At about 1:30 AM on Friday night, I received a text from Karina that she was in the mood for Chinese food and a facial. Thankfully I was still awake to make plans and set my alarm so we could make sure to arrive at Mission Chinese early enough to beat the crowds.
If you Google Mission Chinese, you’ll find article after article about how long you have to wait to get into this place. That tells me one thing: the food is probably worth it. The restaurant opens at noon for lunch and I arrived at 11:35 to be the first in line. Within 10-15 minutes, 20 people had lined up behind me. I figured if the food is as good as people claimed (there was practically a parade thrown in chef Danny Bowien’s honor when they announced that the famous San Fran restaurant was opening a place in NYC), a 20 minute wait is a small price to pay.
When they opened the doors, everyone in line stood at attention waiting for the hostess to give them the nod. Most people looked confused. Where were we going to go? From the outside, Mission Chinese is the size of a takeout counter and looks like the type of skeezy Chinese place where you get wings instead of actual Chinese food. The hostess led us through a thin hallway that opened up into the dining room. The room is small but seems like a banquet hall compared to the teeny takeout spot that the confused diners thought was the whole restaurant.
Right as Karina and I sat down, the music clicked on. It was a mix of rap and rock that let you know this chef doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s out to make Chinese food a little fun. It’s not fusion, but it’s not your authentic dim sum. Karina and I started with two small plates, the spicy carrot pickles and the Beijing vinegar peanuts. These are the kind of snacks that I could never keep around my apartment because I wouldn’t be able to stop eating them. The carrots were certainly spicy, but were still so crunchy that I couldn’t help myself. I cooled off my tongue with a slurp of Karina’s entree choice, rice porridge. I usually find these porridges to be a little bland, but the cabbage made the texture not so boring and there was more flavor than what I’ve tasted in most Chinese restaurants. Rice porridge will never be my first choice, but this was by far my best experience with it. I was pretty much obsessed with my choice of entree, the stir fried pork jowl with radishes that had a fermented black bean and sesame sauce and was more than garnished with mint. Many of Mission Chinese’s most lauded dishes are spicy, but if you’re not a heat person, I highly recommend this dish. Actually, even if you’re a spicy fan, I would recommend taking a detour with this dish of silky pork jowl, crunchy radishes, and fresh mint.
The food is already cheap (our total bill for two apps, two entrees, and tea was $38 without tip) and yet they’re still donating $.75 from each entree to the NYC food bank. How do they do that? They’re charging less for better food and then still being altruistic with a portion of the proceeds.