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Ten regional Chinese food restaurants in New York

Explore China’s diverse range of cuisines without leaving NYC at these regional Chinese food restaurants.

Photograph: Filip Wolak

Szechuan: Little Pepper

After seven years on Roosevelt Avenue, Queens’ beloved Xiao La Jiao (or “little pepper”) relocated to a larger space in 2011, sadly moving miles from the subway. Trust that the trek is worth it: Most menu items at this aptly named spot are spiked with the floral red “peppercorns” that are the face-numbing hallmark of the Southwestern Chinese province. It’s difficult to order badly, but newbies should begin with classics like a bowl of the slick dandan noodles ($5.95), topped with crumbles of pork and piquant from a dousing of orange-red chili oil, or the mapo tofu ($7.95), another fiercely red, chili-spiked bowl, teeming with soft bean curd, fermented beans and more minced ground meat. After a pile of the cumin- and chili-covered zhi bao yang rou, or “lamb in hot and spicy sauce” ($14.95), crunchy sautéed lotus root ($7.95) is a nice break for your bee-stung lips—so long as you mind the dried red chili pods that grace the dish. 18-24 College Point Blvd between 18th and 20th Aves, College Point, Queens (718-939-7788)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Henan: Spicy Village

For outer-borough food snobs who think there are no more mind-blowing meals to be had in the city’s first Chinatown, check out the two-year-old, 20-seat restaurant also known as Henan Flavor. An inspiration for food-world influencer Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food), the best dishes at this noodle-based operation pack the heat and deep, complex flavors of the central Chinese region. A $6 bowl of pork- and vegetable-dumpling soup arrives with a cloudy, sour lamb broth that’s the essence of restorative. In the spicy beef brisket dish ($6.25), a tangy sauce bathes a pile of noodles (choose from clear yam, rice flour, vermicelli and the hand-cut pasta ribbons called hui mei) topped with chopped cilantro; in the well-named Big Tray Chicken ($12.95), a bright-orange, chili-spiked pool of oily broth is rich with star anise and cumin. Like most of the menu at Spicy Village, it’s best ordered with hui mei, whose ragged, rustic texture turns the dish into the Henanese version of an Italian ragù. 68B Forsyth St between Grand and Hester Sts (212-625-8299, spicyvillageny.com)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Shanghai: 456 Shanghai Cuisine

Connoisseurs argue bitterly over the city’s best soup dumplings. Always a contender are the ones at this three-year-old spot, from a long-standing Chinatown restaurant family (in the ’70s, owner Zhou Li’s grandfather ran a Chatham Square spot with the same name). Thin-skinned and flavorful, 456’s xiao long bao are listed on the menu as “steamed juicy buns” (eight for $5.25) and hand-formed by a crew of dedicated dumpling-makers downstairs. But the place is also home to other well-executed Shanghainese flavors, which feature a mix of sugar and soy, fermented vegetables, stir-fried thick noodles and “drunken” proteins like 456’s “wined” chicken. Poached skin-on, it’s one of several tart, cold apps meant to stimulate your appetite, like shredded mock duck in a sweet soy-based marinade or thin shreds of pickled cabbage laced with whole peppercorns (choose three for $14.95). If you go with a crowd, order a platter of “fried yellow fish with bean curd skin,” a simple but appealing dish featuring battered bundles of mild whitefish, wrapped in tofu and fried till crunchy ($15.95). Sautéed rice cakes, or nian gao, are a must, especially made with ground pork ($5.95), a homey Shanghainese dish regulars know to specially request. End with a big, sweet red-bean pancake ($3.95), cut into delicate squares. 69 Mott St between Bayard and Canal Sts (212-964-0003)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Northern China: Fu Run

Where China borders Mongolia in the colder north, the food reflects the terrain—it’s rustic and comforting, loaded with rich lamb and focused more on wheat-flour noodles and buns than the rice ubiquitous elsewhere. Thanks to a change in immigration patterns, Flushing has seen an increase in Northern Chinese restaurants like the seven-year-old Fu Run, whose owners are from Dongbei (what was once known as Manchuria). They call their justly celebrated dish the “Muslim lamb chop,” but it’s more like a half rack of ribs: A platter of bone-in, fatty meat is braised, then battered and deep-fried, the whole juicy slab blanketed with cumin seeds, chili powder and flakes, and black and white sesame seeds ($21.95). Try it with a wonderfully greasy beef-stuffed pancake called a bing (two for $3.95), and cold saladesque dishes like the bright, fresh “tiger vegetable” (shredded scallions, cilantro, chilies and tiny shrimp; $6.95) or liang pi noodles, transparent mung bean noodles listed as “green-bean sheet jelly” and tossed with chili oil, peanuts and crushed cucumbers ($10.95). 40-09 Prince St between Roosevelt Ave and 40th Rd, Flushing, Queens (718-321-1363)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Taiwan: Ku-Shiang Restaurant

Before the recent influx of diverse emigrants, Flushing was a stronghold of expats from the multicultural island of Taiwan, who frequented restaurants like Ku-Shiang. The front counters at this small, decades-old spot are stocked with Taiwanese takeout items like tea-smoked eggs, or $6.25 “Japanese lunch boxes” that highlight the region’s diverse culinary influences. At the back tables, stainless-steel chopsticks and earthenware sit at the ready for traditional bowls of homey, spicy beef noodle soup ($6) and sanbeiji, or “three-cup chicken,” which takes its name from its equal portions of sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce. Here it’s listed as “chicken with basil in casserole” ($10.50), and arrives in a thick, pewter-colored pot, the bird’s flavorful meat coated in sweet brown sauce and brightened by a fistful of anisey Asian basil leaves. One of the best dishes is even simpler: a clam soup in which shell-on mollusks soak in a gingery clear broth, a reflection of the region’s island culture ($5.50). 135-38 39th Ave between Main and Prince Sts, Flushing, Queens (718-888-8798)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Hunan: Hunan House

