The skinny on A Chau

For my second crack at banh mi, I tried a highly-touted takeout joint in Manhattan Chinatown known as A Chau Deli (82A Mulberry St., Manhattan–map). I popped into the narrow, counter-only establishment and was surprised that I was the only customer, save for a friend of the proprietor chatting in a foreign language. I didn’t want to interrupt, but I was hungry.

dscn33872I ordered the #6, Banh Mi Dac Biet, because in addition to daikon, carrots, pickles, jalapenos, and cilantro, it has four different types of pig. These ingredients are wrapped up in a long, fresh baguette for a total cost of $3.75. For that price, A Chau is a great deal. But I have to say, given all those ingredients, they certainly found a way to make their sandwich thin.

The ratio and blend of the meats and pickled veggies was perfect and the sweet hot sauce gave it just the right kick. But the banh mi I fell in love with, at Brooklyn’s Ba Xuyen, is a real mouthful that makes A Chau’s entry look a bit anorexic. And because A Chau’s sandwich is so thin, the admittedly delicious bread covers up the taste of the goods inside.

If you can’t make it to Brooklyn, A Chau’s certainly worth stopping by. But if you’re a native or have some time, Brooklyn Chinatown is where you want to be.

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Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A big dog for small change

dscn3383If I’m in Chinatown, chances are I’m there for the cheap Chinese food. Makes sense, right? But on my last trip, I found that at least in one instance, Chinatown can do an American classic bigger, better, and cheaper than most spots in the city.

The 1/4 Pound Jumbo Hot Dogs window (149 Canal St., Manhattan–map) might not look like much. It’s just one small room with a rack of hot dogs, a few condiment jars, a cash register, and a single smiling woman. But when she puts that dog in your hand, you’ll realize that this under-sized establishment boasts an over-sized product. It’s well over an inch in diameter and at least six inches long. And it’s tucked dscn3385inside a fresh potato bun far better than what you’d get at a cart.

All that with ketchup and mustard sets you back $1 (92 cents plus tax). In my opinion it’s worth shelling out the big bucks (an extra quarter) for delicious sauteed onions on top.

Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Banh mi, oh my

dscn32511As classic New York sandwiches–the Italian sub, pastrami on rye, cubano–get more expensive, a new contender is giving them a run for their money. Banh mi, a Vietnamese baguette filled with pork and pickled vegetables, is here to stay, and the best budget banh mi I’ve had is in Brooklyn.

Ba Xuyen (4222 8th Ave, Brooklyn–map) brings a taste of Vietnam to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, just east of Sunset Park. For a mere $3.75 you get a freshly toasted 10 inch baguette piled with roast pork, shredded carrots, daikon, green peppers, jalapenos, mayonnaise, hot sauce, and cilantro, which overflows out the top.

dscn3248The result is an intense mixture of sweet, salty, and spicy flavor. The crisp shredded vegetables are the perfect contrast to the tender slices of meat, and the baguette–crunchy on the outside with a soft middle–wraps it all up splendidly. If you’re not from the neighborhood, the N express train is a quick shot out to 36th St. and 4th Avenue, and the walk from there to Ba Xuyen takes you through hilly Sunset Park, which affords a great view over west Brooklyn to the river and Manhattan.

TfaB: Dumpling Wars, Part II: Eldridge Street

The second stop on my tour was Eldridge St., home to two dumpling heavyweights.

img_0643First on the list was Prosperity Dumpling (46 Eldridge St., Manhattan—map), the odds-on favorite from all the reviews I’d read and heard from friends. A review in an old Time Out led me to expect a five minute wait; in fact, the wait was under a minute. And img_0641the product did not disappoint. The treasures were plump and delicately fried to achieve the perfect exterior texture. The ingredients on the inside tasted noticeably fresher than either of the joints by Columbus Park, and were so juicy that they dripped onto my pants.

img_06441Two blocks north I made my last stop at Vanessa’s Dumpling House (118 Eldridge St., Manhattan—map). It has the most restaurant-y décor of the four establishments, with a long counter, many wooden tables, and even a restroom. Sadly, their $1 deal only includes 4 dumplings, but img_0645they don’t sacrifice the quality. The dumplings aren’t as intricately wrapped—a club to Prosperity’s hammer—but they get the job done. They’re fat and juicy and the ingredients are just as fresh as Prosperity’s.

Conclusion: If this had been a five-on-five matchup, the decision would have been tough. I think Prosperity would have the edge anyway because of it’s superior texture and juiciness. With Prosperity’s 5-4 advantage, it’s the clear winner in penny for penny value.

Tuck for a Buck: Dumpling Wars, Part I: Columbus Park

The search for elusive $1 food brought me to Chinatown last week to decide, once and for all (or for that day at least), who has the best deal on fried dumplings. My first stop: Columbus Park.

img_0640The woman at Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St., Manhattan—map) didn’t exactly make me feel at home. When I asked for an order of dumplings, she grabbed a handful, stuffed them in a container and said, “Two dollars.” I pointed out that the sign on the window said $1, and she said, “No, two dollars.” We went back and forth like that for a while, until she opened the carton and pulled out two of the dumplings, then handed the rest to me,img_0637 snatched my one dollar and waved me out of the store. When I sat down to enjoy my quarry, I found that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I did end up with five dumplings as advertised, but they were thin as string beans with very little meat inside. The wrappers were chewy rather than crispy, and the interior was dry.

img_0639I left my park bench and headed to Tasty Dumpling (54 Mulberry St., Manhattan—map). Tasty had a few tables and many more customers, but there was an immediate downside. An order of dumplings cost (gasp) $1.25, $1.35 with tax. I sucked it up for the sake of research. They served me my dumplings quickly and with a smile, and theyimg_0636 were decidedly tastier. They were stuffed with more, and juicier, pork and chive. The wrappers were crispy, if a little over-fried. There was a bit of residue from the deep-fryer lingering on the exterior, which hurt the appearance of the dumplings more than the taste.

Conclusion: Pay the extra 35 cents. I know, it hurts, and it’s not technically Tuck for a Buck, but it’s worth it for the attitude if not for the significant advantage in taste.