Ask the Critic: 'Real' Chinese Food in NYC

Ask the Critic

You have restaurant questions? We have answers. Where to take a dinner date? Restaurants good for parents or picky eaters? Food etiquette? Food and restaurant writer Carey Jones answers your questions. Email [email protected] to submit.


[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is contributing writer, former managing and SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

This week, we're talking about "real" Chinese food—beyond orange chicken and lo mein.

Tell Me About Real Chinese Food?

Hi, Critic. I'm pretty new to the city. I never particularly liked Chinese food, but I'm realizing that I've never really had real Chinese food, just the hot-and-sour soup and orange chicken my parents would get us in the suburbs growing up. So where do I start on, well, real Chinese food? I'm open to anything, but there are so many restaurants in Chinatown that I don't even know where to start. I don't need to know every single good place, but where's a good jumping off point?

Imagine walking into an "American restaurant" in, I don't know, Kyoto or Bilbao or Prague. What do you envision on the menu? Hamburgers, maybe. French fries, for sure. Spaghetti and meatballs? Fried chicken? Meatloaf? Sounds a bit ridiculous, right?

There isn't just one "American" cuisine, of course—and in a country as large as China, there's an incredible amount of diversity, too.

So consider your journey that of one region at a time. Start at Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street, for an essential new term in your vocabulary: xiao long bao (soup dumplings). Move onto Sichuan at Legend (don't miss the Chonqing chicken); or, if you're into stylish Midtown restaurants, Café China; or Lao Cheng Du in Flushing. Or for something a little more unusual, the Middle Eastern-inflected fare (and excellent noodles) of Xi'an Famous Foods, inspired by the food of Xi'an, the capital of China's Shaanxi province.

For a first-timer, there are plenty of gateways. Who doesn't love dumplings? In Chinatown, there's Tasty Dumpling; for extra credit, head out to Flushing and reenact this dumpling tour. Consider dim sum, a mode of eating that's easy to love: try a million tiny bites, plenty of them fried, at prices cheap enough it doesn't matter if not every plate is to your liking. Red Egg is a pleasant place to have a meal, slightly more expensive than surrounding joints but a little more peaceful and with high culinary standards. Our favorite in the area? 88 Palace, with lots of variety and extremely gentle prices. Or East Ocean Palace out in Queens.

And once you've worked your way through those ideas? Have at our guide to Chinese food in New York; many happy meals await you.

Any Ideas?

Chime in, in the comments!

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Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question. All questions will be read, though unfortunately not all can be answered.