The Steam Table at East Ocean is by the Chinese, for the Chinese

There are two kinds of Chinese steam table places in Midtown.  The kind that’s made for people who like “Americanized” Chinese food (i.e. Yips).  And the kind that’s made for Chinese people, who live in America.  (Hing Won on 48th btw. 5+6th does both really well, making it my favorite cheap Chinese food in Midtown.)  Awhile back, I wrote about the 38th St. Restaurant & Bakery, one of these “authentic” Chinese places, opened for workers in the Garment District (and any adventurous white people who work in the Southeastern corner of Midtown). 

But what if you are in the opposite corner of Midtown?  Well, I found your place.  For those of you working in the Northeast corner of Midtown, there is East Ocean on 55th btw. Lex+3rd.  On the outside it looks like your average Midtown cheap Chinese place… but at lunchtime they put a steam-table that is not quite for everyone.  Let’s put it this way, if you’re looking for Chinese food, where you have to ask what each item is (and General Tso’s chicken is a rarity), than this is your new favorite place.

What they’ve got, and a +/- after the jump…

East Ocean is actually a pretty small place, making the selection at the steam-table more limited than Hing Won or the 38th St. Restaurant.   It actually took me a few visits of walking in and walking out before I finally decided to actually eat there, which for me, is pretty strange, but just demonstrates that the place is a crap shoot.  On some days, the food looks great, on others, not so much.  Each day they have different options, and the later you get there, the fewer items you have to chose from (and the less appetizing they look).

Here was the plate I got on trip #1.

This was one of the late days, so I pretty much got whatever was left- which was a pretty standard Chinese chicken dish, a much stranger ground pork dish (on the left) and my favorite part of the meal, a scoop of cooked bean sprouts (which I love).  3 items + rice, for $6.50 (and you get a free soda).  Not bad.

Here was the plate I got on Trip #2:

This time I went with the white rice (to be healthy of course!), and for the life of me I can’t remember what any of these things were.  Nothing stood out as spectacular, but since I got there earlier on this day, everything tasted a bit fresher then Day #1.  I did regret not getting the pork chops, which looked pretty awesome.

Finally, on the third time I returned, I decided to order off the menu- which seems to be the popular option for most of the non-Asian people eating at East Ocean.  Unlike the steam table, the menu is just like any other generic Manhattan take out place, and the noodle dishes are the most popular.  I went with the Chow Fun, which was pretty good. 

Like everything at East Ocean, it was not great, but far from terrible… it was the Mixed version, and there was a pretty good amount of Shrimp (which is always a good thing), and the pork was good too.

Most importantly, if you are an adventurous eater, it’s fun (especially if “adventure” to you is eating unidentifiable Chinese food from a steam table).  I know there are some Chinese food connoisseurs who will go and say “the food on the steam table isn’t that weird.  They have seasame chicken sometimes!”, and they may be right.  I admit, the selection is not nearly as strange or “authentic” as the 38th St. Restaurant… but I’ve got to say that it is for those people who always order chicken with broccoli, and think they’re eating amazing Chinese food.  If that’s you, you will most certainly be weirded out by the Steam Table at East Ocean.  Luckily they have all your favorites on the menu, so you can order something to eat, while you watch your fat, adventurous co-worker scarf down tofu in brown sauce, and some sort of mystery meat.


  • Not your average Chinese steam table
  • Very cheap.  2 items with rice is $5.95, 3 is $6.50, and everything comes with a free soda at lunchtime (including the food off the menu).
  • One of the few interesting and cheap Chinese food options in this part of Midtown


  • Like all cheap Chinese food, it’s really greasy
  • Not for people who like their steam tables clearly labeled, and filled with Americanized Chinese food
  • The quality of the food is not as good as Hing Won, and the selection is not as large as 38th St. Restaurant & Bakery
  • It’s really small, so the tables can fill up during lunchtime

East Ocean, 159 E. 55th St. (btw. Lex+3rd), 212-588-0699


  • Unrelated comment: Best deal in NYC: maple bacon by the lb at Dishes for breakfast. It’s great quality (as is everything else there — but fruit, yogurt, etc. by the lb is obscenely expensive), but bacon is very light, so you can eat 5/6 pieces for around $0.75. If you buy an iced espresso and add you own milk — you can have a delicious iced latte and a rasher of bacon for around $3.50.

