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Oct 7, 2012 02:11 PM

Great NY Noodletown – A True New York Chinatown Institution

**For full post and pics**:

Great NY Noodletown probably the most well known restaurant in Chinatown and generally is a pretty famous restaurant. It’s been around for a long time and was here far before I arrived in New York. The restaurant specializes in shao la (Cantonese BBQ), congee and various simple dishes. I’ve been meaning to write about this restaurant for a long time as I feel like my blog wouldn’t be very comprehensive if I didn’t report about this place.

The restaurant looks like most other Cantonese BBQ restaurants in NY; its run down, kind of dirty, has no décor to speak of and has BBQ meats hanging in the window. However, you will notice when you walk in that it’s noticeably more crowded than other restaurants. You often have to wait for a table on the weekends and there is usually a line of Chinese people getting BBQ meats or food to go. Another thing you will notice if you go late enough is that it’s a late night spot that lots of drunk people come to after partying.

Here’s what we got:

- Pork and Thousand Year Egg Congee (Pi Dan Zhu Rou Zhou): Congee is one thing that Manhattan’s Chinatown does very well. I actually find the congee here to be fairly similar to what you get in Hong Kong. Congee is rice porridge that you make by cooking rice with a lot of water until it turns into porridge. I was actually wondering how they came up with the name congee since it’s nothing like that Chinese word for congee (zhou in Mandarin or juk in Cantonese) and according to this Wikipedia article it’s actually derived from a Tamil word ( Anyhow, the congee here is very good, it has good thick consistency and nice flavor although congee by itself is fairly plain, but I’ve heard some people may add some chicken stock or lard for flavor. I prefer to get it with pork and pi dan which is a black preserved egg, which has a creamy flavor if you’ve never had it before. Also, I prefer a decent amount of white pepper and a little chili oil in my congee for flavor as well (it’s always sitting on the table). Overall, it’s simple dish, but it’s done very well here. 8.5/10

- Beef Congee (Niu Rou Zhou): This is the same thing as the other congee except it has nicely silky tender beef in it. 8.5/10

- Fried Crueller (You Tiao): You tiao is a long fried donut that is a standard accompaniment with congee. You take it and dip it in the congee and it’s delicious. The you tiao here are decent, but they are pre-fried, so they’re not nearly as good as a freshly fried one. 7.25/10

The first picture has roast pork, soy sauce chicken and roast duck (from left to right) and the 2nd picture is roast pork. Here are reviews of each:

- Soy Sauce Chicken (Jiang You Ji / See Yau Gai): This is roast chicken covered in a dark soy sauce. This is one of my favorite shao la (Cantonese BBQ) dishes. The chicken is very tender and the skin is very flavorful and pairs really nicely with the soy sauce. The version here is quite good although it can be a little inconsistent. One thing to note is that Chinese people like their meat tender and I’ve found some Americans can find the texture of the skin to be too slippery and dislike it. Overall, they do a pretty decent job on this dish. 8/10

- Roast Duck (Kao Ya): This is roast duck that they pour a semi-sweet soy sauce marinade on it. It’s got good flavoring, but it can be inconsistent as sometimes I find it can be too dry sometimes as I like my duck to be really tender and juicy. 7/10 when it’s off, 7.75/10 when it’s on

- Roast Pork (Cha Shao / Cha Siu): Cha siu literally means “fork roast” in Chinese; the reason they call it that is because you skewer a long piece of pork and then roast it in a special cylinder shaped oven. The marinades can vary, but generally it contains honey, soy sauce, five spice powder, hoisin sauce and some people use this stuff called hong fu ru, which is a fermented bean curd. The flavors can be quite different ranging from very sweet to barely sweet at all. Also, the reason it’s red on the outside is because they use food coloring. Cha siu is literally one of my all time favorite foods when I was a kid I used to refuse to eat the other food and just wanted cha siu with rice. When done right it’s tender, juicy and has a great sweet flavor. Anyhow, the cha siu at Noodletown is extremely inconsistent. When it’s on its actually quite good, I’d say you might even consider it maybe an average type place in Hong Kong, but when it’s off its dry and not good at all. It’s totally luck of the draw as to whether it’s going to be off or on unfortunately. Also, just so you can see here’s a link to the best cha siu I’ve ever had in Hong Kong ( 6.75/10 when it’s off, 8.25/10 when it’s on
Ribs (Pai Gu): These are prepared in the same marinade they use for the cha siu, so it’s a bit sweet and salty at the same time. They are pretty good, not as tender as the cha siu, but reasonably tasty nonetheless. 7.5/10

