From March 2005 "Best of Chinatown"This sub-sidewalk dining room is one of those Chinese restaurants that Manhattanites love in their own Chinatown: a plain place where the specialties are so good or so distinct that they make the premises worth enduring for the sake of the cooking. In fact, a New York Times review of Chinatown Express is displayed alongside notices from the local press on a sandwich board on the sidewalk. But the more impressive show takes place in the storefront's window daily at lunch: At the counter behind the glass, either young women make dumplings or a venerable chef practices the art of lai mein, a bit of Chinese culinary magic in which a thick rope of dough is stretched until the chef snaps it between his outstretched arms, causing it to separate into dozens of strands of noodles.
The lai mein--"stretched noodles"--may be ordered stir-fried with the diner's choice of meat, seafood, or vegetables or as a meal-in-a-bowl soup with a choice of garnishes. Recommended choices for the lai mein in soup are beef or mixed seafood. The Cantonese-style roasted meats temptingly displayed to the side of the lai mein counter--whole roasted pig, glossy strips of barbecue pork, duck, and chicken--grow soggy in the broth and are better as toppings for either the stir-fried stretched noodles or steamed rice. That splendid roasted whole pig, with its crackling-crisp skin, is best enjoyed served unaccompanied on a platter.
Chinatown Express may be the only local source for siu lim bao--literally, "juicy little buns." A specialty of Shanghai, these plump little dumplings stuffed with pork are eaten in a single bite because each contains broth that fills the mouth at first bite. You rarely see a table of Chinese here without at least one steamer of Shanghai soup dumplings.
Here also is the neighborhood's best buy on lobster stir-fried with ginger and scallions: Impeccably prepared, it is bargain-priced at $16.95. And don't overlook the kitchen's hidden treasure, listed among the house specialties as "house special chicken (half)." It is an intensely flavored, free-range bird whose crisp skin has been fried to an even dark brown. Resting in a pool of soy sauce and showered with thin slices of fried garlic and minced scallion tops, it is a Cantonese delicacy that by itself merits a visit to Chinatown Express.