Five Ways to Spot a Seriously Good Chinese Restaurant

Written by Regan Hofmann on . Posted in Eat & Drink, NY Press Exclusive.


You might recognize Regan Hofmann’s byline from our printed pages (in Our Town, West Side Spirit and Our Town Downtown), but now on a weekly basis our resident food writer will grace the pages of nypress.com. A bit about Regan, in her own words: “I like to tell people what to order. If there’s something on the menu I haven’t tried, I have to get it—but if it’s terrible, I’ll be the first to hide it in my napkin. I’m so white I’m practically translucent, but I was raised on Chinese food. I can nitpick a Michelin-starred restaurant to death, but I’m happiest somewhere the health department would shudder to walk past. I promise to never use the words sammy, guilt-free, delish or mouthfeel, and will make fun of people who do. Still with me? Let’s eat!”

Now for the inaugural post, “Five Ways to Spot a Seriously Good Chinese Restaurant.” Enjoy!

Right, right, we’ve all heard that the fewer white faces, the more authentic—and therefore tastier—a place is. But with so many white people stepping up their game these days, that doesn’t always work. Here are some sure-fire clues you’re in the right place.

  • Handwritten signs listing specials you can’t read. Also one of the most aggravating things, because you know all the native speakers are getting the thing the kitchen is most excited about while you twiddle your thumbs. Dive in and start pointing, and get ready to smile politely if they bring you duck tongues.
  • Servers who are visibly happy when you ask questions or show pleasure. This is a place where the staff is invested in what they’re doing, and are most likely related to the owner in some way. Personal commitment=great food. You can also get some awesome off-menu perks if you’re respectful and complimentary, two things no one expects Anglos to be.
  • Kids working the room. See above. Their parents are more dedicated to working the restaurant than spending quality time at home? Delicious. Nobody’s advocating a repeal of the laws that keep 6-year-olds out of coal mines, but if you’re old enough to answer a phone, you can help out and let dad stay in the kitchen. Bonus: You can feel good knowing the next generation of chefs is being trained before your eyes.  
  • A barely passing Health Department grade. Most health inspection demerits are about goofy shit like no dedicated sink for persimmons or food that inches a quarter of a degree above freezing when it goes from fridge to plate. Or, most horrifically, touching the food you’re preparing with your hands! Even three-New-York-Times-star chefs think this is bullshit. Don’t let them boss you around.
  • Enforced table-sharing. They’ve got a limited amount of space and there are a lot of hungry people who want in. Are they going to respect your precious personal space and seat your party of three at that four-top by yourselves? Hell no. Pro tip: Nod politely to your neighbor when they’re seated, and again when they leave. Otherwise, keep your eyes down and spend the meal resisting the urge to reach out and snag some of whatever that is they just ordered, unless they want to strike up a conversation – in which case, try to steer them toward translating some of those specials for you.

Regan Hofmann is not Chinese. She is on Twitter @regan_hofmann.

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