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Café Hong Kong – The South China Garden Guys Are Back!! (And Yes They Are The Best Restaurant In Chinatown)

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**For full post and pics**: https://www.lauhound.com/2013/06/cafe...

South China Garden was my favorite restaurant in Chinatown, which you can read about it here (https://www.lauhound.com/2010/11/sout...). It was one of the only places in Chinatown that you could get consistently good Cantonese food.

Needless to say I was quite dismayed when they were forced to shut down after they lost their lease. However, I recently received wonderful news when the owner’s son emailed me to tell me they’ve re-opened as Café Hong Kong. Also, the owner is still the head chef along with his brother, which means the food is being cooked by the same people.

The new restaurant is smaller, modern and much cleaner looking. Some of the staff is still the same from SCG. The menu is smaller and now includes a fairly substantial section Hong Kong café style foods (baked pork chop rice, spaghetti etc). However, it still has most of the staple Cantonese dishes, which I previously ordered at SCG.

Salt Baked Squid (Jiao Yen You Yu):
This is exactly the same as before which means that they make the best version in Chinatown. The salty non-greasy batter and tenderness of the squid makes this a solid rendition of this dish. 8/10

Lobster in XO Sauce (XO Jiang Chao Long Xia):
This is again the exact same quality as SCG. In fact I thought the quality of the lobster was actually better than SCG (although I’ve only tried it once). The XO sauce tasted great and this was a winner. 8/10

Stir Fried String Beans:
This was slightly different than SCG as there weren’t any preserved vegetables in it, but other than that it was the same. It’s the classic stir fried string beans with minced pork and dried chilis. They still get good wok hay meaning the flavor you get from effectively smoking the food in a wok at a very high temperature. This is a definite winner. 8/10

Fried Garlic Chicken (Suan Xiang Cui Pi Ji):
Another SCG classic and it again tastes exactly the same although the dish is a little smaller. The meat is very tender and the skin is perfectly crispy and the garlic compliments it perfectly. This is still one of their strongest dishes. 8.25/10

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce Casserole (Yu Xiang Qie Zi Bao):
I ordered this randomly because I saw it on another table. While it was cooked nicely, making the eggplant nicely tender, I found the sauce to be a bit on the bland sauce. I like the sauce to be slightly sweet and spicy and it just didn’t have enough of that. 7/10

Peking Pork Chops (Jing Du Pai Gu):
This is the Cantonese version of sweet and sour pork chops. The pork chops are perfectly fried; the meat is tender, the outside is crispy and it’s not greasy or oily at all. The sauce is slightly different than SCG in that they added more pineapple to it and while it was still good it wasn’t quite as good as SCG because I prefer less pineapple flavor. 7.75/10

Steamed Buffalo Carp (Qing Zheng Yu):
This is the typical Cantonese style where you steam the fish and then pour hot oil and soy sauce over the fish. The fish was cooked perfectly and was very tender. The sauce was excellent as well being both salty and very slightly sweet. While I am not surprised their technique was good, the quality was the fish was surprising. Carp typically has this muddy flavor that I really do not like and while this had a very little bit of that it was not that noticeable and really made this an enjoyable dish. While I still prefer an ocean fish, this was quite good. 8/10

Normally, I wait to go a few times to report on a place, but I thought that I should report on this as soon as possible. I definitely recommend trying Café Hong Kong out.

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  1. Venue info:
    51 Bayard St (between Bowery & Elizabeth St)
    New York, NY 10013
    (212) 608-5359

    I'm glad you stayed in touch with these folks, Lau! Thanks for the word.

    Dave Cook

    1 Reply
    1. re: DaveCook

      Hey Dave - one the good things about having the blog is there is the "contact me" section which has turned out to be great b/c all sorts of people have gotten in touch with me that never would've if i didn't put that section up.

      anyhow very glad they re-opened, so i have a regular spot to eat cantonese in chinatown again

    2. The salt baked squid and garlic fried chicken at Cafe Hong Kong are just spectacular.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Riverman500

        yah they make both of those dishes very well

      2. Can't wait to go! Your blog photos make the food look as good as you describe.

        1 Reply
        1. hanks for the update Lau. Have you got a new camera?

          1 Reply
          1. re: scoopG

            nope same camera ive been using for a while, but the lighting was good in there for taking pictures

          2. Excellent post! The pictures on your blog really make me want to try this place again. I went a few weeks ago but I don't think I ordered their best dishes. That chicken in particular looks very tempting.

