Monday, April 7, 2014


Manhattan's Chinatown is a maze. There are what feels like an infinite number of restaurants in this area, and if you haven't explored it properly before, you're likely to be overwhelmed by the number of hole in the wall places. 

The question I get a lot is "which of the hole in the wall places are actually good?" in other words, "where can I get a cheap and tasty meal that won't leave me feeling terrible the next day?" Yelp is not your friend in this case, unless you want to be seated next to someone who is as confused as you about what to order.

I am by no means the expert on all the restaurants in Chinatown, but I have explored and eaten around enough to be able to point you to a few of my favourite hole in the wall cheap eats. 

Tiny window store selling the best rice rolls, Sung Hing Lung Co.

You'll notice that most of these are concentrated around Eldridge Street - this area of Chinatown is known as "Little Fuzhou" and named after the vast population of people from Fuzhou living and working in this area. There is a huge focus on "xiao chi" which literally translates to "little eats" (or less literally "street eats") from Fuzhou, hence the concentration of these hole in the wall joints. 

If you wanted to try all of these places in one go, you can get one thing from each place and cover it for less than $15 - you don't even need to worry about tax and tip. But likely, you'll find yourself at at most three places before you tap out in food coma. And remember to leave your credit cards at home - it's the real experience here, so bring your dollar bills.

I was introduced to this place by my chef friend Dan at Daniel. (Enough said?) This not-so-3-star looking dining room does the best peanut sauce noodles and boiled pork and chive dumplings.
Must try: $2 Peanut sauce noodles (ask for the thick rice noodles over the egg noodles), boiled pork and chive dumplings
Address: 118 Eldridge Street

Peanut sauce noodles (ban mian) (photo credit)

Ting Jiang Fish Ball
I love it when I find a great place that isn't even listed on Yelp. Ting Jiang Fish Ball is one of those underground joints on Eldridge, on the other side of the road from Properity Dumpling. They have a pretty extensive menu for a hole in the wall joint, but I am a huge fan of their stir-fried rice cakes.
Must try: $3.75 Stir-fried rice cakes 
Address: 21A Eldridge Street

Stir fried rice cakes with pork and vegetables (chao shui jiao)

You may have heard of this famous cheap as chips dumplings joint on Eldridge. It isn't one of those over-hyped places. They do the best fried pork and chive dumplings for a ridiculously good price. There is very limited seating and usually a long wait, so consider this as a take-out joint.
Must try: $1 for 4 fried pork and chive dumplings
Address: 46 Eldridge Street

Pork and chive fried dumplings

Two doors down from Shu Jiao Fu Zhou is the very popular Vanessa's Dumpling House. If you're just passing by, you won't know that inside the tinted windows, there is almost always a queue for their dumplings, noodle soups, sesame pancakes etc etc. My favourite things to order from this menu are their peking duck sesame pancake, and the egg and chive pancake. Skip the boiled dumplings - Shu Jiao Fu Zhou does it far better, but try the fried dumplings if the queue at Prosperity Dumpling is too long.
Must try: $3 Peking duck sesame pancake, $1.50 egg and chive pancake
Address: 118A Eldridge Street

Egg and chive pancake

Located in the basement of the East Broadway Mall, you know this is going to be as dingy as it gets, but trust me, the food is delicious and so so cheap. Any of the fried goods (eaten typically at breakfast) are good - my favourite would be the triangle (or sometimes rectangle) shaped deep-fried turnip cakes and wash it down with some Chinese soy milk (sweeter and thinner). Note: this place is so authentic that you're not going to see an English menu.
Must try: Deep-fried taro cakes (called yu tou gao), fried mini pork buns (called xiao long bao here too, but not to be confused with soup dumplings)
Address: 88 East Broadway (basement)

Front to back: deep-fried taro cake (yu tou gao), deep-fried oyster-filled donut (hai li jian bing), thin rice paper noodles in soup (guo bian)

Some of the freshest tasting jerky in Chinatown - they have chicken, pork or beef, then you can choose spicy or non-spicy. It makes for a great snack as you walk around the Chinatown.
Must try: Spicy beef jerky 
Address: 85 Elizabeth Street

Spicy pork jerky

Hands down best steamed rice noodle rolls I've ever had. You can choose from a number of flavours, then they make it for you FRESH from the liquid mixture, and you can mix your own sauces - I really like to overdose on everything (peanut sauce, soy sauce, sriracha).
Must try: Chinese sausage and mixed vegetable rice rolls, sweet silken tofu (not in English on the menu)
Address: 68 Henry Street

Chinese sausage and mixed vegetable rice rolls with sriracha, peanut sauce, and a special soy sauce mixture

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Perfect for: A lunch or dinner with your colleagues
Price range: $$$$ Splurge
My rating: 7.5/10
Food: 6.5/10 Service: 8/10 Ambience: 8.5/10

I arrived at Morimoto with fairly high expectations based on a few things: it was started by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto after a stint at Nobu, fairly good ratings on Yelp plus a relatively high priced menu. I was here for Restaurant Week again, and read a review on Yelp that said this was a steal for $25. Surely it couldn't go wrong. 

Well, I really wanted to like Morimoto. I gave it every chance to impress me, and it ticked some boxes (the dessert and the presentation) but it ruined it for itself in the most important category which was the main course (the less-than-mediocre braised black cod).

It all started very well. I was seated at the sushi bar, and watched the chefs carefully prepare the sashimi and sushi right in front of me. I got the menu from the waiter, and before long, he came back with a warm towel and water. It took a little while to order, but that was expected given there was probably a lunch rush.

The lunch set came nicely arranged, with miso soup, a green salad with a beautiful citrus dressing, wood-ear mushrooms with a sweet sauce, and pickled cucumbers. All the side dishes were good, but they were overlooked when the braised cod turned out badly. The braised cod was dry and overcooked, and tasted like it had been sitting around for a while before it was actually served. I know this was Restaurant Week, but if they couldn't deliver at the same quality as they do normally then I don't think they should participate.

braised black cod with ginger-soy reduction, miso soup, suribachi sesame, mixed greens salad, mixed pickles

They did regain some credibility when they came out with the sudachi pie, which is a Japanese citrus fruit, on a pistachio tart, with pistachio gelato and chopped pistachios. The tart was creamy and tart at the same time - similar to a hybrid of a lemon tart and cheesecake, and the tartness was also offset by the cream on top. The pistachio tart and crumble added texture to the dish as well. This was very well done.

sudachi pie with fresh cream, pistachio tart and pistachio gelato

The service was fine, not exceptional, and especially not for a Japanese restaurant of this price range, which is why I gave this an 8/10 for service. 

All in all, I still can't forget about the braised cod, and I don't think I'll be making a trip back here before I leave New York. 

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese
Address: 88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, USA