I don’t know about you guys, but when I see that Anthony Bourdain has gone to a restaurant, it makes me feel reassured in my choice to dine there. I know he has a polarizing personality, but you can’t deny that he knows his way around food and New York City eats. When my boyfriend and I decided to check out a new restaurant in Chinatown, we picked Hop Kee and saw a sign at the front saying that Bourdain had eaten there. My brain translated that into, “Must be something worth having inside!” (You can check out a little snippet of his trip there on travelchannel.com here.)
Hop Kee, around since 1968, is located in the basement level of a building of a busy section of Mott Street that has other popular restaurants like Shanghai Asian Manor and Peking Duck House. The space has bright, fluorescent lighting and low ceilings, and the waiters all wear these interesting blue butcher coats. The restaurant is known for serving old-school, Cantonese cuisine–a cuisine known for using ingredients like sugar, salt, soy sauce, and cornstarch. Some of the traditional dishes include sweet and sour pork, steamed spare ribs with fermented black beans and chili pepper, lobster with ginger and scallions, chow mein, lo mein, and char siu (barbecued pork).
While different restaurants in Chinatown cater to different clientele, Hop Kee definitely seems like it’s geared more to Westerners. I think it’s safe to say that the food at Hop Kee is the kind of greasy Chinese food that a lot of people think of and want. Each table even gets a bowl of those addictive fried wonton wrapper strips that you get in a little paper bag with your Chinese takeout orders. We ordered the wonton soup–really it’s our must have dish at any Chinese restaurant–along with two of the restaurant’s more famous dishes, the beef chow fun and the Peking-style pork chop.
If you’re like me, you might be a little confused about the difference between chow mein and chow fun. (Is it wrong that we originally wanted the chow fun because it has “fun” in the name? Don’t judge.) Well, both are stir-fried noodles, but “mein” uses round, thin egg noodles while “fun” uses thick, rice noodles. Chow fun is also known as not being the healthiest dish in the world because of its oiliness. When we got the dish, we could immediately see that signature shine and the noodles were slippery as expected. Hop Kee is open late, sometimes even until 4 in the morning, and this noodle dish totally seems like something that would be the perfect meal for someone stumbling out of a bar and looking for food late at night.
The Peking style pork chop was a new dish to me, and it consists of boneless strips of tender pork coated in a sweet sauce. The sauce had a similar taste to sweet and sour sauce because of the balance of sweetness and tanginess. One note about the dish is that despite the liberal amount of sauciness, the pork should still be crispy on the outside. And again, look at that sheen!
Word on the street is that Hop Kee has a secret second menu filled with all the more exotic dishes that the average American might not want–Bourdain even mentions it in that clip mentioned above. I can’t speak to what’s on it since I didn’t know about it before I went, but give me the scoop if you ever venture to try it!
Wonton soup, beef chow fun, Peking style pork chop21 Mott St
New York, NY 10013