In The Midnight Hour: Wo Hop

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[Photos: Zachary Feldman]

Open Late...

Hours: 10:00am - 7:00 am, 7 days

Wo Hop is a late-night legend. For 73 years, they've served the same Americanized Chinese classics day and night, closing for just three hours each morning. The space has largely remained the same since 1938, save for the walls crowded with photographs of patrons and other memorabilia—a testament to its venerability. Yes, it's a relic from the city's past and a true taste of Chinatown's history, but let's be real—if you've ever experienced the numbing spice of Sichuan or the intricate flavors of dim sum, the palate-coating greasiness of Wo Hop's pseudo-Cantonese offerings might seem unappealing. Never fear, your best bet is to just succumb and take it for what it is: a history lesson.

The restaurant is best enjoyed in the wee hours, if only for the nocturnal clientele. While at lunch you may find area residents mingling with lawyers and judges from the nearby courts, at night the tables are dotted with a more colorful sort. In the center of the room, a rowdy group of twelve bickered over the check as they finished what appeared to have been a lengthy meal. A pair of Jersey Shore-esque young men—their hair as greasy as their plates—ordered bowls of egg drop and wonton soups mixed together. And behind us, the conversation between a family of tourists played out like a Todd Solondz movie, with more than a few long, grimace-filled pauses.

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Embracing the kitsch, we opted for a heaping bowl of fried wonton skins ($0.50) to dip into duck sauce and hot Chinese mustard. Surprisingly light, the snack is about as straightforward as fried foods get: terrible for you but easy to devour.

You can find traces of old New York in Wo Hop's dishes, as is the case with their leaden wonton soup ($2.25/small, $3.50/large), whose dumplings look more like dense delicatessen kreplach than the fragile parcels served throughout the city. The broth, too, is of the heavy, deep-yellow chicken fat-laced variety and exhibits all the pleasurable traits of a good deli-style consomme. The matchsticks of roast pork, however, make this soup unmistakably Chinese. Chinese broccoli ($7.10) comes steamed, or steamed and topped with a large dollop of oyster sauce, the stalks tender and sweet while still retaining their snap. The oyster sauce dispels any bitterness present in the greens, coating them in oily sweetness. There are lighter versions in Chinatown, but not at 4am.

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Wide ho fun noodles, slightly gummy and saturated with soy, are the principle ingredient in beef chow fun ($5.75), a Cantonese staple that mixes beef and bean sprouts with the starchy ribbons. Piled high and tan as a lifeguard's decolletage, the noodles' chew made for a lovely textural contrast with the crunch of the broccoli stalks.

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Upon receipt of the pork egg foo young ($7.50), it became immediately clear—thanks to the raised serving platter—that the dish is a source of pride for the restaurant. It should be. This might be the best egg foo young I've come across. The omelette itself is soft on the inside, browned and crisp at the edges, and drowning in brown gravy. Strips of roast pork sit suspended in the egg with diced vegetables. The cross-section looks like an archeological dig.

Moments after the party of twelve settled their tab and shuffled out the door, two waiters descended on the table with purpose. Shortly after the dishes were cleared, an older gentleman arrived and greeted each server individually, plunking himself down in the middle of the long table. Without pause, one of the waiters hurried back into the kitchen to start the man's meal.

Wo Hop

17 Mott Street, New York NY 10013 () 212-962-8617