The Spice is Right: Chinese Cuisine's Greatest Hits
If downtown Manhattan was a jukebox for Chinese cuisine, you’d find a whole lot of its greatest hits on the playlist. We’re talking iconic dishes from Chinese regional cuisines—Cantonese, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, Shanghainese, Shaanxi—plus Hong Kong and Taiwanese specialties and, of course, the very special subgenre of Americanized Chinese food (fortune cookie, anyone?).
Since it’s Year of the Pig, what better time to pig out on some of those culinary favorites? Here’s a list of 10 and where to find them!
For Hot Pot…
Barely a block from the Bowery’s New Museum, this hot pot restaurant is as Instagram-friendly, with animated projections around some tables, as it is elevated. Each guest receives an individual pot of bottomless broth—the eight options include Chinese herbal, spicy tomato, and pork bone—in which to dip an extensive selection of meats, seafood, paste balls, noodles, and organic vegetables.
Menu Musts: Organic fungi, including shitake and oyster mushrooms that are grown in-house.
207 Bowery, New York; T. (646) 767-0355
For Soup Dumplings…
Xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings, are immensely popular in their birthplace of Shanghai, where they tend to be large and flabby, and Taiwan, where they are more dainty in size and thinner-skinned. The Bao’s entail the latter, with options including pork, spicy pork, wasabi-spiked, and crabmeat filling.
Menu Musts: The unique dessert bao, with liquid chocolate and banana chunks.
13 St Marks Pl, New York; T. (212) 388-9238
For Spicy Sichuan…
A phenomenally successful Philadelphia import, Han Dynasty offers Sichuan (and other regional) cooking styles, varying in spiciness level from a mild one to blazing 10, customized with your choice of protein including vegetarian-friendly tofu. Don’t forget the Dan Dan Noodles!
Menu Musts: You can’t go wrong with the triple-flash-fried Dry Pepper style chicken (an intense 8 on the spice scale) and savory double-cooked pork belly (a friendlier 4) with tender leeks.
90 3rd Ave, New York; T. (212) 390-8685
For “Dry Pot”…
This sibling to Hot Pot dispenses with the broth, combining 8 or more ingredients bound by a flavorful, slightly saucy base in a big ol’ sharable bowl garnished with cilantro. You can choose the spice level, too, from “not spicy” to tongue-scorching.
Menu Musts: Clear, chewy, savory potato noodles; sliced eye of round; pork belly; sliced lamb; and, if you’re daring, the “Rooster XXX,” aka chicken testicles.
122 1st Avenue, New York; T. (212) 353-8880
For American Chinese…
Mainland Chinese group tours often fit a New York American-Chinese restaurant into their itineraries, since it’s a whole different thing than they have back home (think Italian tourists eating Chicago-style pizza for the first time). Having celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2018, Chinatown’s Wo Hop is an icon, and open until 4:30am daily.
Menu Musts: Lemon chicken, fried rice, hot and sour soup, and fried wontons washed down with a Tsing Tao beer, recommends GrandLife’s Corporate Executive Chef, Julie Farias.
17 Mott St, New York; T. (212) 962-8617
For Peking Duck…
Whether you call it Peking or Beijing Duck, Red Farm’s downstairs sibling serves an absolutely succulent, crisp-skinned rendition of this high-maintenance specialty, served during two prix fixe sittings per night, with homemade hoisin sauce. Reservations are highly recommended since only 24 ducks are available nightly.
Menu Musts: Be extra decadent with an order of truffle egg fried rice.
529-1/2 Hudson St, New York; T. (212) 691-9700
For Yunnan Rice Noodles…
Exceptionally herbal, fragrant, and sometimes spicy, Yunnan cuisine bears some semblance to its Thai counterpart. For example, cold-shredded “Ghost Chicken” with cilantro, lime, and minced garlic, and mint-topped pan-fried beef.
Menu Musts: Yunnan rice noodles are the thing right now, and SOTC’s Crossing Bridge soup set is a chicken-based rice noodle soup with add-your-own ingredients.
16 W 8th St, New York; T. (212) 888-9653
For Hand-Pulled Noodles…
Inconsistent density and shape can be a textural plus for Chinese noodles, which are served at this inexpensive hole in the wall in either knife-cut or hand-pulled styles. Also check out rapidly expanding NYC chain, Xi’an Famous Foods, for delectable Northwest China ribbon-like noodle and meat combinations.
Menu Musts: Stir-fried lamb with noodles, and boiled dumplings (8 for $4) with chili oil.
40 Bowery, New York; T. (646) 683-0939
For Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup…
Beef noodle soup is to Taiwan what pho is to Vietnam and chicken Matzo Ball soup is to Ashkenazi Jews. A serious comfort dish with deeply beefy, herbal, and spice-infused flavor, Beef Noodle Soup is the house specialty at this one-year-old spot, where Taiwanese-American chef Richard Ho uses shanks from grass-fed cows and a 24-hour shin bone and marrow-based broth.
Menu Must: While it’s all about the soup, Ho Foods is open weekend mornings for tasty Taiwanese-style breakfast items.
110 E 7th St, New York; T. (347) 788-0682
For Creative Upscale American Chinese…
We’re making one uptown exception! This enduring, almost 50-year-old NYC institution boasts a menu encompassing specialties from all over China and original American Chinese creations like chicken in a lettuce leaf, which P.F. Chang’s has since “borrowed” and popularized nationally.
Our Menu Musts: Crispy Grand Marnier Shrimp.
155 E 55th St, New York; T. (212) 371-8844
WORDS Lawrence Ferber
PHOTOGRAPHY Ben Hon courtesy of Zhen Wei Fang