There’s a Chinese restaurant on Eldridge Street that calls itself Best Fuzhou. A block west, there’s a Chinese restaurant on Forsyth Street that calls itself Best Fuzhou. Of these two brave contenders, only one could be right. Explorers of Chinatown’s Fujianese quarter say the better of the unaffiliated Best Fuzhous is the one at 71 Eldridge, which also goes by the Chinese name Song Bo Yuan.
While both places are unapologetically authentic, 71 Eldridge is the friendlier choice for non-Chinese, as most of its menu is translated into English. scoopG suggests starting with a wedge of fried taro cake or a plate of steamed buns—Fuzhou-style pork dumplings, eight for just $3.75. Among main dishes, he likes clams in black bean sauce, crunchy sautéed cauliflower, and stir-fried water spinach with garlic. Soups—a Fujian specialty—are numerous here and include a delicious seafood choice, Fuzhou za hui (translated, mysteriously, as “assorted placates soup”).
The menu also offers nine casseroles, most of which are translated, including fish head with bean curd and stewed lamb Chinese style. One that isn’t translated is a sumptuous $9 feast of pork intestine, blood cubes, and sour crunchy vegetables in a roiling red broth layered with flavors—chile, allspice, fermented black bean, and a touch of sweetness, among other things, Brian S reports. Popular in Taiwan as well as Fujian, it’s called wu geng chang wang (五更腸旺~), which scoopG translates as “fifth watch intestine brilliance”—a reference to the last night watch, the predawn hours when, presumably, the intestines are at their most brilliant.
Forsyth’s Best Fuzhou is a smaller place with no English menu, but at least one waitress speaks some English and can talk you through your order. A smart choice is li zhi rou (litchi pork), a Fuzhou take on sweet and sour pork. scoopG, who has tried several versions around Chinatown, pronounces this one the best—more sour than sweet, with the ideal amount of sauce and a shot of chile pepper, served piping hot with potato, green peppers, carrots, garlic, and scallions. (This dish is so named not because it contains litchi—it doesn’t—but because the pork is cut to resemble the fruit. Don’t expect that sort of finesse from this modest kitchen; the only place in the area where scoop has found it prepared in the traditional way is American East Fuzhou on East Broadway.)
In a neighborhood full of good cheap eats, the second Best Fuzhou serves some of the best and cheapest. The litchi pork, usually $7, came in a smaller lunchtime portion for just $4. Even cheaper is the Fuzhou standard yu ren: 10 huge pork-stuffed fish balls in broth with scallions for only $3. And cheaper yet: zhu bao (pork belly–filled mantou), three for a mere $1.50. However, this place loses points for unpredictability—items listed on the menu are often unavailable, and its live seafood tanks (unlike those at 71 Eldridge) have been empty when scoopG visited.
Just up the block is the similarly named, incongruously palatial Fu Zhou. It’s not what you might think. Despite its name and its Little Fuzhou address, this is an upscale Cantonese restaurant that also offers a smattering of Fujianese dishes—perhaps as a Cantonese spin on Fujian cuisine, scoopG ventures, or maybe a bid to capitalize on “‘Fuzhou Fever’ occurring east of Bowery.” Whatever the owners’ intentions, the chow delivers big time. Winning dishes include oxtail noodle soup; a rich and indulgent casserole of pork belly in brown sauce; a spicy/gingery claypot of big fresh shrimp with transparent noodles, chives, and celery; and a fancy production featuring pieces of fish, mixed with spice-infused ground pork and flavored with fermented black beans, sautéed with crunchy green beans and presented within a decorative border of cucumber rounds. Overall, Brian S writes, this is some of the best food in Chinatown, served in a “strange, always half-empty place.”
Most of the menu is in Chinese; the only dishes translated into English are predictable Americanized choices like General Tso’s chicken. Brian suggests talking things over with the servers, some of whom speak English; “you could go in and say, I want shrimp casserole, or pork, and work something out.”
Back in the older part of Chinatown, MizEats strongly recommends Golden Taste on Bowery, a newish Cantonese restaurant that isn’t trying to appear to be anything else. She trusted the owner’s recommendations and was rewarded with a procession of first-rate Hong Kong dishes.
They included whole boiled crab, served cold with sweet and sour sauce; eel in black bean sauce; the “house chicken,” steamed and served with tangy garlic-scallion dipping sauce; unusually good fried rice, laced with yellow and white strands of egg (the yolks and whites having been separated before cooking); and crisp fried prawns with walnuts, a mayonnaiselike sauce, and “fruit salad” of melon and pineapple (“enormously tasty!”). The highlight of the meal was a signature dish of three kinds of mushrooms cooked with bitter melon in a mild garlic sauce. “This place was a cut above the rest without a doubt!” MizEats declares.
Best Fuzhou, a.k.a. Song Bo Yuan [Chinatown]
71 Eldridge Street (between Hester and Grand streets), Manhattan
Best Fuzhou [Chinatown]
68 Forsyth Street (near Hester Street), Manhattan
Fu Zhou Restaurant [Chinatown]
84 Forsyth Street (between Grand and Hester streets), Manhattan
Golden Taste [Chinatown]
42 Bowery (between Canal and Bayard streets), Manhattan