Sleeper Hits: The Chinatown Edition
In the grand scheme of New York dining, there are restaurant dishes so iconic that a meal without them would feel incomplete. You may not even have dined there, but you know them. The spattering porterhouse at Peter Luger. The sesame noodles at Hwa Yuan Szechuan. The requisite N1 for all Xi’an Famous Foods first-timers. The stacked lasagna at I Sodi.
Yet menus and kitchens are so much more than their most talked-about hits, and if you look to the side, you’ll find plenty of unmined gems just waiting for their moment to shine.
Welcome to Sleeper Hits, your new food bucket list, and a Resy series that uncovers New York’s best-kept restaurant dishes and under-the-radar menu items. These are the dishes that aren’t in the spotlight but should be, as recommended by the chefs, owners, and regulars of these establishments.
For this very first edition, we dived into three of the city’s most prominent Chinese restaurants, from a famed banquet hall to a fine-dining legend.
Spread across 20,000 square feet, Jing Fong is Manhattan’s largest dim sum parlor and banquet hall. As roving dim sum carts snake their way around the restaurant’s large round tables, patrons happily tuck into steaming plates of siu mai, cheung fun (rice noodle rolls), chicken feet, and the like. But according to Eric Sze, the chef and owner of modern Taiwanese restaurant 886, there’s a hidden gem among the pastry cart’s yolky egg tarts and baked char siu buns, which doesn’t get quite as much attention: the Durian Pastry Puffs.
“I’ve not had a better durian puff than Jing Fong’s,” says Sze. “It’s unparalleled in America. I will go on record saying that.”
The durian pastry puffs come in three, and once bitten into, the crispy, freshly-made pastry shells ooze with the restaurant’s homemade, bright yellow durian purée.
“Durian freaks like myself are very often bullied at the table. So it’s rare when a restaurant helps you embrace [it],” says Sze. “Jing Fong’s durian puff is the best balance of crispy pastry and gooey, creamy durian. Get it fresh and it will bring you right to ‘rotten flavor’ heaven.” // 20 Elizabeth Street, jingfongny.com.
Named after the twisting alleyways that make up Shanghai, Little Alley is where expats cure homesickness one plate of Shanghainese comfort food at a time, a bit farther north from historic Chinatown, in Murray Hill. Here, baskets of xiaolongbao, honey kaofu, and lion’s head meatballs reign supreme, yet there’s one dish Little Alley owner Yishu He wished got more of the spotlight: the Tossed Noodles with Dried Shrimp.
“It’s a unique dish that Shanghainese enjoy as an in-between snack,” says He. “It represents the fascinating eating culture in Shanghai.”
The bowl of thick noodles arrives topped with dried shrimp and scallions, which have been stir-fried in a wok over a high flame. And as the name indicates, patrons need to toss and mix the noodles well before eating.
“I picked this dish because New Yorkers have the brunch culture, just like how Shanghainese enjoy the in-between snack noodles,” says He. “It’s a wonderful cross-culture dish.” // 533 3rd Avenue, littlealley.nyc.
Hwa Yuan Szechuan
You can thank Hwa Yuan Szechuan for bringing cold sesame noodles to New York in the late 60’s. The iconic noodles still grace the tables at this palatial restaurant set on three levels, 60 years later. But according to James Tang, grandson of Hwa Yuan Szechuan’s original chef and owner Shorty Tang, there’s another dish guests should add to their roster of Tang family favorites: the Dry Sautéed Tangy Crispy Beef.
“That’s always been one of my favorite dishes, since I was a little boy,” says Tang. “My dad [current Hwa Yuan Szechuan chef Chen Lieh Tang] actually calls it Jamie’s beef, which is my nickname.”
Made with strips of choice steak sliced thin that’ve been marinated in a brown sauce, the dish is then sautéed and pan-fried in a wok.
“For me, this is my childhood,” says Tang, who hadn’t had this dish in nearly 15 years before his father brought it back on the menu. “It’s nostalgia.” // 42 East Broadway, hwayuannyc.com.
Noëmie Carrant is a Resy staff writer. Follow Resy on Instagram and Twitter.