One of the most anticipated restaurant openings in NYC last year had to be Mission Chinese Food. Brought to you by Danny Bowien, James Beard 2012 and 2013 finalist for “Rising Star Chef of the Year”, Mission Chinese Food serves up what he calls “Americanized Oriental Food.”
Mission Chinese Food originated in San Francisco where it was actually a pop up inside another Chinese restaurant. The second location is found in the lower east side amongst many other popular restaurants.
Mike and I dropped by for lunch (served from 12pm to 3pm) since the waits can be horrendous in the evenings (dinner is served from 5:30pm to 12am). Reservations have recently been accepted as they now hold a limited number of tables for dinner reservations. Lunch is still on a first come, first serve basis. We walked right in after arriving shortly after noon.
The restaurant is pretty non-descript on the outside and easily missed. It’s located in a basement, in a small space decorated with red lanterns and a dragon hanging from the ceiling.
The menu has a section for “small” dishes and “large” dishes, all of which are served family style. The food is Sichuan-inspired but it’s certainly not authentic by any means. You’ll find the likes of Kung Pao pastami, broccoli beef brisket and BBQ pigtails…you get the idea.
Not long after ordering, the food began coming out at a rapid pace. First up was the Salt Cod Fried Rice – with slow cooked mackerel, Chinese sausage, lettuce and egg ($12.50). Clearly this enormous plate of rice was meant for more than two people to share.
While I didn’t detect much (or any) fish in it, I could taste the saltiness from it in the rice. The Chinese sausage gave the dish a bit of sweetness and overall, the rice just had a nice lightness to it. The flavours were milder compared to the other dishes but it was a nice compliment to all the spicy dishes we ordered. It was a good dish but nothing particularly memorable.
How can you pass up a dish called Thrice Cooked Bacon – Shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon and chili oil ($12.50)? Given all the things I’ve read about this dish (and others), I expected this to be much spicier than it turned out to be. For someone who doesn’t have a high spice tolerance, I found this to be quite manageable.
The bacon had a nice smoky flavour to it and was sliced on the thick side which made it a tad chewy. I’m always a huge fan of dishes with rice cakes and found this to be quite tasty.
Seems like the Mapo Tofu – with pork shoulder, doubanjiang and Sichuan pepper ($12.50) is a popular dish here. It looks incredibly spicy with a thick layer of chili oil floating on top but it looked spicier than it tasted. Just avoid eating any chilis.
Chunks of slow cooked pork shoulder were used in the dish instead of ground meat and the dish consisted of several large cubes of tofu. Overall, this was pretty disappointing for me. There was a flavour in it that I wasn’t a fan of…I just can’t pinpoint it. While Mike didn’t feel quite as strongly as I did about it, he agreed that he didn’t love it.
For our last dish, we were debating between the Kung Pao Pastrami and Chongqing Chicken Wings – with explosive chili and crispy beef tripe ($11). We went with the latter after our server recommended it.
When they brought over the wings, it looked like they just brought us a plate of toasted chilis. You’ll find the wings underneath the massive pile. The menu doesn’t lie… you’ll taste the explosive chilis in the wings. They were tongue-numbing spicy but still had a bit of a sweet, delicious flavour to them. The skin was super crisp and the meat was juicy. If you can get past the spice, the wings are pretty damn good. The accompanying fried pieces of tripe were also a pleasant addition.
Overall, I felt a little underwhelmed by Mission Chinese Food. With their notorious lines and rave reviews by critics and bloggers alike, I was expecting a mind-blowing meal. The food (for the most part) was good but nothing blew me away nor was there anything I’d wait 2+ hours for.
At a glance:
• Originated from San Francisco
• This NYC location is in the lower east side
• Notorious for long waits during their dinner service; come for lunch to avoid the crowds
• Lunch is served from 12pm to 3pm; Dinner from 5:30pm to 12am
• If you have a high spice tolerance, the chicken wings are recommended
• It was a solid meal but not something I’d wait 2+ hours for
Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 3.5 stars
• Service: 3 stars
• Atmosphere: 2 stars