I am nearing the end of a year's employment near Manhattan's Chinatown, and wanted to post about my experiences in searching for good food. As background, my job is located a little southwest of Chinatown, so my eating primarily focuses on places closer to me rather than further away. I also try to eat cheap and fast lunches, but occasionally splurge. Anyway, I would love any tips people have about what I shouldn't miss before I leave (in about six weeks).
Great NY Noodletown - 28 1/2 Bowery (Bayard & Pell)
My Chinatown standby, where I ate dozens of times. I almost always ate the roast pork wonton noodle soup, which for $3.75 or something is one of the best bargains in the city: The savory broth, perfect shrimp dumplings, and sweetness of the pork make for a truly fantastic soup. When I was feeling a need for meat, I would get the roast baby pig, which just melts in your mouth. (Occasionally I would talk them into putting two and two together, and having the amazing roast baby pig wonton noodle soup; not on the menu but highly recommended.) I also enjoyed the salt and pepper squid, the soy sauce chicken, which is a very plainly flavored roast chicken that is nicely juicy, the BBQ squid, and the sampan congee (congee with seafood, peanuts, and scallions). However, their vegetables are pretty run of the mill, and their ma po tofu was bad. I also dislike the tea that they serve, which is too dark and kind of bitter. I have heard gripes about the service, but I think it's about average for a cheap chinatown place. The waiters are reasonably attentive and not rude; if you want better service, go to a tablecloth restaurant (where you will likely get worse food). Anyway, armed with some knowledge of what to order, this is hands down my favorite Cantonese place in NYC.
Big Wong - 67 Mott St. (Bayard & Canal)
Another Cantonese place with a very similar menu to NY Noodletown's. However, I thought the food here was not as good, and in particular I thought the roast pork wonton noodle soup was not as good: the broth was less flavorful, the pork less juicy and sweet, and the dumplings just less yummy. I also don't like the weird fast-foodish decor, and the greasy red-tile floor.
Big Wing Wong - 102 Mott St. (Canal & Hester)
Like Big Wong, I thought that Big Wing Wong's soup was not as good as that at NY Noodletown. That being said, I thought Big Wing Wong had excellent congee; less watery than Noodletown's, and really surprisingly flavorful for what is ordinarily one of the world's blandest foods.
Dim Sum Go Go (5 East Broadway @ Chatham Sq.)
By a mile, my favorite dim sum in Manhattan (yes yes, I know the best dim sum is in Flushing, but that's a hike). Unlike HSF, Golden Unicorn, and a few other places I have been but whose names I cannot remember, Dim Sum Go Go does not use carts. Instead, they make the food fresh after you order it. The result is fresher, more flavorful, and less greasy food. The regular assortment of dumplings are solid (shumai, shrimp dumplings, etc.), and they also have a vegetable one (I think the jade dumpling but maybe the pea shoot dumpling) that is surprisingly flavorful. All of the other dim sum standbys are good. The real crowd pleaser, though, is the pumpkin cakes. These are packed with deliciousness and I honestly cannot imagine anyone disliking them.
HSF - 46 Bowery (Bayard & Canal)
Greasy, lukewarm dim sum that has been sitting in carts for hours.
Golden Unicorn - 18 East Broadway (Catherine & Market)
Greasy, lukewarm dim sum that has been sitting in carts for hours.
New Green Bo - 66 Bayard (Mott & Elizabeth)
I'm not sure what to make of this place and the strong opinions it generates on this board. As everyone has said, the soup dumplings are excellent, much larger, more soupy, and more flavorful than the dumplings at Joe's Shanghai or at Grand Sichuan. But, other than the dumplings, I've had nothing memorable. Any tips would be appreciated. I should also mention that it was reasonably clean, so maybe the health code violations have hit home and now they are doing a better job on this front.
Joe's Shanghai - 9 Pell St. (Mott & Bowery)
As everybody knows, the soup dumplings are good but everything else is bad.
Grand Sichuan - 125 Canal St. (@ Chrystie)
Terribly disappointing. Such a far cry from the apparently unrelated uptown mini-chain of the same name. I was really hoping that this would pack the same explosion of flavor found at the 9th Avenue and Lexington Ave. branches (much less the food in Chengdu or Chongqing, which is far spicier and numbing than the food at Grand Sichuan uptown). Not a chance. I'm not sure I saw a single sichuan peppercorn and I sure didn't taste it. The ma po tofu was dull, the cold chicken with red oil was boring, and the kung bao chicken was Americanized and greasy. Lame.
Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (138 Mott St. b/w Hester and Grand)
Now that is one tasty sandwich. I dig on the crunch of the french bread contrasting with the savory-sweet of the roast pork and the seafood sausage, and again contrasting with the pickled cucumbers and cilantro. Since having their banh mi, I have not been back to a western deli. My only criticism is that, even though the ingredients are identical, it seems that sometimes the sandwich is more flavorful than others (perhaps they just add more ingredients). Still, it is always delicious (and cheap) and if my office were closer I would eat there twice a week.
