Mission Chinese got a major upgrade in its new digs on East Broadway. Gone are the janky Chinese takeout counter and that floating pinata, and in their place are fancy red booths and gold plated dragons on the walls. While I loved how much roomier and civilized this space felt versus the old Orchard spot–you can actually hear your dinner companion across the table, and you can even make reservations on Reserve–I did feel that it did lose some of its gritty charm. Mission Chinese definitely sold out a little bit and became a little less cool, but the food is still the same, and I would take that over the 3 hour wait in a cramped, LES basement any day.
The best way to experience Mission Chinese is to go with a group of friends and order a ton of things family style. In the old space, a table for 15 would have been unthinkable, but you can now book one through Reserve. And with big groups, they seat you downstairs, which has a funkier vibe reminiscent of the old Mission Chinese. One stipulation with big groups is that you have to either order off of a group pre-fixe menu, or you have to order one of the large format protein dishes. The latter is a better deal, as it allows you the flexibility in ordering other mains or sides that you want, and financially, even with drinks, it will cost less than the pre-fixe option. As an example, for 13 of us, our all-in bill was $52/person, which is significantly less than what the $69 or $99 option would have been after tax, tip and drinks.
I used to be a Mission Chinese hater and thought Danny Bowien’s Asian-but-not-really-Asian cooking was overrated, but I think I’m coming around, as I really liked all the dishes that we had that night. The salt cod fried rice is just as good as ever, and the spicy chonqing chicken wings still leave your lips feeling numb. The chewy green tea noodles, a new addition, are a fabulous choice of carbs, as are the bowls of rice porridge, of which we ordered three. I was absolutely floored by the thrice cooked bacon, which featured fried pork fat at its very best, and is proof that the tired bacon trend still has some legs. With all these fried, pan-fried, chicken/pork fat dishes, I found the lettuce wraps quite refreshing and was impressed by how well the beef tartare and salmon roe paired together for a very satisfying but subtle surf-and-turf bite. The clams in pig’s blood (don’t be afraid, it tastes like black bean sauce), mapo tofu and big tray fish, I probably could have done without, not because they were bad, but they were wallflowers in comparison to their brashier colleagues.
The widely hyped Josefina’s house special chicken arrived like a Faltstaffian goose overstuffed with chorizo, olives and butter. After living the good life, this chicken met an unfortunate end with its head chopped off, but at least it was a life well spent and well fed. I personally found it to be a little too rich for my liking, maybe because I was already pretty full by the time this arrived at the table, but you won’t find a more tender or flavorful piece of stuffed chicken in town.
Leaving you comfortably full and lightly buzzed, a meal at Mission Chinese is a good time. To get there, you have to trek a little deeper into the Lower East Side, but it’s worth the trip. And while you’re there, you might as well make a night out of it at Forgetmenot or Mr. Fong’s for $5 Tsing Tao. Getting the most bang for your buck, it’s the Chinese way.
171 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson St)
New York, NY 10002