- Salt and Pepper Soft Shell Crab (Jiao Yen Ruan Ke Xie): This dish has become perhaps their most famous dish; I believe it was written up in the New York Times actually. It’s a soft shell crab battered and fried in a typical Cantonese style salt and pepper batter. It’s nicely crispy on the outside and the salt and pepper batter goes really well with the soft shell crab. It’s well deserving of its reputation and definitely a really tasty dish assuming you like soft shell crab. 8.5/10

- Salt and Pepper Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu): Same thing as the soft shell crab except with squid. This is a favorite Cantonese dish of mine so I almost always get it when I come here. South China Garden (RIP) had the best version, but now that they are closed I find Noodletown to have the best version in New York right now. The batter here is good, the only thing is that I find their squid isn’t quite as tender as I like, but overall still quite good. 8.25/10

- Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (Jie Lan): This is a standard dish, which tastes exactly as it sounds and they do it well here. 8/10

- Flowering Chives with Beef (Jiu Cai Hua Niu Rou): This is another signature dish. Its flowering chives which I believe are called garlic chives in English stir fried with beef, carrots and ginger. It has decent “wok hay”, which means wok air basically and it’s the flavor you get from cooking food in a wok at a very hot temperature which effectively smokes the food. The beef is very silky and smooth and the garlic chives have a nice crunch to them and good flavor. I think this is one of the best dishes here. 8.25/10

- Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup (Xia Ren Yun Tun Mian): While wonton noodle soup sounds like it should be an easy dish to make it’s actually very difficult and I would say that it’s somewhat akin to Japanese ramen in that sense. In Hong Kong people take it pretty seriously and you have lots of restaurants that specialize in it and people are very particular about it. I think the hardest part to get right is broth and I’ve never really found anywhere in the US that can get it right unfortunately. That said within in New York, Noodletown probably is one of the better versions in NY. The noodles are pretty decent, but be aware that the noodles in wonton noodle soup are very springy and some people find them almost too springy. The wontons are decent, they’re reasonably well made although I think it’d be better if they used better quality shrimp. The broth is decent although it doesn’t have the complexity a really good version has and I also find it has a little too much alkaline flavor. It has an alkaline flavor because you need to use alkaline salts in order to make the noodles. Fyi, the best version is Shifu Chio in Flushing which you can see here ( and I’d also say Noodle Village does a decent version as well ( 7.5/10

- Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (Yu Xiang Qie Zi): I ordered this randomly once, it’s your typical eggplant in garlic sauce, but they definitely made it on the sweet side. The sauce wasn’t gloppy, but I thought it was too sweet. 6.75/10

Overall, it is an enjoyable restaurant and definitely one of the better restaurants in Chinatown although their BBQ meats are inconsistent.

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  1. Great review.

    I differ with you on only one thing, I think: I find their Soy Sauce Chicken too salty, and until recently, I preferred the rendition at Wing Shoon. By comparison, I find their Roast Duck great, even though I completely agree that it's sometimes too dry. I'll post about some of my other favorite dishes there that you didn't mention, when I have more time.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Pan

      ah i could see that re: the soy sauce chicken although i guess it's a personal thing as i prefer the chicken to be somewhat heavily flavored if it's soy sauce chicken

      only been to wing shoon once a while ago, so i don't have much of an opinion on it

      look forward to hearing about your favorite dishes

      1. re: Lau

        So my favorite dishes at Noodletown, in addition to the Roast Duck, include:

        Any dish with flowering chives
        Any dish with pea shoots
        The sauteed pea shoots in garlic, themselves, which aren't in a gloppy sauce or anything like that
        Beef Stew, given as a side dish - very soothing, with a lot of fresh ginger
        Of the lo mein dishes, my favorite is ginger/scallion.

        1. re: Pan

          yah pea shoots are great although cooking them with some garlic and oil is very standard, thats how they are usually served

          havent tried beef stew, ill give it a whirl, but im kind of particular about it b/c i find most places in the US can't get it right, i think its harder to make than it sounds for some reason

          1. re: Lau

            the stewed beef tendon is also great as a side dish, especially with the colder weather.

            1. re: swannee

              thats actually what i thought u meant by beef stew, it usually has tendon in it as well

              1. re: swannee

                What they call "beef muscle." Yeah, I like that, too.

                The stew is made from the diaphragm cut.

              2. re: Lau

                I know garlic/oil is a very standard way to cook green vegetables, but to make pea shoots well, you have to start with fresh ones (Noodletown usually does, though once, they used older ones that were mediocre), and some places overuse corn starch to unnecessarily thicken the sauce. No real sauce is needed - just the minced garlic and a certain amount of oil.

