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Long Island's best Chinese food by region

Dan dan noodles with minced pork at Spicy Home Tasty in Commack. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Chinese restaurants have come a long way on Long Island. Value-priced, mostly Sichuan restaurants began springing up around Stony Brook more than a decade ago to satisfy Chinese nationals who attend the university. Then came more options on Nassau's North Shore. Now you can find unadulterated Chinese cooking as far west as Great Neck and as far east as Farmingville, although it often shares a menu with sesame chicken and other beloved Chinese American standards.

Eating regionally is a delicious way to learn more about China--here are the dishes you can explore and critics' picks for the restaurants to try them.

SICHUAN: DRY POT & FISH SOUP

Fresh quarry fillet with pickled mustard soup at Kitchen Melody in Great...

Fresh quarry fillet with pickled mustard soup at Kitchen Melody in Great Neck. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

The soul of Sichuan cooking is the flavor called ma la (“numbing hot”). The anesthetizing quality is conveyed by Sichuan peppercorns, which are not true peppercorns, but the berries of the prickly ash tree. They have a citrusy, floral-camphor aroma and cause a distinctive, addictively tongue-tingling sensation when eaten. The characteristic heat is achieved by the lavish use of fiery red chili peppers and chili oil.

Spicy Home Tasty

1087 Jericho Tpke., Commack, 631-543-8880 and 1260 Waverly Ave., Farmingville, 631-698-6550, spicyhometastylongisland.com

No other dish shows off the complexity of ma la better than Sichuan dry pot, and you’ll find a spectacular one at Spicy Home Tasty in Commack and Farmingville. Dry pot, which is basically a stir-fry, shares a lot of ingredients with hot pot, the customizable, do-it-yourself Sichuan soup; the absence of broth is where its name comes from. There are as many variations as there are combinations of meats and vegetables, but you will usually find onions, red and green bell peppers, potatoes, lotus root, bamboo shoots and wood-ear mushrooms. Dry pot is usually showered with sliced red chilies; know that the dish will be plenty spicy even if you avoid eating them. More info: 

Kitchen Melody

For another dish that helps illustrate the breadth and depth of Sichuan food, head to Kitchen Melody in Great Neck for the sliced tilapia with pickled mustard soup. It’s impossible to miss, coming as it does in a shallow bowl that’s nearly two feet across, and if there’s more than one table occupied, someone is bound to be eating it. Irregular pieces of fish, boneless and firm, float in a savory, slightly sour broth enriched with the fish’s head and bones (subsequently removed). Then come the garnishes: pickled mustard greens (gai choy), delicate white mushrooms, wedges of tiny cucumbers, fresh cilantro and, this being a Sichuan soup, brilliant red chilies, the whole bowl charged with Sichuan peppercorns. Don’t be put off by the use of tilapia, by the way; the inland regions of China—of which Sichuan is one—have a millennia-old history of aquaculture and such freshwater fish are more traditional than marine species such as flounder or snapper. More info: 25 Cutter Mill Rd., Great Neck, 516-874-5228, kitchenmelodyusa.com

OTHER RESTAURANTS SERVING SICHUAN DISHES

Chef Wang in New Hyde Park (1902 Jericho Tpke., 516-354-2858, chefwangny.com)

Chengdu in Franklin Square (947-949 Hempstead Tpke., 516-358-1603, chengduny.com)

Delicis Legend in Hewlett (1230 Broadway, 516-299-8080, delicislegend.com)

F.A.N. Authentic Chinese Cuisine in Deer Park (534 Commack Rd., 631-586-6888, fanchinesefood.com)

Spice Workshop in Centereach (2503 Middle Country Rd., 631-676-5065, spiceworkshoptogo.com)

BEIJING: PEKING DUCK

Peking duck served with slivered cucumber, scallions, and hoisin sauce...

Peking duck served with slivered cucumber, scallions, and hoisin sauce at O Mandarin in Hicksville. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

O Mandarin

600 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville; 516-622-6666, omandarin.com

Beijing has been the capital of China for more than 700 years, the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as the Republic and People’s Republic that followed. One dish that is unmistakably associated with the city is Peking duck. At O Mandarin in Hicksville, the bird undergoes a battery of preroasting rituals—it’s pumped full of air to separate skin from flesh, bathed in hot water, hung to dry for three days—before being seasoned and roasted. The result of these ministrations is moist but greaseless flesh with shatteringly crisp skin that’s a deep, translucent amber. The duck is served with slivered cucumber and scallions, and diners are invited to make their own imperial sandwiches. Two other imperial must-tries: the rectangular Peking pot stickers and Eight Treasures, a dessert based on sticky rice.

