Jury Duty, and help for a Chinatown neophyte
NYer for about 3 years, but almost exclusively a lurker on this board.
I find myself serving jury duty at 100 Centre St. for approximately 2 weeks. I did my research, and came up with a list of places to hit during my 1 hour and 15 minute lunch. I've already visited two (Big Wong King and Great NY Noodletown), but I'm sorry to say that my experiences have not been so great. At Big Wong King, I was unprepared with what I wanted to order, and in the 4 minutes I spent looking at the menu they tried to take my order no less than 6 times. On the 6th time, when I said (testily, I admit it) that I wasn't ready, the waiter started insisting to me that I wanted fried rice. No, I didn't, but I was so flustered and annoyed that I ended up ordering some pork lo mein dish that I also didn't want. It wasn't very good. At Great NY Noodletown, I came better prepared, but couldn't find the items on the menu that I had read about. So I ordered short ribs in a black bean sauce, and a side of the flowering chive spring rolls. The rolls were very good, if greasy, but the short ribs and sauce were so bland. Both meals have been totally forgettable (other than the rolls).
I admit I am NOT well versed in Asian cuisines, so I am ready to take responsibility for my part in these less than stellar experiences. But that is why I am so excited to try all these restaurants! I want to learn about it, and to eat delicious things. Can anyone offer recommendations for dishes to order and/or advice for how to behave while at the restaurants so it goes better in the future? Also, happy to accept recommendations for places not on my list, or places I should be sure to visit sooner rather than later. (Never know when they're gonna settle, you know!)
South China Garden
Pho Viet Huang
Xe Lua Pho
Bon Bon Chicken
Thank you so much in advance!
What items on the menu were you interested in at Great NY Noodletown?
Many Chinese menus have poor or strange English translations where the name of the dish is misspelled or mangled in some other way. You may also need to be assertive and "prove" to them that you aren't there for Americanized dishes. If you have already done your homework but just can't find it on the menu, just ask for what you want... they'll probably know what you're looking about.
At NY Noodletown, there's a section called "Barbequed Item On Rice" that has "Roast Pork On Rice," "Roast Pig On Rice," "Roast Duck On Rice," etc. but you can order any of those things without the rice. The Chinese Flowering Chives with beef is listed in a random place, too, not under vegetables, if I recall correctly. And I think some of the seafood items may not be on the menu but listed on boards around the room because they're specials.
South China Garden closed earlier this year.
Personally I would focus on Chinese when in Chinatown, as the Thai and Vietnamese I've had there isn't all that great. I think that a place like 456 or Noodle Village might also be more accessible, the guys at Noodletown are kind of gruff.
Hope this helps!
At Great NY Noodletown, I was relying mostly on this thread, http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/872506. I was specifically interested in the Roast Pork, salt and pepper seafood, or the flowering chive beef. But when I got to the menu, I couldn't identify which was the "right" roast pork and I didn't see anything labeled "salt and pepper". I did see the flowering chive dish listed on a board posted on a wall, but not until after I ordered. Thank you for the recommendations for where to look on the menu for items, and for clarifying that I should have been looking for the "roast pork on rice." If I make it back there, I will be more prepared.
Thanks also for letting me know about South China Garden. Some of the threads I was looking at were going back to 2009, so it's inevitable some things would have changed.
So yes, this does all help!! Thanks again. I'll add 456 and Noodle Village to the list, and move the Vietnamese and Thai places to the bottom.
You listed mostly Cantonese BBQ and Vietnamese places, which admittedly make up a large portion of Chinatown restaurants, but I find most of them just OK and unmemorable. I live in Chinatown and eat Asian food most of the time but not very often at those places.
For Cantonese BBQ type places (Big Wong King, Great NY Noodletown) I'd stick with ordering BBQ pork or duck noodle soup. You can usually get wontons in the soup too. The service is brisk because they have a lot of customer flow and although their menus are miles long they all serve the same things, so most people know what they want. If you're in a more breakfast-y mood, you could order congee (rice porridge) and youtiao (fried dough sticks, sort of like a salty donut). One of my breakfast favorites is youtiao wrapped in chang fen (rice noodle) but not all places do it. My favorite one of these places is East Corner Wonton, but that is probably a bit too far for you. Their food isn't necessarily any better than the other places, but I like the big windows and retro diner-esque vibe.