            6 Replies
            1. re: pravit

              yah the menu is while not huge has some very different stuff on it, so you have to know what to order

              1. re: Lau

                Are the specials on the wall or other off-menu items to ask about? Do they have XO with things other than lobster (conch, scallops, etc.)?

                1. re: swannee

                  1) no specials on the wall
                  2) not sure about off menu items, i didn't ask
                  3) i'm actually not sure, but i'm pretty sure you could request it b/c they obviously have XO sauce + they have all those ingredients you mentioned for other dishes

                  check the online menu on their website, it was accurate

                2. re: Lau

                  Went last night; unfortunately around 8pm they had already run out of the fried chicken! Guess that must be one of their best dishes ... I got Singapore fried noodles and the XO lobster instead, and enjoyed both... need to get there earlier next time for the chicken. That place is really packed - probably the only restaurant in Chinatown where I've waited for a table. Guess everyone else heard that it was the SCG people too?

                  I was surprised to see how popular the "Western" food dishes were - like baked cheesy rice; chicken wings with fries; white bread sandwiches...guess if you eat Chinese food all the time at home you like to go out to eat something different...

                  1. re: pravit

                    Did you ever go to the original SCG? You could wait as much as an hour there for a table.

                    HK style Western food is common in Asia, popularized, I think, in the 1970s (but maybe earlier) in southern China and Hong Kong and spreading to other countries' Chinatowns in the 80s. Even Japan has a lot of mutated Western food that they've spread around the world, such as the Italian Tomato chain. There are zillions of places to get this style of food in the various Chinatowns in NYC.

                    Off topic, but I just read that a Japanese bakery that specializes in American-style treats such as apple pie is opening a branch in NYC: http://downtownmagazinenyc.com/japane...

                    1. re: pravit

                      ahh too bad, but yah that place is packed. it has a very local type of crowd as i think its probably alot of the customers who used to go to SCG. the manager woman last time i was there was chatting it up with alot of the tables and im pretty sure she knew them

                      the HK diner western food is very popular in HK, i actually like it if you make it right, but it is sort of a strange concept

                3. As I've said before, you've done more to increase New Yorkers' appreciation of the tremendous variety and quality of regional Chinese cooking than perhaps anyone else. From Cantoon Gardens to South China Garden to Cafe Hong Kong, you've exposed us to some of the best food in Chinatown through this owner and chef. I'm planning a visit within the next few days.

                  Their web site is up and the menu features some interesting options. I wonder whether you can offer more info on the popularity of Western-style food in Hong Kong diners. For example, there's borscht (spelled borsch) on the menu. Hong Kong style pasta...what's that? Any more insight is appreciated.

                  All I can say from your photos is...wow!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: famdoc

                    haha thanks!

                    i mean in general the western dishes are almost exactly what they sound like although something like "hong kong style pasta" you'd have to ask them what that is. I'd direct you to try the cantonese food first.

                    if i was going to direct someone to a specific western style dish then I'd recommend baked pork chop rice (although i haven't tried it here). its usually a cut up pork chop in a tomato sauce with egg topped with cheese and them baked over rice. its very good if you make it right

                    1. re: Lau

                      thanks. I'm certainly not headed there for the Western-style dishes, but I was curious. My first order will be for the XO-sauce lobster, the salt baked squid and the eggplant. I'll almost certainly also have a soup.

                      Prices seem a bit higher than in previous iterations of this restaurant.

                      1. re: famdoc

                        i wouldn't order the eggplant, i didnt think it was anything special

                        go for the XO lobster, salt baked squid and the chicken...those dishes are def must orders

                  2. I wasn't quite so impressed with this place but I'm no expert on Cantonese cuisine. Maybe it was an off-night for the salt baked squid but I didn't think it was very good last night. It was too chewy and not very well-seasoned. Also, not enough salt. I have not been to Noodletown in a long time but I bet their version is much better than what I had at Cafe Hong Kong last night. I'll have to go back to Noodletown soon and compare.

                    However the fried garlic chicken was probably the best I've ever had of that dish. So that made it a worthwhile trip. I want to eat garlic as good as that all the time.

                    We also ordered "twin egg bok choy" which was not bad. It featured both a thousand-year egg and a regular hard-boiled egg. I think some egg was scrambled too.

                    And we got crispy pork intestines. This was not crispy enough. Not anywhere NEAR crispy enough. It was basically just a lot of pork fat with a little tiny bit of a slightly crispy edge on each piece. I am probably not the best person to ask about intestines in situations where they're not crispy but I don't think any of us were crazy about this dish. At least it had some good julienned pickled radishes (I think) and a little carrot underneath the pork. This dish was probably a poor choice. Oh well.

