Nyonya Ups The Spice Ante, Malaysian Style

Some days when I’m deciding on what to eat for lunch it comes down to one variable: spice. You see, I’m a spice fiend and am always trying to find new and different vehicles for making myself sweat during lunch, without exercising. That is part of the reason I ended up at Malaysian chainlet Nyonya’s location on Grand St. (btw. Mulberry & Mott streets). I had tried to eat there once before but was greeted with a long wait, and was reminded of it again by a mention on Lunch With Front Studio. All it took was a 10 minute subway ride up to Canal St. and I had a delicious $6.50 lunch special on the table in front of me.

The restaurant is on that weird stretch of Grand where Chinatown merges with Little Italy. So, be prepared to jostle with some tourists and sidewalk gelato sellers to get your food. Also, be warned that the old location of Nyonya across the street still has signage up and the gate down so don’t do like I did and panic that it closed down. It just moved across the street into nicer digs.

They offer 16 options for the lunch special which includes a bowl of the soup of the day and something over rice. Several other things on the menu are just as cheap as the $6.50 lunch special if noodle soups, fried noodles or rice dishes are more to your liking.

I went with the shrimp sambal special, which was one of the spicy items to choose from. Several others sounded equally delicious (beef with black pepper! masak lemak!), but what sold me was the word “sambal.” I love that stuff. I also love shrimp paste which is employed in a lot of dishes here. I guess you could say I’m a sucker for condiments that aren’t mustard, ketchup or mayo.

One semi-funny thing I noticed on the menu is that if you are a vegetarian, you had best stick to the appetizer section. I only spotted a couple of things under the category of “vegetables” that did not include meat or shrimp paste. Mmm…shrimp paste.

First out was the small bowl of what was basically an Asian take on chicken soup. It was a bunch of vegetables and a few pieces of pulled chicken and it was tasty enough. Before I was even done with that, the shrimp sambal was on the table.

It was a decent-sized mound of shrimp, mango, green pepper and red onion with the standard white sticky rice on the side. I was actually impressed with the size and number of shrimp that I got (there were seven, and yes, I counted). The bites of mango were a nice contrast of sweetness to the salty and spicy parts of the dish. As I finished and there were some dregs of sambal left on the plate, I wished I could do a mash up and go get some bread from one of the Italian places nearby to sop it up. The rice worked OK for that purpose.

One perk to eating at the restaurant is the free pots of hot tea on every table. Another is overhearing the tourists who wander in asking what on the menu isn’t spicy and then ordering it with chicken.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • It’s super cheap and you can keep lunch below $10 even if you eat in.
  • They have a lot of interesting things on the lunch special menu, or you can get chicken feet in a casserole.
  • It’s a spice fiend’s paradise.
  • They deliver to a wide swath of downtown if a subway lunch is not in the cards.

THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • I don’t like going to Little Italy for any reason.
  • There are too many spicy things on the menu, and I don’t do spicy.
  • I can find a lot of cheaper things to eat in Chinatown.

Nyonya, 199 Grand St. (btw. Mulberry & Mott), (212) 334-3669



  • I linked this review to our office accountant, who is Malaysian, and she wanted to order lunch from Nyonya. I had the black pepper beef – okay but not great. She thinks Nyonya’s gone way downhill. However, I had a great meal eating everything she told me to order at New Malaysian Restaurant in that mall/arcade thing off Bowery. It’s a hike from the train, but it’s tasty.

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    Nice! What would you (or your office accountant) recommend at New Malaysian?

  • Great place! I just had the oyster omelette (the hot sauce on the side is great) and the double cooked pork and yam (seems like seared then braised pork belly, with a good cilantro and 5 spice flavor to it). Enough food to share (2) and is fantastic (though I may or may not have had Malaysian food before, can’t recall).

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