SCG is closed, and Amazing 66 is more like a sit down place that you go for dinner and order several shared dishes.
No opinion on the Vietnamese places; some people are real pho conoisseurs but every pho I've tried around here has tasted about the same, which is decent. I usually go to Nam Son on Grand Street and order the grilled pork on vermicelli.
Xi'an Famous Foods - western Chinese food, and very different from the typical Cantonese places in the area. One of my favorite places in Chinatown. Everything here is good, but my favorites are the spicy cumin lamb noodles, the lamb soup, and the lamb burger.
New Malaysia - another one of my favorite places. The steamed fish is great but definitely too much for one person at lunch. I'd go for one of their lunch combo plates - there is one which has everything - Hainan chicken, curry chicken, and beef rendang. Otherwise try the curry noodle soups. Get a roti canai too - Indian roti bread with curry.
Bo Ky - I like their Grand st location better aesthetics wise, but the food is the same at both places. They specialize in noodle soups and they make a few Chiu Chow dishes. The country style duck is great, but that may be a lot for one person, in which case you can get it in a noodle soup.
Vietnamese sandwiches or "banh mi" - lots of places to choose from around here. They're baguettes filled with pickled carrots and cucumber and various fillings like grilled pork or Vietnamese cold cuts. I usually go to Paris Bakery on Grand Street and get a grilled pork sandwich and iced Vietnamese coffee, but any place is good.
Hand pulled noodles - lots of places, my favorite is Lan Zhou on East Broadway but that may be too far for you. The closest one is probably the place on Doyers st. I'd get the beef noodle soup; that's the most "traditional" version of this dish
Xinjiang lamb kebab cart - the original one is under the Manhattan bridge and you can smell the BBQ smoke from far away, but there is another one on the corner of Grand and Bowery (not to be confused with the generic halal food cart).
Shanghai Heping - I'm not as crazy about soup dumplings (xiao long bao) as some people, but they're worth trying if you haven't had them before. There are a number of places that make them; this place is as good as any other.
Chinese bakery - countless bakeries around here and really more of a treat to bring home than a proper lunch, but worth trying if you haven't before. Fay Da on Mott is a good introduction and is self-serve (low pressure!). Mei Li Wah on Bayard probably has the best BBQ pork buns.
Pravit, this is wonderful, thank you, thank you!! This afternoon I went to Xi'an Famous Foods and ordered the spicy cumin lamb noodles and they were, in a word, delicious. Nothing bland about it!! Spicy and flavorful, and the texture of the noodles was awesome. I could have done with more lamb, but that is a minor quibble. It was exactly the sort of lunch I had been hoping for all along.
I walked past Mei Li Wah while eating my dessert from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and scoped out the bun options. I've added it to the list, along with the hand pulled noodle place on Doyer (this is "Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles" at 1 Doyers St. yes?).
I already had Bo Ky on my radar, so any advice on what to order there would be appreciated. I apologize for my ignorance, can you explain what Chiu Chow refers to?
The good thing about Xi'an is that if you DO find yourself addicted, they have another branch in East Village, if you don't find yourself in Chinatown that often.
For Bo Ky, I would probably just personally do whatever Lau does! :) Chiu Chow is a type of cuisine that is also spelled Teochew.
Glad to hear you liked it!
Yep I was referring to Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles on Doyers.
Chiu Chow refers to a particular region of China and the people and culture from there. My favorite is the country style duck; you can get it in noodle soup. The "Cambodian noodles" are good too.
Another successful lunch!! I went to Bo Ky and ordered the Cambodian noodles. Taking the advice from the thread linked to above, I ordered it with the soup on the side and asked for "mee pok." Wow, super delicious. Should I be embarrassed to admit I ate the whole darn thing?? And you're not kidding about the homemade hot sauce. I couldn't get enough, so I bought a jar to take home, haha. Thanks again everyone.
At Noodletown, you should get roast duck (either on rice or as a "barbecued item"), any dish with flowering chives or pea shoots, the pea shoots themselves, sauteed in garlic, the side dish of beef stew.
At Bo-Ky, just try any noodle soup that sounds good to you. It's all cheap, so if you don't love one, try another. I like their soups with various kinds of balls in them (shrimp balls, meatballs, fish balls, fish cakes, etc.).
None of the pho places is that good, but pho will be OK there. Try some kind of regular-sized beef pho to start with (I like to get it with navel, omosa, etc., but you might not).
