resource had re-presented itself. 26 E. Broadway, between Catherine and Market streets, Chinatown