Fuleen Seafood - 11 Division St. (Bowery & Market)
One of the many dingy but popular Fujianese seafood places on Division. I thought this was overrated and overpriced. Their king crab, which is apparently something of their speciality, was something like $40 and just not all that good. Although I have not spent much time eating Fujianese, you can find far more flavorful crab dishes at virtually any Chinese restaurant in Malaysia. Their blue crab was kind of gross; slimy and grey, making the dish appear like you were eating crabs off the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps someone can convince me otherwise, but for now I have no interest in returning.
Kam Chueh - 40 Bowery (Bayard & Canal)
Like Fuleen Seafood, Kam Chueh is far from cheap and not the kind of place to go for an ordinary lunch. I did, however, have an excellent steamed whole fish with ginger and garlic (for something like $20-25). This tasted almost exactly like the fish I have eaten in southern china, and thus I was quite impressed. Strangely, considering the quality of the fish, the place was almost entirely vacant at lunch (perhaps the dinner crowd is larger). Kam Chueh is also clean and pleasantly lit, so it is the kind of place you could bring non-chowhounders.
Peking Duck House - 28 Mott St. (Chatam Sq. & Pell St.)
Another of the more expensive tablecloth places, except specializing in duck rather than seafood. I would highly recommend this for dinner with non-chowhounders, as the atmosphere is nice and the food is consistently good, non-greasy, and non-spicy. I would also recommend this to chowhounders for their Peking Duck, which I thought was really good, with the proper crispy skin and juicy meat, and properly presented with the scallions and hoisin sauce. Probably the best Peking Duck I've had outside Peking. Other than the duck, nothing is fantastic, but also nothing is bad.
Pho Tu Do - 119 Bowery (Hester & Grand)
The best pho I have had in NYC. The pho dac biet (special pho with everything) is fantastic. The broth is far more lively and flavorful than at the other places I've been; beefy, peppery, and just a little sweet, the deliciousness really jumps off the tongue. The meats are also excellent, especially the thin-sliced raw beef. Good stuff.
Nha Trang - 148 Centre St. (Walker & Canal) and 87 Baxter St. (White & Walker)
Decent pho joints that, to me, define the norm for NYC pho. Not the best, and certainly not the worst, just totally normal and consistent. If anyone can tell the difference between the two branches they are a better man than I.
Pho Viet Huong (Nha Hang) - 73 Mulberry St. (Bayard & Canal)
Another Vietnamese place. The pho is not as good as at Nha Trang, and thus is a far cry from Pho Tu Do. But I did enjoy their Vietnamese chicken salad, a light chicken dish with cilantro, lime, and fish sauce, and the chao tom is also pretty good. For me, the one real winner here is the bo la nho, a stuffed grape leaf appetizer much like a greek or Turkish dolma, except that it is stuffed with sweet BBQ beef and then fried. Wow.
Tasty Dumpling - 54 Mulberry St. (Worth & Bayard)
Dumpling House - 118 Eldridge St. (Broome & Grand)
Very tasty. These two "restaurants" are almost identical, with similar (excellent) fried dumplings and a similarly limited menu. Aside form the fried pork & chive dumplings, I really enjoy the sesame pancake with beef, which is a thick sesame pancake cut open like a sandwich and filled with beef and pickled vegetables, not entirely unlike banh mi. Even if the food is virtually identical, I definitely prefer Dumpling House, which is laid out so that you can see them cooking the dumplings and cooking the amazing sesame pancake. I highly recommend watching them make the dumplings, then buying a pack of 50 frozen ones and cooking them at home by mimicking their technique (FYI, in a cast-iron pan, add maybe a 1/4 inch of oil and heat until quite hot but not smoking; then add as many dumplings as you are going to cook. Shortly thereafter, fill the pan most of the way with water, and then crank the stove to boil it off ASAP. All in all, it takes about 7 minutes to do this hybrid of frying and steaming).
Pongsri - 106 Bayard (@ Baxter)
Although Pongsri is a real favorite of the courthouse scene, I think it is utterly mediocre, remarkable only if you think Lemongrass is good. I have eaten there numerous times and never had anything that I thought was special or in any way different. That being said, I don't know any other Thai places in the neighborhood, and sometimes Thai is what you feel like eating. But if you want delicious, authentic Thai food, get thee to Sripraphai.
Finally, I can't forget:
Fiorlini's - 93 Baxter
Disgusting Italian food. Looks like you are taking a step back in time and tastes like you are taking a step back in quality. Also takes the dubious distinction of serving the worst cannoli I've ever had.
Anyway, I guess this got kind of long, but I hope to hear any thoughts or suggestions anybody has about places that I've missed or dishes I should try.