Today marks the beginning of Chinese New Year. To mark the occasion, our friends at Lucky Peach are sharing some of their favorite Chinatown haunts across New York, Chicago and Southern California.
It would be great if we could actually be in China for the Lunar New Year, but it’s not happening. If you have a trip planned, we both applaud you and cry for ourselves. If, like us, you’re stuck Stateside, here are our cross-coastal recommendations for ways to transport yourself without actually getting on a plane.
Jing Fong is New York’s biggest Chinese restaurant—the dining room can comfortably seat 800. I’ve eaten there countless times but the room hasn’t lost its ability to stun. It’s decked out in red and gold carpet, blue accent lighting, and there are monumentally extravagant chandeliers hanging from coffered ceilings.
Despite its tremendous size, there’s frequently an hour wait, and while this no longer stuns me, living in New York, it’s wild considering the restaurant’s age—43 years—as well as its size.
At Jing Fong you get dim sum—pork and chive lovingly spooned into dough by silent chefs huddled around a floured table. Get the zheng jiao, the chang fen, the clams in black bean sauce, stir-fried eggplant, and the pork knuckles. These are served on carts manned by “aunties” along with a slew of waiters who fan out attentively across the vast dining room.
And a there is now a mimosa cart, possibly some sort of nod to boozy Meatpacking District brunches, or maybe a concession to the fact that young New Yorkers will flock to anything that vaguely resembles “brunch.” Even if it’s been in the black since the seventies, a restaurant run by enterprising folks with eight hundred seats to fill never sleeps on its success. — Ryan Healey
My friend told me that when Kang Kang Food Court, in Alhambra, California, was being made, they got together the best chefs they could find in each region of China. It was like those kung fu movies where a master from each discipline of martial arts had been assembled in one place—and, visiting, I just had to revel in the full glory of it.
Immediately upon walking in, there’s a buffet that’s a smorgasbord of awesome stuff. At the tail end of the space, you can order off a gigantic menu—they’ve got everything. Taiwanese food, food from northern China, food from eastern China, southern China, Hong Kong. All this Chinese breakfast food; all the weird dessert stuff. It’s all there.
We started off with an old-school steamed pork bun. Then Shanghainese rice cakes. Then a Taiwanese oyster omelet. Then this scallion beef roll-up. Then the sheng jian bao, and the normal pan-fried pork dumplings, and the xiao long bao. And then a bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup, which was so massive that it came with five extra serving bowls. Maybe the best thing we had to eat was a Taiwanese chicken roll—it was like a loose chicken sausage, wrapped up in what I think was chicken skin.
Whenever I go to L.A., I should probably try to get a weekend apartment in San Gabriel Valley just to eat Chinese food. That would be my weekend home. White people can get a beach house. I would get a Chinese-eating house. — David Chang
I live right by Chinatown, and this is my regular haunt. It’s a dim sum place, and it’s great for that—they hit the whole spectrum right on the nose. But it’s more often a place I end up late at night. They’re open until two a.m., and they’re doing good food until the last minute; it’s not just a deep-fryer death dive we’re talking about here.
They’ve got all the stuff you might want from a Chinese place, but certain dishes are particularly awesome. There’s a beef tendon salad with chili oil and peanuts that I never fail to order. But the thing that always brings me back is this pig preparation they call Macau pork belly. They roast the whole cut then wok-fry the skin so it puffs up. They serve it with just chili oil and sugar. It has the succulence of sous vide pork belly, but it’s not sous vide. It’s just great Chinese technique. I can never get enough of that, no matter the time of day. — Mike Sheerin