Chinatown Express

A no-frills place for noodles, dumplings, and Cantonese roasted meats.

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.