New York Noodles: Spicy Village's Hui Mei
Forsyth Street’s Spicy Village is not charming. It’s not an enchanting Santa’s Village nor is it a romantic trip into your long-lost Chinese grandmother’s hometown. Overly bright fluorescent lights welcome you into the cramped space, where you will wait a good 20+ minutes during dinner service for a place at a small plastic table set with foam plates and disposable chopsticks.
But what the small restaurant lacks in charisma, it makes up for in flavor. True to its name, plenty of Spicy Village’s Henanese dishes are packed with spice, making a BYOB beer an ideal supplement to your potentially tongue-numbing noodle order.
Hui Mei noodles-- thin, wide, springy hand-pulled noodles-- are fantastic in all varieties here, from soups to stir-fries. Rice noodles, yam noodles, and cellophane noodles are also all offered in noodle dishes, but Hui Mei is the way to go for glutenphiles. 'Vegetables Hui Mei' pairs the bouncy noodles with a rich lamb broth with soft vegetables; stir in tableside chili oil for a souped up kick. Fried dishes like the black bean sauce Hui Mei or spicy beef brisket Hui Mei put the noodles at the forefront: large bowls are heaped with the hand pulled masterworks, and at $5 a dish, it’s hard to not order seconds.
Spicy Village is perhaps best renowned for its 'Chef’s Special: Big Tray of Chicken' ($12.95). Flexitarian Mark Bittman visited the restaurant and published a similar recipe in the New York Times for this beloved spicy dish. Dark meat chicken is hacked into bone-in pieces, and stewed with Sichuan peppers, star anise, and potatoes until everything is tender enough to be swirled with noodles and slurped through chopsticks straight out of its aluminum pan. The family-style dish can easily be shared by two or three diners, especially with the addition of extra noodles.
Vegetable options are slim here, “scallions” were promoted by the waitstaff as a vegetarian dish, though most dishes can be made vegetarian if you’re willing to sacrifice an abundance of greens. However, vegetable boiled dumplings, made with thick outer wrappers encasing a variety of shredded greens and carrots (5 for $12), provide a decent fill of vitamins for the carb-centric meal.
Even for those who are not noodle-obsessed, Spicy Village offers a unique Henanese dining experience.