OTHER RESTAURANTS MAKING PEKING DUCK

Albert's Mandarin Gourmet in Huntington (269 New York Ave., 631-673-8188, mandaringourmetli.com)

Long Island Pekin in Babylon (96 E. Main St.,631-587-9889, longislandpekin.com)

New Fu Run in Great Neck (50 Middle Neck Rd., 516-708-1888, furunrestaurant.com)

Tao's Bao & Dim Sum in Stony Brook (2460 Nesconset Hwy., 631-675-6492, taosdimsum.com)

GANSU: HAND-PULLED NOODLES

Hand-pulled noodles in soup with beef at Splendid Noodle in Stony...

Hand-pulled noodles in soup with beef at Splendid Noodle in Stony Brook. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Spendid Noodle

1320 Stony Brook Rd., Stony Brook; 631-675-6725, splendidnoodletogo.com

Rice is the staple grain of China’s Southern regions, but wheat rules in the North, where it turns up in flatbreads, buns and noodles. And no noodles are more famous than the hand-pulled ones called lamian, the specialty of the city of Lanzhou in the province of Gansu. A restaurant specializing in lamian will employ a chef who makes them throughout the day. At Splendid Noodle, diners are afforded a view of the kitchen where the noodlemaker plies his craft: He folds, twists and stretches a salami-thick rope of dough to develop a sinewy, elastic texture. Holding his arms as far apart as he can, he bangs the dough on the counter and then repeats the process. When the dough is sufficiently supple, he uses his open fingers to divide it into ever-thinner filaments, then he tosses the finished noodles into a vat of boiling water. Served in a bowl of soup, the noodles have the uncanny uniformity of boxed spaghetti. And the cold noodles are superb as well; smothered with savory minced pork, they are generously garnished with cilantro and cucumber to cut the richness and heat. 

OTHER RESTAURANTS MAKING HAND-PULLED NOODLES

Don Huang in Syosset (8 Cold Spring Rd., 516-921-7060)

Kung Fu Kitchen in Garden City (Roosevelt Field, 630 Old Country Rd., 516-675-2829, kfkitchennyc.com)

SHANGHAI: SOUP DUMPLINGS

Pork soup dumplings at Blue Wave in Williston Park.

Pork soup dumplings at Blue Wave in Williston Park. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Blue Wave

344 Hillside Ave., Williston Park; 516-248-6688, bluewaveli.com

Long Island’s earliest purveyors of soup dumplings—Shanghai Moon in Merrick, Shang Hai Pavilion and Zong’s Shanghai in Bethpage—all namechecked their provenance. Twenty years later, those restaurants are long gone, but soup dumplings appear on most Chinese menus, their ubiquity due partly to a burgeoning appreciation of regional cooking and partly to a proliferation of frozen dumplings. You’ll find an outstanding housemade example at Blue Wave in Williston Park. Soup dumplings can be alternatively billed as xiao long bao (meaning “little steamer basket buns”; “xiao” and “bao” both rhyme with “cow”), XLB or steamed juicy buns but it’s the soup that’s their main appeal because it winds up inside the skin. The trick is the use of a pork broth so rich with gelatin that, when chilled, it holds its shape and, with a tiny pork meatball, is concealed within the top-knotted bundle. To eat a soup dumpling, carefully convey it to a large soup spoon by grabbing the topknot with the proffered tongs. Once it’s in the spoon, drizzle a little black vinegar on it, along with some shreds of ginger. Then bite a small hole in the side of the dumpling and—careful, it’s hot!—suck out the soup. (What doesn’t go into your mouth should be caught by the spoon.) Now go ahead and gobble up the rest of the dumpling.

It hasn’t yet hit the big time, but shumai (a.k.a. shao mai) is another great Shanghai dumpling. The little wonders are open-topped, with pork-infused sticky rice captured in a delicate, egg-rich skin. Once you’ve had your fill of dumplings, you can move onto lion’s head, a giant, meltingly tender meatball that, at Blue Wave, is stuffed with a preserved egg.

OTHER RESTAURANTS SERVING SOUP DUMPLINGS

JIA Dim Sum in Port Washington (84 Old Shore Rd., 516-488-4801, jia-dimsum.com)

Ramen Totem in Great Neck Plaza (69 Middle Neck Rd., 516-482-8866, ramentotemorder.com)

Red Tiger Dumpling House in Stony Brook (1320 Stony Brook Rd., Stony Brook, 631-675-6899, redtigerdumplingny.com)

753 Dumpling House in Franklin Square (753 Franklin Ave., 516-887-1137, 753dumplinghouse.com)

THE NORTH: HEARTY DUMPLINGS

Grace Tian handmakes dumplings at Zouji Dumpling House in Glen Cove.

