PROFILE: Midtown Lunch’er “Jennifer 8. Lee” (& Book Giveaway!)

Every Tuesday I turn over the site to a different Midtown Lunch’er for his or her recommendations for the best lunch in Midtown. Today I’m excited to have Jennifer 8. Lee, journalist and author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”,  my new favorite book for anybody who loves Chinese food (Americanized and/or “authentic”).  It answers every question I’ve ever had about my favorite kind of food, like… What the hell is Chow Mein?  Where did fortune cookies come from? (Spoiler: They’re actually Japanese)  Who is General Tso? What is the best Chinese food restaurant in the World?  And of course… Why do Jews love Chinese food so much???  It’s an amazingly interesting book about how food from China has evolved over the years, most specifically into what people consider “Chinese” food here in the United States.  The book comes out in a week, but we have a few copies to give away today, after Jenny gives her Midtown Lunch’ing recommendations…

 Name: Jenny

Age:
31

Occupation:
Journalist, blogger, and Author of the new book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles“)

Where in Midtown do you Work?:
The New York Times

Favorite Kind of Food:
Anything ethnic, more specifically Asian ethnic. So Vietnamese pho and banh mi sandwiches, dumplings with thick skin (no gyoza please), creative sushi rolls (the bigger the better), Korean cold noodles(spicy and non), Malaysian roti canai, anything the Indians do with cauliflower.

Least Favorite Kind of Food:
Anything French and creamy. Blah.

Favorite Place(s) to Eat Lunch in Midtown: I love Koreatown, so Woorijip (32nd btw. B’way+5th) which is a late night Korean deli that has a buffet and take away meal packages. I love their bulgolgi, their kim bop (beef and tuna good, but I still find the American cheese ones a bit weird), their pajun pancakes, the japchae noodles, and their little pickled vegetables of all sorts: eggplant, radish, and mountain root vegetable (whatever that is). I will grab $50 worth of boxed lunches as a time and bring them home to consume. Also Todai on 32nd btw. Mad+5th. I like their extensive super buffet because they have a good selection of vegetable-based dishes, so very vegetarian and low carb friendly even if you are not into their sushi.  Cafe Zaiya on 41st between Madison and 5th for its Japanese fast food for Japanese expats. I love their rice/nori triangles. And interesting interpretation of “mini pizzas.” They have curry rices and odd sandwiches and pastries. Thank god, there is also an in-store Beard Papa for cream puffs (love green tea ones!) I love the fact you can buy sweet Japanese milk tea in bottles there. During summers you can get a great cool noodle dish whose name now escapes me.  And I like Ustav(46th/47th btw. 6+7th) for nice Indian food. It’s a bit pricier for their lunch buffet compared to the standard $9.99 fare, but it has a beautiful upscale environment to go with it. So it’s nicer for those times when you want a slower paced meal. Of course, I also like grabbing any one of those lamb/chicken meals from the Halal carts that are scattered around Midtown and going back to my desk.

The “go-to” lunch place you and your co-workers eat at too often: I like Havana Central on 46th between 6th and 7th, for good, quick, reasonably priced Cuban in a colorful spacious bright restaurant. Turkey cuban sandwich (are there Turkeys in Cuba?), and ropa vieja. I would love to like their chocolate empanadas, but the crust was too hard. Avoid nights if you like conversation. They like to play their music LOUD.

If you could work anywhere (just because of the lunch) where would it be and why? Dubai… Dubai is a city of 85 expats, so there is no native palate to cater to. The ethnic restaurants therefore are generally for the immigrants/temp workers/expats from that region. So you can see the difference between Syrian, Kuwaiti and Iraqi cuisines instead of the”Middle Eastern” we see here. And you can get not just Indian cuisine,but Goan Indian cuisine! It has great street food in many respects but also glistening five star restaurants. One of the top Chinese restaurants in the world, Zheng He, a contemporary take on traditional Chinese cuisine is there. It is a dynamic food culture.

Is there anything you’d like to ask the Midtown Lunch readers? What’s your favorite Chinese food dish in Midtown?  (Americanized Chinese or Chinese Chinese)

To enter to win the book, just post your favorite Chinese food dish (and Midtown location) in the comments… and don’t be afraid to go with orange chicken!  One of the themes of the book I found so interesting is how it tackles the idea of “authenticity”.  All cuisine has been affected by outside influences, even things that we may consider “authentic” by today’s standards.  So hundreds of years from now, Americanized Chinese food may be looked upon with the same reverence that we look at Dim Sum.

My favorite, after the jump…

If you are talking about sheer numbers, the honest answer (for me) has got to be the Sauteed Udon w/ Pork from Hing Won.  It may not win in a head to head taste test with anything from Szechuan Gourmet (39th btw. 5+6th), or even with a lot of other dishes from Hing Won, but I’ve eaten it more than any other Chinese food dish, anywhere in Midtown.

