I come from a family obsessed with beef chow fun, the classic Cantonese dish made from marinated beef stir fried with fresh steamed rice noodles, bean sprouts, and scallions. While occasionally you'll see it fried with a soupy sauce, dry-fried is the only way to order it for us. Most versions of beef chow fun are fine to eat. Noodles, beef, and soy sauce are a winning combo. But perfect chow fun is not easy to come by. The most common offense is less-than-fresh noodles. The steamed rice noodles go stale incredibly fast. They need to be steamed within a few hours of when they are cooked, and they must never be refrigerated, lest they turn crumbly.
Growing up, the best dry-fried beef chow fun came from the original Phoenix Garden, located in an underground mall off of Elizabeth Street. The beef was tender, the balance of sprouts to scallions to noodles was spot on, and the noodles themselves were always fresh—pliant, moist, and slippery—with a substantial amount of wok hei, that smoky carbonized aroma so delicious when properly executed in a red hot wok, and so impossible to reproduce at home.
The original Phoenix Garden shut down some time in the late 80's or early 90's and we were left having to trek all the way out to Jersey for our chow fun fix to to Phoenix Garden II, opened by the brother of the original owner. PGII burned down a few years later, finally emerging from the ashes in its original Phoenix Garden incarnation, this time on 40th Street. Now run by the affable sone of the original owner, it's still a fine restaurant for Cantonese-American food in its own rite, but either I'm looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, or the beef chow fun there is just not channeling its ancestors.
If you were to ask my little sister who makes the best beef chow fun now, it'd be East Ocean City in Boston's Chinatown. We've been on the lookout for a New York competitor for the last decade or so.
I think I may have finally found it.
The Beef Chow Fun ($12 at dinner, $7 for lunch) at Red Egg in Chinatown is everything the dish should be: plenty of extraordinarily tender beef with a deep salty soy flavor, lots of crunchy bean sprouts and bright green scallions, great smoky flavor, and—most importantly—the freshest noodles I've had in a New York Cantonese restaurant. Makes sense, considering there's a rice noodle factory just around the corner on Grand Street. This version's good enough to give even my childhood favorite a run for its money.
More into Salt & Pepper Pork Chops like Ed? The version here is also excellent ($7.95 lunch special with rice and soup). Crazy tender pork with an almost ham-like briny texture under a crisp, grease-free salty crust and plenty of stir fried garlic and long green pepper.
At $8 for a full lunch menu, it may seem slightly pricier than some other Chinese options in the neighborhood (though still extraordinarily cheap), but from ingredients to preparation, it's a definite step above most.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.