Hop Kee is one of those old school Chinatown restaurants that look like it hasn’t changed since the 70s. The fixtures are a little frayed from the years of wear and tear and the gray-haired staff looks like it hasn’t turned over since the day it first opened. The only thing that’s changed is the number of people who’ve stumbled upon this hole in the wall, including myself a few weeks ago.
The clientele at Hop Kee is a very diverse one. You see a couple of groups of large families–apparently Filipinos are big fans of this place–the tourists who come after seeing Hop Kee featured on an Anthony Bourdain show, and then the raucous downtown crowd who are taking full advantage of the BYOB policy. The common denominator, though, is the solid Cantonese cooking that fills you up for cheap.
I think you need to bring a Cantonese speaker to get things off of the “secret” menu, but we were fine with what was offered publicly. A favorite family pastime of ours growing up was eating Chinese seafood in LA–our go-to order was clams in black bean sauce, crispy noodles, ginger crab and steamed fish–so we basically recreated that here by getting the Cantonese-style crab, the steamed flounder, the salt and pepper squid, the stir-fried watercress and the roast duck.
I was a fan of the squid, the flounder and the watercress, while there was too much drama involved with breaking the shells to really enjoy eating the crab, and the roast duck just seemed irrelevant with all the seafood around. It did make for good leftovers though when we added it to our ramen the next day. On another visit we also tried the beef chow fun, which was surprisingly good, the fried rice, which I would skip, and the melon soup, which was light and soothing. I’m sure we only scratched the surface of what they make here, but there’s no rush to hurry back and branch out, because Hop Kee will always be there as a reliable anchor in the neighborhood.
21 Mott St (between Worth and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013