Full Stomachs, Full Wallets in Chinatown 

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Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food
7 Allen Street, New York

Quite frankly, I don't know how the economy in Chinatown works. Five dumplings for a dollar? One pork bun for 80 cents? All in prime Manhattan real estate where you can walk for two minutes and be in Soho, where a Proenza Schouler crewneck sweater from Opening Ceremony will cost you 6,675 dumplings.

Well, I'm a food writer, not an economist, and all I know is that Chinatown's flow of dirt-cheap gastronomic treasures is in no danger of drying up. Take for instance the relatively new joint Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food. I love restaurants that have the menu in the title; as you can tell, this tiny storefront serves pork chops, and fast.

They're worth every penny. More, in fact, as they cost only $4.50. The pork chop is fried to crispy, golden perfection, little knobs of chopped garlic visible on a browned surface rich with the distinctively sweet and savory flavor of five spice powder. It is meaty and more tender than you'd expect for the money, low on gristle and just a little greasy. Bitter pickled greens help cut through some of that grease, bringing balance to the dish. It's all placed on a giant pile of rice—the perfect medium for soaking up meat juices and a great way to make this one of the most filling meals you can get for under $5. Still hungry? Throw a hardboiled egg on there for only 50 cents more. There are other items on the menu. The fried dumplings, rice noodles and scallion pancakes are on par taste-wise with those of other takeout joints in the area, but really you're just using up valuable stomach space that could be filled with pork chops.

As for ambience? Well, you get what you pay for: a space barely bigger than most New York apartment kitchens equipped with a couple of stools and a TV playing Chinese soap operas, with a clientele that seems to consist solely of old men thumbing through newspapers. It's definitely no fancy Soho eatery and hopefully, through whatever financial magic keeps Chinatown the way it is, it never will be.

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