Travel to just about any American city and odds are there’ll be at least one Chinese restaurant (in fact, that’s pretty much a global truism). Convenient, inexpensive, and full of flavor, Chinese food is one of the country’s great adopted cuisines. Sadly, in much of the country it’s still very difficult to find anything other than “Chinese-American” cuisine – sesame chicken, egg foo young, and the like – but that doesn’t mean that great Chinese food doesn’t exist. In New York, for example, there are some truly great Chinese restaurants; here are the top three. Click here for our ranking of the best Chinese restaurants in America.
Dim sum master chef Joe Ng and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfeld have elevated Chinese food to a new level in the West Village and on the Upper West Side. RedFarm offers innovative Chinese cuisine incorporating a farm-to-table mindset, one that you certainly don’t encounter often in Chinese restaurants.
The West Village location only has 42 seats, most of which are at two large communal tables, and reservations for both locations are only taken for parties of eight or more. Once the food starts coming out, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Starters include Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemon-yuzu ice, barbecued Flack Foot Berkshire pork belly with grilled jalapeños, a Katz’s pastrami egg roll, and barbecue duck lettuce wraps. Dim sum includes pan-fried lamb dumpling “shooters,” pan-fried pork buns, crispy oxtail dumplings, crispy duck and crab dumplings, and pork and crab soup dumplings. Mains include lobster with chopped pork and egg, crispy skin smoked chicken with garlic, wide rice noodles with barbecued duck breast, Dungeness and rock crabmeat long life noodles, Nueske’s bacon and egg fried rice, and udon noodles with grilled short ribs.
Not only is RedFarm’s food creative and delicious, it fuses the traditional and contemporary in a seamless and brilliant way.
#2 Grand Szechuan
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.
#1 Xi’An Famous Foods
With eight no-frills locations in New York, including outposts in Flushing, Chinatown, Greenpoint, Midtown Manhattan, and the East Village, Xi’an is one of the only places in the country to get your fix of the traditional foods of the western Chinese city of the same name.
You’ll be glad you did: Go for any of the hand-pulled noodle dishes, like the spicy and tingly beef, or try the spicy cumin lamb or stewed pork “burgers,” which are more like chopped spiced meat on buns. Other intensely flavorful options include a soup with diced pork belly and hand-stretched and ripped noodles in a sour and spicy broth; lamb face salad with lamb face meat and tendons, cucumbers, scallions, and cilantro with a spicy dressing; homemade soft tofu in a spicy sauce; and lamb offal soup (with liver, stomach, and heart). If you’re feeling adventurous, Xi’an is for you.
The flavors will be unlike any you’ve had. We suggest you heed their warning and don’t take your order to go; those fresh noodles demand to be eaten immediately, before they begin to stick together.