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Restaurant That Ushered in a New Era of Chinese Food Gets a Second Chance

Fat Choy is opening as a sit-down spot in New Jersey

A mushroom sloppy joe and Topo Chico.
The mushroom sloppy joe at Fat Choy.
Louise Palmberg/Eater NY
Melissa McCart is the editor for Eater New York.

Fat Choy, a Lower East Side restaurant that closed last year despite positive reviews from the city’s food critics, is getting a second chance. Chef Justin Lee, the restaurant’s owner who most recently helped open Virginia’s in the East Village, is resurrecting the vegan Chinese-leaning restaurant in Englewood, New Jersey, at 52 East Palisades Avenue, at Grand Avenue. It’s part of a new restaurant team backed by a co-founder of Bluestone Lane.

The restaurant that Eater said ushered in a “new era” of Chinese vegan fare is on track to open around August as a full-service spot that “will feel a bit like a diner,” says Lee, a restaurant perched on the town’s walkable main drag. The original that Lee and his wife Katie owned without partners closed due to the pressures of COVID on small restaurants and the effects of rising costs on a spot that charged less than $10 per dish.

The chef says he’s tweaking the Fat Choy menu, which was known for its mushroom sloppy joes and and salt-and-pepper cauliflower, so it’s more accessible to a wider audience — although it will still be vegan. Look for a menu of sticky rice dumplings and Kung Pao hashbrowns, as well as sides like Sichuan curly fries. That cauliflower might become a General Tso’s dish and there will likely be a vegan version of matzo ball soup on the menu, too.

The reopening has come about serendipitously, Lee says — since he had “zero intention” of reopening the restaurant. The chef was planning on joining his wife in a teaching career through a fast-track teaching fellowship through the New York City department of education, but fate had other plans. “My work consulting with Virginia’s was a lot more involved than I thought it was going to be,” he says, and he didn’t complete the application on deadline. “We’re fortunate I made an egregious error,” he says.

It allowed Lee to be open to an opportunity from entrepreneur Jonathan Krieger, co-founder of the Australian coffee brand Bluestone Lane (now with over 50 locations) to reopen Fat Choy in New Jersey and to become a culinary director of a new restaurant group, he says. In addition to Bluestone Lane, Kreiger is founder of the Spring in Tenafly, New Jersey; and was the CEO of Taco Dumbo, with eight New York locations that shuttered during COVID.

Lee is now a partner in multiple concepts in New Jersey, including a new ice cream shop called Sugarfly that opened in a development in Tenafly last week called the Spring. “There are a lot of changes happening,” he says.