Not that we're a total Mission Chinese Food groupie or anything, but when the restaurant opened a second restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan last May, we were literally the first customer through the door. It opened with about 80% of the same menu items as what can be found in San Francisco, but a fresh visit almost a year later finds the East Coast counterpart working toward defining its own identity.
See also: In Praise of the Peas at Mission Chinese
You'll find hometown favorites like thrice cooked bacon, salt cod fried rice, and Kung Pao pastrami here, but there are also now more dishes utilizing ingredients found in or near the Big Apple that aren't cooked in San Francisco. We enjoyed our first taste of plump smelt, so much more robust than sardines, here deep fried and served with a numbing ma la vinegar and lemon. A bowl of fiery, minted peanut noodles (sourced from NY Chinatown's Sun Noodles, a recommendation from ramen aficionado Ivan Orkin) conceals tender morsels of braised and melty lamb neck.
These two new dishes exemplify the Mission Chinese Food penchant for keeping things spicy, which are excellent when chased with cooling bowls of tofu and smashed cucumbers. Chef Danny Bowien told us on that first day in May that the plan has always been to evolve differently from the original, and it's right on course -- making it a great place for even jaded San Franciscans to check out when in New York.
Lung Shan, which hosts San Francisco's Mission Chinese Food, still wins no awards for comfort or design, and neither does the New York space. But the latter is much brighter and more inviting -- and there's no chance of the hapless and heroin-addicted nodding off at the table next to you. A fanciful red dragon helps carry the sense of continuity, as do the words Lung Shan written in Chinese on the front door in New York.
General manager Aubrey Hustead, an S.F. transplant, offers up some great advice on how to eat at the NY location without waiting a few hours. First off, the dining room accepts limited reservations, so that's worth a try. Barring that, your best chances to eat there with minimal time wasted is to show up for weekday lunch at noon, a half hour before the restaurant reopens for dinner at 5:30 p.m., or after 9 p.m. at night.
We strolled in for a 1 p.m. weekday lunch and walked right in, but filled up the last three seats at the bar. Luckily, bar manager Torrey Bell-Edwards -- who also moved from SF after stints at Blackbird and Elbo Room -- is likely to be there to give you another smile from home as well as a slew of creative cocktails (some Twin Peaks-themed) that aren't available on Mission Street.