And how about going to Dim Sum Go Go for dim sum?
Thanks Pan! The "anything with flowering chives" advice from the post I linked to above was what led me to order the flowering chive spring rolls. Turns out it was good advice, because that was the only thing I liked! If I go back, I'll work harder to find other dishes on the menu with that ingredient.
Thanks for the advice about "soup with balls" (ha ha) at Bo Ky. I think that's my lunch for tomorrow. Pravit above mentioned it and also recommended a noodle soup there.
Does Dim Sum Go Go do carts for dim sum?
If you are looking for some variety...but easy on the wallet, then I'll throw in three places that offer you options...all three are a couple of blocks north of 100 Centre Street.
* First is Sun Sai Gai @ 220 Canal Street....this is what I would call one of the old school coffee shops that have a little bit of everything....Boas, Buns, Dim Sum, Sweet Cakes/Treats, Wonton/Noodle Soups, Rice Plates, BBQ Pork/Roast Pig, Roast Duck and Soy Sauce Chicken. If you have never had Chinatown Vacuum Coffee....you can get it here and I think it's still under a buck. I recommend the Roast Baby Pig, The Big Bun, The Baked Red Roast Pork Bun and the Coconut Bun. While the Dim Sum is not the best, it is available everyday and can satisfy a craving.
* Second, I'll need a little assistance on the name of the store( Mulberry Meat Market? ), but it's a combination Butcher Shop and Hot Steam Table located @ 89 Mulberry Street..between Bayard and Canal. They have a lot of interesting items including, but not limited to,........ offal, seafood, fish, beef, pork, chicken, braised dishes, noodles, Tofu, rice and vegetables. If it's a nice day out, you may want to try this place and have your meal in Columbus Park.....If not
* Third is Lunch Box Buffet @ 195 Centre Street. You get to choose four or five Items including rice for $4-5 bucks.....it's a steam table operation like the suggestion above, but they have actual seating here.
There are two local dumpling options nearby.....Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry and Fried Dumpling on Mosco..
They dish it out for you at both places. At the butcher shop you have the option of having them weigh specific items at a price appropriate for whether it is rice, noodles, vegetables or protein. You can also get two items and rice, or 3 items and rice for a set price. I have not been in Chinatown recently, but my recollection is they have a sign hanging right outside the door indicating the price per pound was $3.
At the Lunch Box, it's probably $4-5....maybe an additional 50 censt for a container of soup.
Focus in on the lunch menus or "over rice" dishes of you can. Amazing 66 has over 65 special lunch dishes (cup of soup, entree & tea) for $5.50. Be sure to ask for the special lunch menu or they hand you the regular, more expensive menu. Ordering a soft drink will add 20% to your meal cost.
I think the Vietnamese places like Nha Trang and Thai Son work well for jury duty lunches. Havent been to either recently but have enjoyed both in the past.
I like Amazing 66. As mentioned above, i think of it as a group dinner place but i imagine fine solo for the over lunches and for casseroles.
I also like the New Malaysia idea.
When I was on jury duty, my go-to spots were Xi'an famous foods and Nom Wah Tea Parlor. If you want a lot of bang for your buck at lunch, the hot & spicy tofu at Xi'an is a huge portion, enough to get a side and save part of it for later, and for only $2!
Nom Wah had fallen off the radar a while back, but for the past couple of years has been run by a relative of the original owners (I think it's the grandson but others may know the history better) who has revitalized it. I was impressed with my meals from there, even though I got them to-go to make sure I made it back in plenty of time. (watch out: occasionally the security lines at the jury duty buildings get very long, so it's good to play it safe with timing!) The shrimp and pea-leaf dumplings were particularly good.
So, deliberations + super storm + power outages + election day = no Chinatown lunches for me for a while. The case wrapped up today, so I took advantage of my last afternoon in the neighborhood to hit up Mei Li Wah to try the pork bun. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to get the steamed bun or the baked bun, so I got one of each. Steamed bun was nice but too doughy for my taste. The baked bun, however, was delicious!
Thanks so much for the recommendations and all the help. I only regret that I don't have more time to try the rest of the places mentioned, and that I wasted those first two lunches. But at least I got three great meals out of it, as well as a list of places to try in the future. And, hopefully, this thread will be an updated resource for others who have the joy of serving. If the line I stood in this morning for security is any indication, there are lots of you out there!!!