I’d been hearing about Mission Chinese Food for quite some time, and I was excited that in general there was a resurgent interest in Chinese (or American Chinese) flavors and ingredients. I’d purchased the cookbook for Mission Street Food, the equally creative and bootstrapped predecessor to Danny Bowien’s San Francisco, and loved the story, as well as Mission Street Food’s voice of irreverence and gung-ho-ness. So this was my first stop when I passed through New York in August, late enough post-lunch hour (around 2:30) to avoid the notoriously long wait.
My first memory of the much-hyped Mission Chinese was how confused I was. Walking around on Orchard Street, all of a sudden I was in this dingy entrance, whose signage is deceivingly similar to any Chinese take-out shop. That crafty Chef Bowien. But down the crooked hallway to the left and you’re in this economically furnished room (borderline dumpy) with a rambunctious sea of decor: a red-and-gold dragon swirling around the ceiling, an irreverent painting of some Mao-era horse-mounted general. Biggie came on over the speakers. It was all a dream…I ordered a bunch of things (mainly to try, knowing I had some eager take-out enthusiasts back in the UES). The menu seems to have gotten quite extensive in comparison to the original San Francisco menu, so there was no way I could tackle even a meaningful portion of it by myself. But I tried.
Tartine’s spicy pickled carrots:I haven’t had the original, but the freshly-pickled carrots were decent if unmemorable. Briny, with a spicy finish. The crunchiness and the brightness of the vinegar were a bit at odds with the rest of the meal.
Crispy pig ears (Old Bay seasoning, country ham powder): The entirety of the carnivorous slob in me loved this dish – a great blend of cracklin’-esque crunch, umami-charged unctuousness, and peppery seasoning. I couldn’t stop taking bites of this, even after it had cooled down.
Salt cod fried rice (with Chinese sausage):The fried rice (including the eggs) was surprisingly fluffy. The lap mei slices gave little burst of smoky sweetness, and the fresh lettuce was not as disruptive as I thought it might be. I wish the mackerel was more salted (on the order of bacalao) and perhaps more charred (I wouldn’t have minded a bit more oil and a bit more burnt).
Broccoli beef brisket (with smoked oyster sauce):This was my favorite dish – the combination of creamy smoked oyster sauce married perfectly to the fatty layers of brisket. Replacing the limp, chewy beef strips typical of take-out beef & broccoli with this rich, tender, and actually substantial brisket was innovative, and the smokiness of the oyster sauce made the dish seem a bit more barbecue than I ever thought beef & broccoli could.
Detail (sorry for the blur) of the perfectly fatty brisket:Kung pao pastrami: I enjoyed the flavors, especially the bite in the peppers. It was also nice to have quality, flavorful meat – instead of, say, lifeless nibbles of chicken.
My meal for one was a bit pricy (around $70-$80), but considering that I ordered enough (and had enough leftovers boxed up) for three, it wasn’t so bad. Pretty good value, in fact, for a “Chinese food” experience with a few tricks up its sleeve.
Mission Chinese Food
154 Orchard St (between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002