  • well, now that we are off topic…but on the topic of breakfast foods -how about New Star cafe on 7th between 38 and 39 i think. not bad for a by the pound breakfast buffet and you can choose from way too many things. better to get there early when they are putting out the dishes when they are hot.

  • On topic: from the title of the post, I thought you were going to tell us about a place that won’t serve non-Chinese people or some other racist occurrence. I was going to laugh, if only because I find a ton of places like this everywhere I go- Korean, Chinese, or… um… other places… and I find it a bit aggravating. But it can be fun to point at menu items that I’ve no idea what they are and seeing what I get!

    Off topic: Dishes is the place in Grand Central Market? I just went there two nights ago. Thought of you, Zach- wondered if you ever go there for lunch. Someone said it’s a bit pricy for lunch though, so might be out of your range…

  • Wow, you’re talking dirty to me Stan.

  • Um, Yvo, I want to understand this part of your post but do not. What places will not serve a non-Asian? Or do you mean something else than “not serve?”

    On topic: from the title of the post, I thought you were going to tell us about a place that won’t serve non-Chinese people or some other racist occurrence. I was going to laugh, if only because I find a ton of places like this everywhere I go- Korean, Chinese, or… um… other places… and I find it a bit aggravating. But it can be fun to point at menu items that I’ve no idea what they are and seeing what I get!

  • mamacita — thanks for the tip — next time the situation calls for me to whisper sweet nothings into a woman’s ear, i now have a new line: “delicious . . maple . . . smoked . . salty . . . sweet . . . crispy . . . . chewy . . . bacon.” She’ll be weak at the knees, no?

  • One word, the philly was ‘poo’.

  • About time a new place was reviewed… I am tired of seeing links to other blogs and websites or hearing about places that midtownlunch has previously discussed.

  • Pimp, are you Jason Perlow?

  • Actually, Jason Perlow’s blog has been real lame lately…

  • East Ocean also has noodle soup bowls that are good (and big — way too much soup). Worth ordering those from the menu. Also, there’s some “Americanized” Chinese food at the steam table, too, and part of the special, but it’s often on the other part of the L-shaped steam table so it’s not obvious that it’s part of the same set-up.

  • This place is right up the block from my office, and Zach is right about it being hit or miss. Definitely get there on the early side before everything is dessicated. They are also doing more noodles recently and they are alright….solid.
    The food is not as good as it is at Our Place up the block, but is much more affordable than Our Place or Shun Lee and much friendlier. I’ll second the Chow Fun as a good choice, but greasy….in fact, Zach’s description is dead on… 2-2:30 the steam table starts to look pretty empty…..

  • Whoops- Crackhead- I misspoke- I must’ve stopped writing the comment midway and then thought I phrased it a bit differently. I have been to places where the waitstaff pointedly ignored us until we got up and left, though, and there are tons of restaurants unfriendly enough to those not of that descent or knowledgeable enough of that culture- as in, the menu has no English whatsoever, the waitstaff doesn’t speak English or doesn’t even try to talk to you, and just makes it really uncomfortable for those who can’t speak or read the language.

  • Never heard of him… but sounds like a d-bag

  • The original poster’s remarks (about people’s behaviors at buffets) highlight why my wife and I will NEVER eat at a buffet (restaurant, that is).

    Frankly, I think that people who patronize buffet restaurants (especially so-called Asian buffet restaurants) are gambling with their health.

    And my wife (proprietress of a successful laser hair removal facility) totally agrees with me.

  • Wow I wish I had the owner of a “laser hair removal facility” to back up all my opinions!

  • Went by this place the other day, and it is now closed.

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