Yesterday's review stars Hunan Manor, a Hunan Chinese restaurant just five minutes from Grand Central Terminal. It's popular with office lunchers and deserves to be popular with everyone who loves good Chinese food in New York, but I have an inkling that few people who eat there know of the restaurant's origins—that is to say its progenitor in Flushing.
Hunan Manor is in fact an offshoot of the more humbly named Hunan House on Flushing's Northern Boulevard, and it's part of a small but noteworthy class of restaurants that's successfully made the jump from an outer borough Asian enclave to the center of Manhattan. (Any other outer borough neighborhoods with a similar success rate? Tell us in the comments.) Here are other Flushing restaurants that have expanded across the East River.
Spicy Village (née Henan Flavor)
In Flushing, Henan Feng Wei offers an extensive menu of Henanese specialties. East Chinatown's Spicy Village has a more pared-down selection of hand-pulled noodles, soups, dumplings, and a show-stopping "big tray of chicken," which at $13 feeds three at least. The Manhattan restaurant is actually run by a Fujianese couple (much of today's East Chinatown population hails from Fujian province) who learned how to make Henan Feng Wei's wide noodles. They've succeeded and them some, serving some of the highest-quality noodles in the borough, especially when served over that chicken.
Though it's been written up countless times for its soup dumplings, Chinatown's Joe's Shanghai is more of a crowded tourist trap than anything else these days, especially with much better xiao long bao available virtually around the corner. They've also expanded to midtown, but some say their original Flushing location, which opened in 1995, offers the best food of the three, with shorter waits.
It's the opposite story at this Korean barbecue restaurant, a local favorite in Flushing that's struggled to find its audience on St. Marks Place. The good news is that it's easy to get a table at the Manhattan location and enjoy its specialty: pork barbecue cooked on a blistering-hot inclined plane made of crystal. Rendered pork fat sputters and crackles, then drains into a pile of kimchi below, making for a lardified plate of pickles that may be the best bite of the meal.
Every New York Times critic gets to blow up at least one affordably priced Chinese restaurant, and for Frank Bruni in 2008, Szechuan Gourmet was the one. It opened in 2004, two years after its Flushing original, and to this day it serves some of the best Sichuan food not just in Manhattan, but all over New York. Of special note: stir fried lamb with cumin and some wickedly spicy shell-on shrimp.
Kum Gang Sun
Flushing's Kum Gang Sun opened in 1992, an eternity ago in restaurant years. In 1998 it expanded to K-Town, where an indoor waterfall and plenty of Korean pop provide a kitschy background to big spreads of ban chan, barbecue, and bip bim bap.
Xi'an Famous Foods
An American Dream success story if ever there was one—Chinese immigrant father and American-born son team up to grow a small Flushing noodle stall into a restaurant empire with seven (and soon to be eight) locations. With a commissary kitchen preparing the building blocks of Xi'an's menu, the company has found it easier and easier to expand, making it without a doubt the Shake Shack of New York's Chinese food world.