Some of the hottest restaurants in the country these days came from the most humble beginnings, sprung from trucks, carts and fleeting pop-ups. San Francisco’s Mission Chinese Food, for example, can trace its roots to a different concept called Mission Street Food. That venture started on four wheels before occupying a cheap Chinese restaurant—a temporary shell that eventually became a permanent home for Mission Chinese Food in 2010. There, behind a run-down facade, head chef Danny Bowien served some of the most interesting food in that restaurant-mad city, blending artisanal ingredients and a nose-to-tail sensibility into a fiery brand of affordable, auteur Chinese cuisine.
Even before he touched down in New York, Bowien had blown up as a national star, his West Coast restaurant breathlessly documented in glossy magazines, travel shows and Twitter feeds. So it follows that when he brought a version of Mission Chinese to New York’s Lower East Side last month, the food cognoscenti were quick to flood the place. To visit the restaurant right now is to witness a cross section of food-world first responders crowding the sidewalk out front—bloggers, editors and off-duty chefs enduring two-hour waits for a table along with everyone else, fueled by the complimentary keg of cheap beer just inside the door.
In fact, the crowd is the only sign that there’s something stirring on this stretch of Orchard Street. The stealthy exterior looks for the world like a tumbledown Chinese takeout j