                    Oh and we got hot taro milk tea. Excellent, if a bit pricey.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ike

                      Well this lineage (Pearl River/Cantoon/South China Garden) is great for NY Chinatown and I'm absolutely thrilled they're back. But there are dozens of Cantonese restaurants throughout the continent that are as good as or better than this one, which would easily explain your lesser enthusiasm.

                      1. re: Ike

                        thats odd, the salt baked squid is definitely more tender and better than NY noodletown, you mustve had an off night bc its usually very tender (like as tender as you would get it in hong kong), give it a try again next time you're there

                        never tried the crispy intestines, so no opinion on it

                        glad you liked the rest

                      2. somehow missed the previous incarnation, stopped by on my own tonight, wanted lobster w xo, one was $18, two for $25 so I decided to wait to come back w a friend. Instead, order the peking pork chops.

                        There was a ctown restaurant that closed 20 years ago which made this perfectly, I tried a bunch of terrible renditions and gave up. Loved the chops here, I will say it's not the perfect order when eating on your own as the sweetness of the sauce can be a little cloying. But a couple of chops with 2-3 other dishes would be perfect. also, if you happen to be in ctown with a general tsos crowd, they're going to like this dish and while you weave in some other goodies.

                        another table was eating lobster and big pile of fried (not peking) pork chops, looked amazing. clocked at 15 mins walk from fidi, I think I can make it for lunch...especially if I take a city bike membership.

                        can't wait to go back, Thanks Lau!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: vinouspleasure

                          glad you enjoyed, their peking pork chops are good, but they changed the sauce a bit, so they aren't quite as good as before

                          the pork chops you saw were probably salt and pepper pork chops, people always order those or peking pork chops (both are good)

                        2. From the department of the hell you say, Heraclitus, you can too reenter the same stream twice...
                          Lunch there yesterday was terrific. The new place is much nicer/modern than the old (although I loved the old). There was the waiter who clued us in to the closing, doing a super job. And there was the chef :) :) :)
                          HOORAY their food is available again!!!
                          The (complimentary) soup, the mixed veg (not the same as/as good as at the old place -- no pickled veg or lotus root, but I think you could specify), the beef fried rice with shredded lettuce in it, the garlic chicken (the sauce was a bit sweeter than I remembered it -- will get it plain next time -- it's just "fried chicken" not "crisp skin chicken" in Chinese on the menu, so I thought it might not be the same, but the chicken itself was its old self), and the double lobster special, steamed with garlic, not on the menu but just say the word, $25 yesterday, and the complimentary oranges for dessert.
                          GO! (Not terrific pic of the interior, tried to get it when no one was in range. The food pics look a bit blurry because everything is steaming hot when it hits the table. Wok hay...

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: Lau

                              What a relief, right? It killed me to go by SCG before they opened this place.

                          1. No reservations for the main dining room but they do have a private room downstairs that you can reserve, minimum spend is $250.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: avial

                              ahh interesting, how many people can you fit?

                              1. re: Lau

                                At least 10 I think but I didn't ask for clarification.

                                We didn't do it because it's just a group of 8 adults and I didnt think the $/pp ratio made sense for that many ppl (4yr old and 1yr old in the group).

                                1. re: avial

                                  cool i was just curious how big it is

                                  1. re: avial

                                    Any interest in chowhounds/lauhounds renting this space for a seafood orgy, I mean banquet?

                              2. Great report as usual. Is the fried garlic chicken on the lunch special? I see chicken with garlic and chicken with garlic sauce.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: tenth

                                  i doubt it bc you can't really order an individual sized order of this, you really need to order a whole or half chicken

                                    1. re: tenth

                                      im eating there tmrw, ill take a look for you to get you a definitive answer

                                      the problem with the online menu is that its only in english, i need to see the chinese characters to tell you whether those chicken dishes are the right ones or not

                                      1. re: Lau

                                        We took a menu, let me see if I can find it. My guess is that the chicken with garlic is the one. They did have the cui pi ji on the lunch special at the old stand, and it was a large portion -- we got it by mistake instead of the half and the tall waiter apologized, seeing me root around in it for the second joint with a bit of the 3rd joint of the wing that's my favorite part.

