Plenty of Pleasure With the Pain at Hot Kitchen


I knew that I was in good hands when I sat down in the comfortable dining room of the newly opened branch of Hot Kitchen (251 E 53rd St between 2nd & 3rd Ave) and heard not a lick of English spoken amongst the wait staff and customers. Instead, at this East Village transplant, I heard only Mandarin being spoken. And I knew I was in even better hands when confronted with a diverse lunch menu (27 items in all) that rang in at $10 or less. The lunch specials include rice as well as a choice of soup (wonton, hot and sour, or egg drop) or soda.


When I was spurred on by this article to eat at the original Hot Kitchen in the East Village a few years ago, I recall rushed service and even speedier turn around on dishes. I’m happy to report that things are no different at the Midtown location, despite the 50 block difference. I’m also happy to report that the menu is the same – an eclectic line up of authentic Sichuan dishes and a few American-Chinese classics thrown in for good measure. If one weren’t confined to an ML budget, you could eat your way through the Animal Kingdom – aquatic creatures (fish, shrimp, frogs, etc) and land based vertebrates (rabbit, pork, chicken, duck, etc).


If I could poke a single hole in my experience, it would be the hot and sour soup, that only whispered of chili’s and vinegar. Instead, the broth had a heady, porky undertone, which ate more like a meaty stew, than a proper bowl of hot & sour.


On the other hand I was smitten with the mapo tofu with minced pork ($7.5). Ethereally silky tofu swam in a fiery red hellbroth that had been liberally sprinkled with crushed Sichuan flower peppers. These bad boys of the spice world create the curiously pleasurable ma la, or numbing & spicy effect, which starts as a low tingle before gaining momentum into a oh-god-it-tastes-like-burning 5 alarm firedrill. The pork is there, but you don’t even notice it through the heat and spices. And with the onslaught of oil and spice, some eaters may experience after affects – my GI rumbled like the E train for the better part of the afternoon.

As the saying goes, there’s much pleasure in the pain, and if you’re going to subject yourself to self-flagellation through your food, you’re in good hands at Hot Kitchen.

The + (What somebody who likes this would say)

  • A ton of lunch specials, all at $10 or less
  • Despite the sit down dining room, service is still fast and efficient
  • I’m a fan of the East Village location

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Oh God it burns!
  • The food might give your tummy the rumbles
  • Some of the menu will weird out my less adventurous co-workers

Hot Kitchen , 251 E 53rd St (Between 2nd and 3rd Ave) ; (212) 588-8826



  • Last paragraph mistakenly attached from Chris’ post-lunch rub & tug review of West Garden Spa.

  • Okay, new place to visit instead of Wu Liang Ye – not that WLY isn’t worthy – for sitdown lunch during work.

  • Went to the East Village location way back. I remember the rabbit being kind of a letdown. Really mild and bony.

    Diced Chicken with Crispy Chili Peppers was also quite nice but at $18, obviously not a midtown lunch. Even if you split with one or two people, it just doesn’t feel like enough food.

  • Had dinner there tonight. This is a seriously ambitious place, but It was just the wife and me so I couldn’t really pull out the stops and order kidney and tendon dishes. Still, kicked the tires. That Ma Po tofu is one of the best renditions I’ve had – layers of peppery perfume. A beef with peppers dish was very satisfying.

    But dinner dishes start at about $14/plate so lunch maybe the best budget strategy.

    The proud owner greeted us as we left, and when I complimented the Ma Po he said the chefs are graduates of Szechuan cooking schools with 4-year degrees.

    No booze yet and they irritatingly discourage byob but this is destined to become a go-to place.

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