This is part one in a series revealing America’s best Chinese restaurants. Find part one here, and stay tuned for the complete ranking.
Chinese cooking in New York City was better and more diverse 25 years ago than it is today — many of the great older chefs who immigrated to America during the Cold War have retired, and the demand is now too high in China itself to encourage anyone to leave. That said, chef–restaurateur Xiaotu "John" Zhang's Grand Sichuan restaurants — of which the Ninth Avenue branch is considered the best example — are a bright spot on the local food scene.
The cooking holds true to ancient roots but embraces the evolution of modern cuisine, redefining the familiar "take-out" that New Yorkers have come to love (and depend on) while suggesting a more vibrant future for Chinese food in America. In addition to all the standards you'd expect, done well, the menu offers more uncommon fare — for instance, crab and pork soup dumplings, sliced conch with "wild pepper" sauce, eel with garlic sauce, shredded duck with bitter melon, and ox tongue and tripe in hot sauce.