Those in New York: run, do not walk, to Mission Chinese Food at 154 Orchard St in the Lower East Side. It’s been documented at length by all and sundry and been touted as the greatest thing to happen to Chinese food since wok first met fire, and that may just be true.
So what’s the deal? It’s the New York outpost of a San Francisco pop-up style joint, the child of chef Danny Bowien, who before Mission had never cooked Chinese food (indeed, none of the cooks in the place were Chinese), but went travelling in China, learning how shit’s done right, and then came back and fused that knowledge and experience into some crazy-good, mind-bending, mouthwatering dishes. The New York branch has been open a few months now and apparently offers a refined tweaking of the original SF experience.
Some of what’s on offer seems traditional, some not, but everything comes out like it’s been imbued with magic tasty awesomeness that takes you on a rollercoaster ride of flavor, heat, and spice.
I’ll only comment upon what my friend and I shared. We ordered the salt cod fried rice, the Chongqing chicken wings (“explosive chili and crispy beef tripe”), the thrice-cooked pork, and the mapo tofu, all things that can be had, more or less, at any worthwhile Sichuanese place.
The rice was subtle but very very tasty. The bits of salt cod and slow-cooked mackerel provided a nice balance to the sweet Chinese sausage, and the entire dish was a good foil to the spicy onslaught which followed.
The wings – holy shit. Smothered in a seasoning powder containing lots of Sichuan peppercorn for sure, as well as what tasted like some sugar and MSG. Umami-mouth tingling explosion. My lips felt like they were fizzing like a glass of warm soda (The seasoning is so fizzing good that I scooped what was left on the plate and ate it straight). Also, the crispy fried dry chiles they come with are AWESOME, like chips but way way better.
The bacon – Holy shit part two. Never have I tasted anything more porky and smoky than the thick cut bacon they use. The sauce was divine, thick, spicy, smoky, and tingly, and the included sliced rice cakes did a good job absorbing it. My friend and I were rationing it out to have bites throughout the meal.
Mapo tofu – wow, just over the top. If I had this plus a bowl of plain rice, and nothing else, I’d be very happy. With everything else, it was probably overkill. Far more meaty and rich than any mapo I’ve had (of course, due to the generous use of pork shoulder that they advertised) – this wasn’t the incendiary, numbing dish I expected, but almost like a super heavy Chinese variant on chili. Really ridiculous (no picture of this one, I was too defeated at that point to take pictures)
I’ll conclude with the atmosphere – wild. The entrance is in a basement, only easily detected by the queue outside. The shopfront looks like the scummiest of shitty takeout windows, only with lots of people milling about and…a keg, providing free beer to people with their names down for a table. Once your name is called (making you feel like a golden-ticket holder) you’re escorted through a narrow corridor, past the glassed-in kitchen, past shelves of ingredients, plates, etc, into what looks like an indoor courtyard or back garden. Lit up by a huge red dragon, the tables are tight in, it’s raucous, and it’s casual. The restaurant equivalent of a punk concert, or a proper dive bar with table service
Every single thing about Mission Chinese Food is over the top in the best possible way. Go there ASAP.