There's a wok master in residence at Zheng Yuan Bao Gourmet. Jim Leff describes beautifully stir-fried chow rice noodles, balanced and deeply satisfying, from this tiny Fujianese-run spot in Sunset Park's Chinatown. Another knockout dish pairs perfectly cooked squid with slightly charred "Chinese New Year" rice cakes.
It's possible the master is not always in. hoi lai's rice cakes weren't at all charred, and much of his squid was rubbery. He did, however, enjoy the delicious clear broth that came free on the side. That may point to yet-unrevealed deliciousness in the menu's deep lineup of soups, which seem to be popular orders. For now, though, Jim strongly recommends anything out of the wok. "Even if you only hit the right guy at the right time one time out of three," he promises, "it's worth it."
Your odds of hitting the right guy are way better at a nearby street cart that peddles steamed-to-order cheung fun, the Cantonese-style rolled rice noodles. This one-man mobile kitchen ladles loose, watery batter into a shallow tray, sprinkles on your filling of choice (options include beef, pork, barbecued pork, dried shrimp, and egg), then slides it into the steamer box. It cooks for only a minute or two, setting just enough that the cook can nudge it into a rough roll with a plastic scraper, then cut it up and flip it into a takeout box. So it comes out warm and meltingly tender, the farthest thing from the thickish, gluey cheung fun that circle many dim sum dining halls in carts. Here it's finished with squirts of sweet soy and, if you like, peanut or hot sauce. Get all three, Jim urges: "Just keep nodding 'yes.'"
He also voices a resounding "yes" for the marvelous pork bao and vegetable bao at Happy House a few blocks north. hoi lai is sold on the pork version, a steamed bun enclosing flavorful meat in flavorful sauce.
And if you're still hungry, Amy Mintzer would like to put in a word for Family Dumpling on Seventh Avenue, whose dumplings are not universally beloved around here. But its scallion pancake is stellar, she swears: tender, light, crisp yet chewy. "Takes this simple snack to a new level," Amy declares.
Zheng Yuan Bao Gourmet [Sunset Park]
805 57th Street (near Eighth Avenue), Brooklyn
Street vendor [Sunset Park]
Eighth Avenue and 61st Street, Brooklyn
No phone available
Happy House [Sunset Park]
5016 Eighth Avenue (between 50th and 51st streets), Brooklyn
Family Dumpling [Sunset Park]
5602 Seventh Avenue (at 56th Street), Brooklyn