Northern Chinese Food in Manhattan’s Chinatown: Henan Flavor’s Big Tray of Chicken is the Ultimate Bargain
November 2, 2011
You’re not here for the atmosphere; there is none, though the BYOB policy makes up for that a bit. You’re not here you’re here for the location, a few hundred feet from the traffic heavy entrance to the Manhattan bridge. Don’t waste time with the ordinary pancake with pork and cilantro ($2, 2nd from bottom) or the spicy beef brisket hui mei ($6, bottom), fatty and not very spicy. You’re here for the big tray of chicken ($12, top 2 photos), which isn’t really a tray at all. It’s a wok, and its filled with nuggets of fatty dark meat chicken and potato floating in a pool of fragrant red chili oil redolent of star anise. This is Northern Chinese at its finest; similar to Szechuan but mainly new to New York City. Unlike most Szechuan food, the chili heat is palpable but not overpowering. The wok keeps the entire dish near scalding temperature for an unnaturally long time but the chicken remains mainly tender if not for a few pieces that require some gnawing. It’s for this very reason that I was happy to follow Serious Eats lead and order an extra side of hand pulled noodles ($1) to toss in with the chicken and chili oil. My favorite bites didn’t even include chicken, just the tender, chewy noodles glistening in chili oil. Fortunately I had my fill; the “big tray” was limitless, with enough food to feed three easily. When there was nothing but broth left in the wok, my friend Joe Block, a true Szechuan Chinese food explorer – smartphone replacing telescope – asked for a griddled wheat flour pancake to sop it up. It arrived crisp on the outside, steamy and pillowy on the inside; perfect for chili oil absorption. Like Peter Stuyvesant trading beads for Manhattan, Joe fearlessly led us to Henan Flavor and we departed stuffed for $24. What a steal.
Henan Flavor 68B Forsyth St near Hester Street New York, NY 10002 212-625-8299 Open 10am-Midnight Daily