        2. I agree about the quality of the food. Very good to great almost all of the time. At worst, the food is the same as elsewhere. However, as a caution to those who have not eaten here, the place is not very large, putting nearly every seat in a bad place (the front door, the kitchen, the waiter's station), and the waiters can be very unfriendly. I cannot get my wife to eat here because of these factors, but I can and do enjoy getting the food to take away.

          1 Reply
          1. re: batterypark

            I actually find the waiters fine. They're not usually effusive, but they're busy. They know me, as a long-time regular, and I always say "Hi" to them.

          2. By some strange coincidence, we had lunch at GNYN today - one of our favorite places for roasted meats and soups. We were there early enough to grab some roasted baby pig, a fine rendition with nice, crispy skin.

            I've been lucky with the duck lately, too. The last 2 or 3 times the duck was perfect - just fatty enough and nice and juicy.

            I disagree about the wait staff, but that may be because we eat here a lot...they're always nice and friendly to my wife and me, and whomever else we happen to be with.

            9 Replies
            1. re: mitchleeny

              I also find the wait staff charming and sharp witted

              1. re: mitchleeny

                the service is sort of gruff, but it's efficient and i've never had an attitude problem with them. although i'm not the best person to ask about service b/c i don't care as long as they get my order correct and the food comes out in a timely manner

                although i agree with batterypark that the seating totally sucks in that place

                1. re: Lau

                  I, too, have a good relationship with the waitstaff, but I can see that can be pretty short. I think their casseroles are excellent as is their XO sauce. And I fully concur on the beef with flowering chives. My experience with the duck has been mostly excellent. Does anyone else remember how good their goose used to be?? Whydid they stop making it???
                  I always wondered why the soup has such an alkaline taste: thanks to Lau, now I know.

                  1. re: swannee

                    yah the alkaline taste can vary from shop to shop, you always have a little bit of it, but it can be somewhat off putting if it's too strong as it can taste almost chemically

                    i haven't really tried their casseroles so ill give them a go

                    i didnt even know they served goose; goose is extremely difficult to find in the US. I'm not even sure i've even found a chinese restaurant that serves it in the US except for goose feet. It's something I always get in HK when I'm there.

                    This isn't cantonese style goose, but here's two restaurants serving some great teochew (chiu chow / chao zhou) style goose in HK:

                      1. re: scoopG

                        Perhaps this would be better in a new thread on goose, but here it goes ...

                        New York Mart (open for around one year now, on Mott Street, 1-1/2 blocks north of Canal) started selling whole roast goose a few weeks ago. It is around $5 more for a whole goose than for a whole duck, but you get much more to eat so it is still a great deal, and it is absolutely delicious. You can eat there, but it is not a restaurant, mostly elderly Chinese folk eating $4 meals from the steam table.

                        1. re: batterypark

                          ive seen the shao la (cantonese bbq) station there, ive been meaning to try it b/c its usually busy but i had no idea they had goose! wow thats very surprisingly. Ill try it this weekend

                          1. re: Lau

                            I think the goose was $24 (or $18 for half a goose, so why not get the full goose). They will chop it up the Chinese way, which is what I go last time, but you can also have them give to you either whole or in two halves, which will allow you to carve it yourself and serve in a western fashion if that's your thing. Spread the word, so they keep selling this. Now that I've eaten their goose I will always want it to be there.

                            1. re: batterypark

                              im curious to see how it stacks up since ive never really had goose outside of asia and really mainly in hong kong

                2. Good post, Lau. GNYN, warts and all.

                  I've never been passionate about wonton soup myself, and their version tastes positively toxic to me. You mentioned alkaline salts. What's up with that?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: knucklesandwich

                    alkaline salts are used in the noodle making process in order to give noodles their springy texture; in fact it's used for cantonese style wonton noodle soup noodles, ramen noodles and various other lesser known noodles in Asia. Although the noodles used in wonton noodle soup are probably the most springy type of noodles i've ever had, so i believe they may use more alkaline salt than other noodles hence the propensity to have that flavor be more noticeable (although at any great wonton noodle soup place you will only faintly taste it or not taste it at all)

                    i just google'd it, so you can read more about it:

                  2. Noodletown is my late evening/early AM go to spot. Fabulous food and a true NYC experience. After a Yankee game last week we took my Joisey nephew and his gal there @ 1 AM. They were in awe of the food, the waiters and the entertaining early morning clientele.
                    "Can't get this in Freehold!!" They agreed.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Motosport

                      freehold NJ? id imagine not haha

                      1. re: Lau

                        Hey!! They have Olive Garden!! All you can eat garlic knots.

                        1. re: Motosport

                          haha i have a soft spot in my heart for garlic knots, i used to love those things when i was young