Food

5 dishes that defined New York’s Chinese food scene in 2018

Dec 28, 2018

Neighborhoods like Chinatown, Manhattan, and Flushing, Queens, have long been New York’s destinations for hearty dumplings and noodles.

But 2018 showed that this city’s appetite for exciting Chinese food is not limited to the traditional boundaries of immigrant enclaves.

A new generation of savvy restaurateurs from the Chinese diaspora is finding success in further-flung areas—like the stylish East Village and bustling Midtown, where the lunch crowd has developed a discerning palate for Chinese cuisine in all its diversity. Gone are the days when Chinese food just meant Cantonese fare.

Here are five signature dishes that reflect the traditional roots, fresh ideas, and distinct personalities of their makers.


Grandma Chicken Mixian at Little Tong

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Mixian 米线, or rice noodles, are the foundation of the menu at Little Tong, the sleek, affordable Yunnanese eatery led by Simone Tong.

“I’m a chef trying to do modern Chinese food,” the Chengdu native says. “I don’t claim authenticity; I claim deliciousness.”

Like her mentor, molecular chef Wylie Dufresne, Tong is able to blend myriad techniques into cohesive dishes, and her Grandma Chicken Mixian is a case in point.

On top of the noodles are an elegant, refined chicken broth; a melt-in-your-mouth confited chicken thigh; house-fermented seasonal vegetables; an oozing, golden tea egg; fermented chili paste; and roasted garlic.

An inky slick of black sesame oil, amped up by charcoal, and edible flowers round out the dish.

“This is a bowl showcasing our flavors, ingredients, story, history, and creativity,” Tong says.

The dish is served at her original East Village location and Midtown outpost that opened in 2018.

Braised Beef Noodle Soup at Ho Foods

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When Ho Foods opened in January, its one-entree menu made the focus crystal-clear: Taiwanese beef noodle soup, amplified through refined technique and meticulously sourced ingredients.

“I always wanted this food to be something that my mom and her friends would honestly like,” owner Richard Ho says, explaining his nostalgia for the noodle soup that he grew up eating in SoCal.

Ho Foods has built its reputation on consistently perfect bowls of soup. A light broth that seems to extract every bit of flavor from heritage beef and aromatics is topped with the diner’s choice of sublime noodles. The options: flat or ropy, the preferences of Ho’s mom and dad.

“We keep it personal,” Ho says. “It’s old-school taste, with new-school service and hospitality.”

His tiny, 10-seat shop in East Village often attracts lines around the block.

Bone-in Pork Chop Fried Rice at Fan Fried Rice Bar

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“This is a community restaurant,” says Paul Chen, chef and owner of Fan Fried Rice Bar, a takeout joint-size space in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn.

This rapidly gentrifying and historically black neighborhood was never a destination for Taiwanese food, but Chen is changing that with dishes like his succulent, bone-in pork chop fried rice that draws everyone from longtime residents and cops on break to new Brooklynites and Asian tourists.

Chen achieves the sublime texture of his fluffy, wok-fried rice—with just a hint of bite—by blending three different varieties of the grain.

He then tops it with a delicately crisp and tender pork chop, marinated for 48 hours in a mixture of soy sauce, white pepper, and salt. Fresh arugula is used in lieu of traditional suancai 酸菜 (pickled greens).

“We keep the flavor, the roots,” he says, “but texture-wise, color-wise, the arugula really works.”

That open-minded playfulness extends across Fan Fried Rice Bar’s entire menu, where Chen weaves in New York flavors like pastrami into other creative, addictive fried rice varieties.

Hometown Lu Fen at Hunan Slurp

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“Cooking, for me, is like an extension of art,” says Chao Wang, owner of Hunan Slurp.

An oil painter for 25 years, he opened this East Village restaurant earlier this year as a tribute to his home province and his grandmother’s cooking.

“My artistic skills have given me the ability to see my dishes in a three-dimensional light,” Wang says. “I can visualize the plates, especially their color, garnish and display from a vivid and imaginative lens.

“Hometown Lu Fen is representative of what we serve at Hunan Slurp, which is mifen [slick, white rice noodles] and a cure for nostalgia.”

A riot of proteins—sliced beef, char siu, bean curd slices, peanuts, and tea egg—blooms across these noodles, nestled in a complex sauce.

A dollop of the restaurant’s signature chopped chili sauce adds “Hunan authenticity,” the chef says.

Dry Pot at Málà Project

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In the East Village, you can’t talk about the rise of “New Chinese” cuisine without paying homage to Málà Project.

Mala 麻辣, the numbing hum of Sichuan peppercorn, super-charges the signature dry pot entree at this vanguard restaurant, which pairs modern sensibilities with powerful, nostalgic flavors.

Co-founder Amelie Kang says it’s fully customizable, from the protein and carb to even spice level.

A quail egg and lotus root with glass noodles? How about enoki mushrooms, beef artery, and bean sprouts over tofu skin? No matter the permutation, chef Qilong Zhao will wok-fry it to perfection with his “secret sauce” of 24 Chinese spices and medicinal ingredients.

Within two years of its East Village opening in December 2015, Málà Project has brought a taste of its downtown buzz to a second location nestled beneath the office tower sprawl near Bryant Park.

Illustrations by Hannah Bae and Adam Oelsner.

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