Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Low On Atmosphere, High On Flavor

 I can't resist the siren call of Chinatown. In any city.
In New York -- though the most authentic and probably best Asian food really shows up in Flushing, Queens -- Manhattan's ever growing Chinatown offers plenty of great cheap choices if you know where to look. Over my days in New York I walk the streets looking for those out of the way or sometimes known dive spots known for food not frills.
Walking in with a horde of Asian school kids pressing in for after school snacks and curious tourists I line up at the tiny front counter at Prosperity Dumpling and order Fujian wonton soup -- deep chicken rich stock with tiny thin skinned wontons that practically float down my throat. Prosperity's "dining room" -- a couple of stools and a counter  -- would make most high school locker rooms seem appetizing so I take my soup and sip as I stroll.

I actually go out of my way to find Taste of Northern China. I knew that the "restaurant's " name is not on their sign and that the entrance is not on the street with the their address, I still walked by it several times.
Barely a building -- more a vinyl tent attached to an open collection of appliances one might generously call a kitchen, Taste of Northern China has garnered a stellar reputation among eaters willing to saunter past the storage shed and grocery back room atmosphere to order at the tiny perch by the cash register.
 There are soups and huddled Chinese bent over styrofoam bowls but I am here for the skewers. Each about a dollar and quickly grilled by a friendly young girl then sprinkled with the house's spice blend -- cumin and chile and other tastes I can't identify. My favorite, a consensus among blogging visitors, is the fatty crispy lamb. Probably the tastiest dollar you can spend in Chinatown.
Elegant by comparison, the collection of mismatched chairs and cracked formica that is Tasty Handpulled Noodles stills seems inviting to tunnel-visioned diners and Chinese natives looking for big bowls of warming soups and chewy, stretchy deliciously fresh noodles. The broth may be a bit bland -- it's easily bolstered by the chili oil and chopped cilantro on nearly every table -- but when the winds blow fiercely through the city I long to settle at a table that needs to be wiped for steaming noodles and pan-fried dumplings.

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