Follow the eater
Four of the city's trendiest gastronomes lead us on tours of their favorite wallet-friendly food spots.
Thu Jul 10 2008
Waltuck takes us to Lunch Box Buffet
Photograph: Dan Eckstein
Chinatown with David Waltuck Chef, Chanterelle
You wouldn't know it from his Gallic fine-dining rsum, but David Waltuck knows his way around a wok. The chef behind Tribeca's beloved Chanterelle is in talks to work on downtown's forthcoming Portuguese-Chinese restaurant Macao Trading Co. He became a self-taught expert on Asian cuisine while first preparing for his now-legendary Chinese New Year party—a family-and-friends-only tradition at Chanterelle since 1998. Appearing on the party menu: plates of sweet-savory pork buns from Chatham Restaurant (9 Chatham Sq at East Broadway, 212-267-0220), the first stop on our tour of his favorite inexpensive Asian eats. "These are the best in Chinatown," he says, as a plate loaded with glistening rounds clatters to a stop in front of him. "They go through thousands a day, so they are always fresh." And cheap: Three of them clock in at just $4.
We hang a left and head to Lunch Box Buffet Inc. (15 Division St between Catherine and Market Sts, 212-941-1273), where $4 buys your choice of four dishes from the eclectic steam table. A Cantonese spread of both the familiar (yes, you can find General Tso's) and the outr (was that a pig's ear?) stretches the length of the restaurant. "You want to get in earlier, when [the food] is still fresh," says Waltuck. "I go for braised stuff; it doesn't matter as much if it's been sitting out for a while." We peel off a few singles, and the cashier scoops a mound of rice into a Styrofoam container; we fill it with a "Lion's head" (a pork meatball), snow peas tossed in sesame oil, spicy chicken and tripe.
Afterward, we cross back over Chatham Square and stroll along Doyers and Pell Streets, pausing to take in some of the local color: Waltuck points out a barbershop called Mei Dick (pronounced the way you'd think). "Take a picture!" he laughs.
At Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St between Mott and Mulberry Sts, 212-693-1060), a one-spot buys us five pork-and-chive-stuffed pockets. "There are better dumplings in New York, but not for 20 apiece," says Waltuck, balancing on one of the joint's five stools.
Circling back toward the Bowery, we duck into Chinatown Arcade, a covered alleyway that houses New Malaysia Restaurant (Chinatown Arcade #28, enter at 46--48 Bowery between Bayard and Canal Sts, 212-964-0284). "I have a fondness for this arcade," Waltuck says. "There used to be a place here called Phoenix Garden. It was my favorite Cantonese; they have a place now in the 40s."
We claim a table and the chef calls in an order of roti canai. "This is an elaborate thing to sell for $2.95," he says of the chicken curry served with a flaky, griddle-cooked pancake. We also indulge in a heaping plate of char kway teow ($5.95), a classic Malay dish of stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts, egg, shrimp, sausage and potent chilies.
As we wind down the feast, Waltuck lists some places we missed: For Chinese barbecue, the counter at New Kam Man (200 Canal St at Mulberry St, 212-571-0330); for pho, or Vietnamese noodles, Nha Trang (87 Baxter St between Bayard and Canal Sts, 212-233-5948). Eyeing the line forming inside Bahn Mi Sau Voi Caf (101--105 Lafayette St at Walker St, 212-226-8184), he laments, "There's a whole side to Chinatown we didn't even explore." Guess we'll just have to do this again sometime.—Jordana Rothman