Five years ago, Hunan House opened as one of the first local restaurants to focus on the south-central province of Hunan, famous for being the home of Chairman Mao. While you can now visit an outpost in midtown, called the Manor, a brand-new makeover has rendered the original as festive as its food. Hunan is known for a mix of hot, sour and smoke, all of which appear in the preserved pork with dried turnips ($12.95), in which three-inch sections of house-cured bacon are sautéed with tiny rectangles of the pickled and dried turnip root, green onions and chopped chilies. For the famous steamed fish head ($19.95), mild freshwater buffalo fish from the Great Lakes is braised­—almost pickled—in a simple, tart sauce and slathered with a chunky mix of chopped fermented chilies. (You might want to call ahead—pun intended—for this dish as they prepare only 20 a day.) On the side, try wok-tossed bitter mustard greens ($9.95), and for dessert, the barely sweet pumpkin cakes, dusted in bread crumbs and lightly fried ($4.95). 137-40 Northern Blvd between Leavitt St and Linden Pl, Flushing, Queens (718-353-1808)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Lanzhou: Sheng Wang

Lanzhou may be located in Northwestern China, but many Manhattan noodle shops that bear the city’s name are run by Fujianese immigrants from the country’s southeastern coast. At the subterranean Sheng Wang, the result is deep bowls of Lanzhou’s famous hand-pulled noodle (or la mian) soups ($4–$6), served with Fujian tweaks. Those include hand-formed fish balls or yu wan, little glutinous rounds stuffed with scallions, herbs and minced pork (try them in soup for $3). The simple restaurant is also known for “peel” noodles, fried or in soup—given that name because they’re hand-cut with a short paring knife, or peeled, right into the pot. The “seafood chow” fried peel noodles have both fat head-on shrimp and whole shell-on clams ($6.50)—and excellent dumplings either steamed (eight for $3) or fried (ten for $3). Another nice feature is the diverse array of condiments that sit on every table—pungent pickled turnip greens, black vinegar and a high-proof rice wine meant for dosing still-steaming soup. 27 Eldridge St between Canal and Division Sts (212-925-0805)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Hong Kong: M Star Cafe

As Chinatown has changed due to construction, immigration and plain old gentrification, the neighborhood’s Hong Kong–style fast-food joints have started slipping away. That’s a shame. Not only is the grub often quick, cheap and delicious—a plate-sized oyster pancake ($6) is both creamy and crunchy—but these casual restaurants can be a hoot of a culture clash, too: Gong zai mian, or instant noodle soups, come topped with fried eggs and hot dogs ($4.75); soy-sauce-soaked beef “chow” is made with spaghetti ($6.50). While the mural-painted M Star is open all day, it’s known for budget breakfasts, especially $1.65 hot or $2.50 cold “milk tea” (the latter is creamy and sweet, served over pellet-size ice cubes), and sandwiches like the tidy $2.75 Spam and egg, made on pristine triangles of crustless white bread. Or for a sweet $1.25 snack, try two toaster waffles spread with an indulgent triple threat of butter, peanut butter and condensed milk. 19 Division St between Catherine and Market Sts (212-966-8988, mstarcafeinc.com)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Guangdong: Lucky Eight

The vast picture menu at Lucky Eight is proof enough that Cantonese cooking—the basis for most Chinese food in America, thanks to the first waves of immigrants from the coastal city now known as Guangzhou—can still inspire. This long-standing fine-dining favorite in Brooklyn’s Chinatown focuses on seafood, with live eels swimming in tanks, and lobster or whole crabs, done in five different ways. (The menu describes them all, from the sweeter Singaporean style to those dusted in black peppercorns; they’re typically sold by the pound.) There are also salt-and-black-pepper-fried shrimp, served head-on and meant to be eaten shell and all ($18.95), and a bright dish called Pride of Lucky 8, a wok-tossed mix of scallions, mushrooms, abalone and dried scallops with sesame oil and ginger ($16.95). There are plenty of traditional plates, like stir-fried lo mein and deep-fried, bone-in pork chops with a sweet-and-sour sauce, but lesser-known options, such as fish necks and dried black olives ($17.95) served with a luscious broth loaded with braised ginger, often pay off. 5204 Eighth Ave between 52nd and 53rd Sts, Borough Park, Brooklyn (718-851-8862)

Photograph: Jessica Lin

Yunnan: Yun Nan Flavour Garden

A true mom-and-pop shop, this takeout spot is run by a couple hailing from Kunming, the capital city of the southeast Yunnan province; the local cuisine borrows from the citrus and herb focus of nearby Southeast Asia. For years, the small noodle house—which recently moved into expanded digs around the corner—has been beloved by chowhounds for its super-short menu—best-sellers include hot-and-sour soup with pork dumplings ($5.25) and skinny house-made rice noodles served cold with ground pork, roasted peanuts, and a bracing, sweet mix of chili oil, vinegar and soy sauce ($5.50). More of those noodles are available in a light bone broth, topped with goodies like crispy pig skin, lean slices of pork and intestine ($5.50), and others get tossed with a sauce of spiced minced pork ($5.25). 5121 Eighth Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-633-3090)

Need help navigating New York City’s Chinese food scene? We trekked through the boroughs, seeking out the best of each province. From Yunnan to Dongbei, get a taste of China’s diverse cuisines at these standout regional Chinese food restaurants.

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