                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          L13 Chicken with garlic is "garlic fragrance chicken " in Chinese, as the dish we're discussing is in the "Entrees" section of the menu. L26 Chicken with garlic sauce is "fish-flavored chicken" (a Sichuan prep, might be good, might not...).

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            I saw the dish on the main menu, was hoping one of the two on the lunch menu might have been it. At least it gives me a couple of dishes to try. Thanks.

                                            1. re: tenth

                                              I had it from the lunch special menu last friday, it was chicken with garlic in english.

                                                1. re: Alan Henderson

                                                  i was wrong, they do offer it on the lunch special, its the one that says 蒜香雞 in chinese is the right one

                                  1. I was there on Saturday for lunch and was told that the Lobster in XO Sauce had to be ordered in advance. how does that work if they don't take reservations?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: coasts

                                      That is weird, because the lobster prep we ordered wasn't even on the new menu.

                                      1. re: coasts

                                        Maybe for lunch it needs to be in advance bc it's more of a dinner item? I walked in and had it for dinner once, no advance ordering.

                                        1. re: pravit

                                          we've since returned several times and ordered the lobster without issue.

                                      2. Went on Sunday night with a troop of pals who either live, or have lived in Shanghai. Overall it was great!

                                        We got:

                                        Lobster in XO sauce -- I couldn't keep my mits offa these claws. So good! Tender, delicious, hacked up with expertise.

                                        Fried chicken with garlic -- very good. A touch dry. Much better when hot.

                                        Sautéed Chinese broccoli -- our obligatory vegetable as they were out of sautéed string beans (zut alors!). Totally fine.

                                        Salt and Pepper Squid -- delicious. Miraculously not a trace of grease, though the batter could have used a tiny bit more seasoning.

                                        Sizzling Pork Chops -- eaten so quickly by the others that I had no chance. Came with pasta, which I heard was pretty decent.

                                        Seafood Crispy Noodles -- didn't try 'em, heard they were just OK.

                                        Steamed fish -- also didn't try, heard it was just OK and very gelatinous. The gal next to me said something along the lines of "that is deffffinitely a river fish," and not in a complementary way.

                                        7 people, 25 bones each. Plus, it's BYO! Very clean, service was good and attentive. Would definitely return.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: chompchomp

                                          glad you enjoyed

                                          you sort of just raised my concern that the fish i had in this report might've been a fluke b/c it really just barely had that muddy flavor which i hate, but i was a bit concerned when i wrote this that it might've been a fluke and i just happened to get a better than avg fish. ive eaten here twice since i wrote this, but i haven't had the fish again

                                          1. re: chompchomp

                                            So, what's the verdict? Do you have to pre-order Lobster in XO sauce?

                                            And, is it really BYO? Can I bring beer or my favorite riesling?

                                            1. re: famdoc

                                              no you don't every time ive gone they have it, there is a lobster sizzling platter you have to order in advance though in the "Fresh Seafood" section, but look in the "Cantonese" section and they have lobster with XO sauce available

                                              1. re: Lau

                                                We had Tsingtaos there. You could try bringing wine.

                                          2. I'll definitely check this place out. I like your photos, the food looks delicious.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. According to this post on reddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/nyc/comments/...), the former head chef of South China Garden is now at a restaurant at 42 Bowery.

                                              3 Replies
                                                1. re: Humbucker

                                                  Never in my life had I expected a reddit thread on the restaurant. Awesome. I didn't know the cooking staff all that well (aside from their faces), but I only knew my dad and uncle as the head chefs so I'll have to confirm with my dad. I'm curious now, lol.

                                                  Anyway, I read all the comments from you guys and I really appreciate it! Glad you guys enjoyed the food!

                                                  1. re: Sloths

                                                    I was very pleased to catch sight of the chef I remember from SCG, whom I guess is your father. Congrats on the new restaurant!

                                                2. Lau thanks for brining this to my attention. Was there for lunch and got the salt and pepper pork chops. Absolutely delicious. Expertly fried and very flavorful. Really a terrific version of this dish and quite the value for $7.

                                                  Also got some soup before the meal. A chicken broth with beans in it. Reminded me more of an Eastern European chicken soup. Interesting nonetheless

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: MVNYC

                                                    yah they do alot of simple standard classic dishes quite well here

                                                    1. re: Lau

                                                      Excited to go back with a group to try more things

                                                      1. re: MVNYC

                                                        yah def go in for a real family style dinner, its def the best way to enjoy the place

                                                    2. re: MVNYC

                                                      Lunch specials are a real bargain compared to the dinner prices even taking different portion size into account.