Grace Tian handmakes dumplings at Zouji Dumpling House in Glen Cove. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Zouji Dumpling House

188 Glen Cove Ave., Glen Cove; 516-801-4848, zoujidumplinghouse.com

The dumplings that make up the Cantonese dim sum repertoire tend to be thin-skinned and delicate, their exquisite crimping the seeming handiwork of a tiny machine. That’s not what you’ll find in the North, where the heftier, heartier jiaozi (pronounced “jow-zuh”) reign supreme. Sometimes crescent-shaped, sometimes veering closer to stubby, irregular blobs, these Ur-dumplings are boiled or steamed and then served with black vinegar, soy sauce and/or chili oil. Juicy jiaozi may be filled with just about anything, though the most common fillings are pork with cabbage or pork with chives. At Zouji Dumpling House—the owner’s family has a chain of restaurants in China’s Northeast—you can also have them filled with beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables. Zouji also serves fine renditions of cumin lamb—full-flavored and embracing excess—and the vibrant noodle and vegetable salad called Five Flavors Green Bean Sheet Jelly. More info:

OTHER RESTAURANTS SERVING JIAOZI AND OTHER NORTHERN DISHES

Beijing House in Syosset (170 Jericho Tpke., 516-864-0702, beijinghouseus.com)

H Noodle House in Jericho (336 N. Broadway, 516-933-8808)

New Fu Run in Great Neck (50 Middle Neck Rd., 516-708-1888, furunrestaurant.com)

Yum Yum Dumplings in Centereach (2432 Middle Country Rd., 631-676-3148, yumyumdumplings.com)

TAIWAN: BRAISED BEEF NOODLE SOUP

Braised beef & tendon noodle soup with fresh and pickled...

Braised beef & tendon noodle soup with fresh and pickled greens at Eatery 19 in Syosset. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Eatery 19

19 Ira Rd., Syosset, 516-802-3500, eatery19.com

Taiwan’s cuisine is distinctive and eclectic not only because of its geography—it’s an island off the coast of mainland China—but because of its indigenous culture and its history as a Japanese colony and refuge for mainlanders fleeing China’s Communist Party. Some of the most famous Taiwanese dishes, such as braised beef noodle soup and three-cup chicken (see page 8), have become popular all over China as well as in the Chinese diaspora in the United States. At Eatery 19 in Syosset, the braised beef noodle soup is rich with fat noodles, tender chunks of meat and tendon, and fresh and pickled greens; the broth rings with star anise and cinnamon. The three-cup chicken (named for its similar proportions of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil) has a dark, sweet savor. A Taiwanese dish that deserves to be more famous is the popcorn chicken, pieces of dark meat dredged in potato starch and then fried twice to achieve maximum crunch.

OTHER RESTAURANTS SERVING TAIWANESE DISHES

Chengdu in Franklin Square for three-cup chicken (947-949 Hempstead Tpke., 516-358-1603, chengduny.com)

Ivory Kitchen in Port Washington for popcorn chicken (87 Main St.,631-604-7800, ivorykitchenpw.com)

Kung Fu Kitchen for popcorn chicken (Roosevelt Field, 630 Old Country Rd. Garden City, 516-675-2829, kfkitchennyc.com)

1089 Noodle House in Stony Brook for braised beef noodle soup (1089 Rte. 25A, 631-689-1089, 1089nh.com)

GUANGDONG: CANTONESE STEAMED FISH & OTHER CLASSICS

Clams in black bean sauce at Orient Odyssey in Jericho.

Clams in black bean sauce at Orient Odyssey in Jericho. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Orient Odyssey

511 N. Broadway, Jericho, 516-719-002, orient-odyssey.com

Most of the early Chinese immigrants to the United States were from the Southern province of Guangdong, formerly known as Canton, and the first Chinese foods that Americans came to love were based on that cuisine. Initially, without access to Chinese produce and imported products, those pioneering cooks and restaurateurs came up with born-in-America dishes such as chow mein and chop suey. But make no mistake: Cantonese cuisine is one of the world’s most refined.

Both dim sum and siu mei (the barbecue repertoire that includes roast duck, soy sauce chicken and pork cha siu) originated in Guangdong. With a long coastline along the South China Sea, it is blessed with great seafood and cooks there believe that the best way to honor it is with the fewest and simplest ingredients, and letting those ingredients speak for themselves. There is no finer example of Cantonese cooking than a hopping-fresh fish—preferably live—that has been steamed to satiny perfection, then dressed with nothing more than ginger, scallions, soy sauce and rice wine. You will find a stellar example at Orient Odyssey in Jericho, along with other classics such as salt-and-pepper shrimp, clams in black bean sauce and ginger-scallion squid.  

OTHER RESTAURANTS SERVING CANTONESE DISHES

Fortune Wheel in Levittown (3601 Hempstead Tpke., 516-579-4700, fortunewheelrestaurant.com)

The Orient in Bethpage (623 Hicksville Rd., 516-822-1010)

 

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