Mission Chinese Food
154 Orchard St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-529-8800 (See the Listing)
Reader, forget about the “cheap” in “eat cheap.” This place—a branch of the San Francisco original—transcends talk of filthy lucre. The food is too good. You eat here and are so stunned by the audaciousness, the inventiveness, the lip-smacking, mind-bending tastiness of Danny Bowien’s cooking you don’t even look at the check. If it came down to it, though, you would rob convenience stores to get money to eat here. Not that you need to. On a recent visit, the cost of the entire 24-item, ever-evolving menu—not counting the $1.50 steamed barley rice—added up to $249. That’s an average of $10.37 a plate, in case you were wondering. Huge portions built for sharing, nothing over $15. And 75 cents from every main dish goes to the New York Food Bank. When you settle up, you feel guilty, like you should fork over some extra cash. So, yeah, cheap. But wait a minute. We weren’t supposed to talk money, were we? It’s the food we’re interested in, and to say that we like it, as you might have surmised, would not be to overstate the facts. It’s not Chinese as you know it. It’s better. There are different techniques at play here: Eastern, Western … Bowien-ese. The chef and his business partner call it American Oriental food, and simply reciting the menu can elicit a Pavlovian drool response. Example: Thrice-Cooked Bacon with Shanghainese rice cakes. Another one: broccoli beef brisket with smoked oyster sauce. See? There’s pastrami in the kung pao; pickled ramps in the stir-fried peas; and charred dates, for chrissakes, in the Mongolian-style lamb ribs. It will ruin you for all other American Oriental cooking.
What to Get: Sichuan pickled vegetables, $4, plus “sizzling” cumin lamb breast, $15; total, $19.