Chef Danny Bowien came on like a bushel of Sichuan peppercorns when he opened this East Coast counterpart to his popular San Francisco restaurant. In came James Beard Award nominations, glossy magazine profiles, and a shout-out as "the most exciting restaurant of the year," from New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells. And by the crowds clamoring for a seat, you would think that New Yorkers had never eaten Chinese food before. (The wait has, many times, topped two hours. A few seats are made available for online reservations one week in advance, starting at 10am on the restaurant's website.)
Though the trappings are humble—a neon-washed façade with a takeout window in front; a cramped dining room with a red dragon costume stretched across the ceiling in back; beer served in plastic cups—Bowien's cooking is anything but modest. Traditional dishes, such as mapo tofu (bean curd and pork shoulder doused in fermented bean paste), challenge the mouth to a tug-of-war of heat, salt and clove. Fresh pea greens stewed in a bracing pumpkin and pepper broth is a startling take on a usually demure veggie. And try finding pig tails slicked with cola-barbecue sauce anywhere else. By the end of the meal, your tongue might be numb but your taste buds certainly will be broadened. But what's most novel about Mission's mission: They donate 75 cents from each entrée to the Food Bank for New York City.
F to Delancey; J, M, Z to Essex St.
What to tell a cabbie
Take me to Orchard St. between Rivington St. and Stanton St.
Where restaurant insiders are eating now
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