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Chinatown Roast Meats: Warning and Recommendation

After Big Wong went downhill some years back (iirc it changed hands), I tried out all the usual suspects for roast pork and ended up preferring New Big Wang on Elizabeth and Bayard. Its version was never too dry--a problem with some of the other "Wong" restaurants-- and had just the right proportion of lean to fat, and the perfect hint of sweetness and (I think this is what accounts for the slight star anise taste) 5-spice powder. I went home with a pound of the stuff at least once/month.

So when New Big Wang closed in 2008, I was upset. However, it soon re-opened as Yee Li, and the char siu tasted as good as ever. Until a few months ago, that is: one night I brought some home and it had a strange chemical taste that at first struck me as probably a packaging issue. But the taste didn't go away after I transferred containers, and I had to throw it away. I figured this was anomalous, but had the exactly the same experience tonight. Same foul taste, same result. I don't intend to return. So be warned, folks.

On a more positive note, I want to put in a small plug for one bbq restaurant that flies a bit below the CH radar, namely Fu Wong on Bowery. The roast chicken (not sure the right name --it's the hanging chicken in the wax paper, not the soy sauce chicken, which is only average) is the best I've had since Big Wong in its heyday, and the duck is also better than most. I'd also recommend the congee and a delicious green bean dish w/ bean paste (can't recall the exact menu name), which reminded me of the water spinach w/ bean paste at Cantoon Garden, but might be even a bit better. I wouldn't say this place is a must visit, but for me it's better than the current Big Wong and similar places that get more press here.

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Big Wong
67 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

Yee Li
1 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. If you like chicken and salted fish fried rice, Fu Wong also does a very good version. I also like the char siu/duck over wontons too but it's actually better as takeout than when you have it there.

    1. do you ever go to NY noodletown? that is my go to, i like it better than big wong which i used to eat at alot a long time ago. The only issue is the quality will vary depending on how fresh it is, if you get it when its fresh its quite good if you get it when its less fresh its good but not nearly as good as when it first comes out

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      Great New York Noodletown
      28 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

      4 Replies
      1. re: Lau

        I know NY Noodletown gets a lot of press here, though I guess I didn't really realize it was a char siu destination. I've eaten there maybe 3 or 4 times over the years and have always enjoyed it w/o ever being wowed. It's probably largely a matter of knowing just what to order (though I recall trying the salt baked items because they were so highly praised and not feeling like they were anything special), but my feeling has been that Fu Wong is at least as good. And since the latter is less hectic and crowded, I end up there more often. Anyway, I'll check out the char siu the next time I'm in the mood.

        Btw, let me just express my appreciation for all your great reports on this board, which I've found immensely helpful. I can't believe you take all the time and trouble to post so often and so thoroughly. Many thanks!

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        Fu Wong
        100 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

        1. re: manilov

          well thank you!

          btw at NY Noodletown, i like their salt baked calamari b/c their battering / frying is good, but the calamari is a little too chewy, i prefer Cantoon Garden's version. Generally their bbq meats are pretty decent, try their cha siu a few times when its fresh its quite good. They have good congee, i always get the pork & thousand year egg. Their flowering chive dishes are good too. Lastly, while no one makes an amazing version in chinatown, they have the best wonton noodle soup in chinatown that i've found.

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          South China Garden
          22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: Lau

            i completely agree on the wontons at ny noodletown. tried all the typical haunts for wontons, and ny noodletown consistency is the best.

            1. re: ssl5b

              I've found Noodle Village's wontons to be fresher and tastier than Great NY Noodletown, which I do like for other dishes.

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              Noodle Village
              13 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

      2. I am deathly loyal to NY Noodletown

        1. I've always been a big fan of Wah Fung's char siu. You can get it as part of an insanely cheap and filling lunch deal (offered all day). Don't forget to ask for some "green sauce" on the side.
          -Jeremy
          Founder, http://www.dinevore.com

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          Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food
          79 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

          2 Replies
          1. re: jeremyhfisher

            Count us as Wah Fung char siu fans, as well. In a neighborhood full of good deals, this is one of the best. Read on!

            Sometimes, the line outside a restaurant says it all.

            Even at 9:00 a.m., hungry patrons wait outside Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food, a small and modest Chinese takeout joint in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Most are there for one thing: the char siu fun (roast pork over rice).

            In Chinatown, char siu fun isn’t difficult to find. If you see a duck hanging from a hook in a shop window, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll find this dish inside. So why the rush for Wah Fung’s version? Two words: price and quantity.

            The small serving ($3) comes in a four-by-five-inch aluminum container that is jam-packed—literally shoved to the breaking point—with rice, cabbage and roast pork. The large size ($4.50) comes in a larger Styrofoam container that is somehow crammed even more tightly with food. It weighs in at close to two pounds—easily double the amount of food that most halal carts serve up in the same containers.

            But with such an emphasis on quantity, quality isn’t sacrificed. The fatty, sinfully tangy pieces have smoky crisped skins hugging the softened meat, which literally drips with savory grease and sauce. With all that heavy meat, you’ll be grateful it comes with fluffy rice and steamed cabbage to refresh your palate.

            Insider tip number one: Wah Fung’s all-day lunch deal doesn’t only come with roast pork—you can also choose crispy pork, duck or chicken.

            For eaters who are less enamored of greasy meats, Wah Fung has a steam cart at the back that stocks noodles, congee (rice porridge stewed with meat, fish and vegetables) and other lighter dishes.

            A popular choice is the ur don cherng fun (fish balls and steamed noodles in sweet brown sauce). For $1.50, you get a generous portion of rice noodle rolls steeped in tangy oyster sauce with cushiony, subtly flavored fish balls. Just be sure to eat it right away, before the noodles suck up all the sauce.

            Insider tip number two: The steam cart has its own line. So if that’s what you’re craving, skip the line of char siu fun pilgrims in front of Wah Fung and head straight inside to the cart.

            (Photos and more at: http://www.cityspoonful.com/cheap-eat...)

            1. re: CitySpoonful

              Just a nitpick: char siu fan would be a more appropriate romanization than char siu fun, as fun refers to rice noodles, I believe.

          2. So, since Fu Wong closed, does anyone have any new recs? I keep going to where New Big Wang used to be, since I see a lot of Asian wives buying roast meats there early in the evening. It seems to be on their shopping radar, so I figure it's pretty decent. The chicken and duck both are good there, though it's like pulling teeth to get extra sauce on the side. I find NY Noodletown gross at times, though I can do it for lunch.

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            Great New York Noodletown
            28 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

            Yee Li
            1 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

            1. My favorite is noodle king on Catherine and Henry...Great baby pig, great roast pork, and fantastic BBQ duck!

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              Noodle King
              19 Henry St, New York, NY 10002

              1. I am huge char siu fan and just discovered Mulberry Meat Market-just off Canal going south. The best Char Siu in my opinion-so juicy and extremley nice folks!

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                Mulberry Meat Market
                89 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013

                1. Hate to say it, but Noodletown reigns supreme