                                                      1. re: Chandavkl

                                                        Dinner is a bargain, too. Seven of us had a feast there, including the Lobster in XO sauce, the salt and pepper squid, a whole fish (plus four beers) for under $100 before tip.

                                                    3. Thank you Messiers Lau and Cuce for the timely update. This coming Mon I'm here for work then taking a crew out. Here. We can't wait. Hope they still have the seafood stuffed long hot peppers!

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: Steve Drucker

                                                        If they're not on the menu, ask. We got the double lobster special that way.

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          the lobster in XO sauce is on the menu (not the sizzling platter the regular one) and its also listed outside on the window (in chinese only though)

                                                          the stuffed peppers on not on the menu, but please ask about them i actually forgot to ask about them the last two times and i meant to...would be curious if they'll make them

                                                            1. re: Lau

                                                              Yes it is, but not the double lobster any way you want it special, which was in any case only advertised on a sign in Chinese in the window at SCG.

                                                        2. Went for the second time the other night. Two lobsters for $25 in ginger scallion sauce, garlic chicken, and salt baked squid. Everything was tasty. They are really friendly in there....Also, saw a rather elderly Chinese couple splitting a huge pan fried t-bone steak...Anyway, yep, they've pretty much picked up where they left off...Cash only.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                                            that pan fried t-bone steak can be really good, but i haven't had a good version in NY

                                                            1. re: Lau

                                                              I guess if I ate a lot of Chinese food at home, like maybe this couple does, I might consider ordering it. Not really a steak person myself but it definitely looked good. Was about the size of the woman's head though. I don't know where they put it all. They ordered a couple other dishes as well....New Zealand lamb is also listed on the menu...

                                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                                yah its usually like a big ass porter house kind of cut where u share it family style with a bunch of people, sometimes its just basically a regular steak and sometimes it has some sort of sauce on it. The last time i had it where it was good, it has this very light slightly sweet soy sauce on top of it which was awesome

                                                                lamb chops can be good, the one at Imperial Palace is actually one of my fav dishes there

                                                          2. We went again last Sunday (for much the same menu, except we had the baby bok choy and Singapore noodles because we were jonesing for them) and loved it. So happy they're back in business.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. Another massive and wonderful Sunday lunch, the lobster (which apparently looked good enough that people sitting across from us ordered it too), crispy chicken without garlic, baby bok choi with, and beef fried rice. Didn't get the soup today -- they were very full at 2 pm and the waiter who remembers us from the old stand didn't take our order. Oh well. I love this place.
                                                              (We were busted on the street by the lady who owns the Old Sichuan and Old Shanghai...trying to sneak past both...had to tell her we weren't on our way to the Old Sichuan ;-)

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                                That's funny, happened to me too with the lady. Always seem to be on Bayard in one restaurant or another.

                                                                1. So I ate here last night as I remember a few people have some mixed reviews somewhat recently

                                                                  The good:
                                                                  - lobster in XO sauce was the best I've had since I've been there (i.e. since Cafe Hong Kong opened), lobster was fresh and sauce was good
                                                                  - peking pork chops were on point and they didn't seem to have the pineapple thing going on, so basically they tasted exactly like they did at SCG
                                                                  - salt and pepper squid was on point

                                                                  The bad:
                                                                  - the string beans and garlic chicken were a bit overly salted. Whomever was cooking that night was a bit heavy handed on the salt in the string beans. The chicken itself was good (tender meat and crispy skin), but the soy sauce at the bottom was too salty and made the pieces at the bottom a bit too salty

                                                                  Overall, a good meal though and i took some friends who had never eaten there before (and know nothing about Chinese food) and they loved it

                                                                  One other thing, they have alot of specials on the wall again. I didn't have a chance to try to read all of them, but they have various frog dishes and vegetable dishes. I saw another table with steamed live scallops with garlic and vermicelli. I'm hoping they bring back those stuff spicy green peppers in black bean sauce

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Lau

                                                                    I was here a couple weeks ago and had the lobster in XO and yeah, it was great. $25 for two lobsters. Good deal with a small group...Salt n' peppa squid was also good. And we got a seasonal vegetable dish off the specials wall, can't remember what now, that was excellent...I didn't get the garlic chicken this time but now that you mention it, it has definitely been salty in past visits, so that wasn't a one time thing you experienced.

                                                                    1. re: Lau

                                                                      ...Also, there were a couple of whole fish on the specials menu....and raw oysters too.