Post your favorite dish as a comment below, and you’ll be automatically entered to win a copy of Jennifer’s book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles”. (Make sure to include your email address in the email field.  Don’t worry, it won’t show up on the site.)  For more info on the book, go to http://www.fortunecookiechronicles.com

And as always, if you want to be the next Profiled: Midtown Lunch’er, or you’d like to nominate somebody in your office, email me at zach@midtownlunch.com

61 Comments

  • The Smoky Hot Shredded Beef with Spicy Capsicum at Wu Liang Ye (36 W. 48th). Not available as a lunch special, only as a full $15.95 portion (share with a friend and it’s less than $10 each!). It’s smoky, tender and delicious.

  • hehe the mountain root veg is called “gosari” – it’s fern brakes! Great profile, can’t wait to check out the book!

  • The Curry Stewed Beef Noodle Soup with Rice Cake at Noodles 36 ( 305 W 36th St) for $5.25.
    The place is kind of a dump, but the customers are 90% Chinese, not sure if that is a good sign or not, but seemed worth mentioning.
    It is spicy and hearty and great for cold winter day

  • My go to in midtown is Spade on 37th and 3rd, where i usually go for the chicken and string beens in spicy garlic sauce. The spicy really does depend on the chef though, where sometimes it will leave you sweating uncontrollably, while others it’s just ho-hum heat.

  • Once every few months I need my General Tso’s fix, and John’s Shanghai on 46th gets my vote. It’s far less “gloopy” than most places – and relatively tasty.

  • The mapo dofu at Wu Liang Ye…36 W. 48th..also their dan dan noodles…
    Mimi

  • Single midtown favorite would have to be the fried shrimp/chicken dumplings at ho yip/sun yip. More generally, the usual buffet mix from them — pork fried rice, dumplings (pork and chicken/shrimp), salt and pepper pork, ginger chicken, maybe something else, all mixed into a uniform glop.

    Hey, you wanted honesty.

  • Char sui bun’s at Ying Du for breakfast. They are fresh and warm coming out on big metal trays.

  • The beef with black mushrooms and bamboo shoots from Joe Shanghai on 56th street b/w 5th & 6th is my all time favorite midtown chinese dish. I get it everytime, no exceptions, because it’s crazy delicious. Honestly, black mushrooms in Chinese cooking takes any dish to another, better level. So good!

  • Stir Fried Sea Scallops with roasted chili peanuts at Szechuan Gourmet – basically kung pao scallops and it packs a punch!

  • Won ton noodle soup from Mee’s on 2nd Ave & 49th. Around $5 for a big takeaway soup tub. Pour some hot sauce on & it’s the perfect cure for springtime allergies. Seriously.

  • In my book Szechuan Gourmet is the best, their sweet sweet sesame chicken’s the best!

    James at 1177 Avenue of the Americas.

    Hope I win, I havn’t read a book in years!

  • More importantly, I’ve read your articles on City Room and always wondered… what is the deal with your middle initial… just the number ’8′? I mean, it’s great, but… what’s the deal with that? And how about some Chinese food spots for us midtown east-siders?

  • If Inane wins he’ll need crayons.

  • The sweet and sour shrimp from Tang’s Pavilion. I never thought much one way or the other about sweet and sour shrimp till I had theirs. It’s out of this world.

    Anyone have good recommendations for hot and sour soup? It’s the yardstick by which I judge any Chinese restaurant.

  • The virtues of Szechuan Gourmet are well covered here in the comments and throughout the Midtown Lunch universe, but I can’t get enough of their Shredded Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce. The lunch special is cheap, the don’t charge extra for brown rice (unlike an inferior Chinese restaurant closer to my office) and I think their hot and sour soup is pretty delish too.

  • Best Chinese hands down is Grand Sichaun – there are a couple locations in the city. My favorite meal is the chong ching spicy chicken. Diced fresh chicken stir fried with an absurd amount of chilis. Extremely flavorful and unbelievably spicy – get it almost every time. Haven’t seen this dish at any other Chinese restaurant. Order this and the crab and pork soup dumplings. This combination cannot be beat.

    Second choice for Chinese is a specific dish at China Moon. Average Chinese place – more American vs. authentic. However they have a triple chili chicken that is incredible. Fresh chicken with skin deep-fried and then tossed in a triple chili sauce. Crispy, tender, with deep spicy flavor. Unreal. Not as spicy as the Grand Sichaun. Again only thing I would order from China Moon.

    Best hot and sour soup in my opinion can be found at Chin Chin. Upscale and outside of the scope of midtown lunch (due to price vs. location) but the food there is also outrageous.

    I could go on and on regarding Chinese food……if you are a true fat person at heart you love Chinese……

  • I’d have to go with the (Cantonese style) pan-fried noodles with beef at Tang Pavilion. I can’t say it’s the most amazing version of the dish I’ve had, but it does the trick. And I’m not biased at all by the fact that it’s my favorite Chinese dish in general. None.

  • Tie: Ma Po Tofu and Beef with Chili Sauce -Grand Sichuan either east side location but the 2nd ave is more a midtown lunch option

  • Dan Dan noodles and Chengdu wontons from Wu Liang Ye, no question. (Yes, that’s two items, but I order them together so much that it’s like one dish for me.)

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