154 Orchard St
(between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002
Wow. This is some legit modern Chinese food. I hate pan-Asian and in general, hate it when people try to mess with authentic Chinese cuisine. American Chinese food is only good when Panda Express makes it because they at least don’t pretend to be something they’re not. I would call Mission Chinese modern Sichuan cuisine. The dishes certainly diverge from the traditional but it does so in the best way possible: keeping the essence of the traditional while adding something new to make the dish bigger, better, faster, stronger. This is probably the goal of pan-Asian but pan-Asian tends to just sweeten everything too much, add too much grease, and cater to people who don’t know what the original is like. Mission Chinese seems to cater to people who know what Sichuan food actually is and want to push the boundaries further. It’s like an inside joke that you would only understand if you’re already well-versed in Sichuan food.
I started the meal with an Oolong Hai ($10), which was simply oolong tea, lemon, and soju. It was a deliciously simple cocktail that was definitely made with some well-brewed oolong tea. It was probably made extra strong to compensate for the inevitable watering-down-of-tea from the ice because the tea tasted strong and penetrated the soju from beginning to end of drink. It was only very slightly sweet, which tasted more like the floral accents from the tea rather than from any sugar or honey, though I’m sure they had to add something.
We ordered a variety of cold appetizers: Beer Brined Sichuan Pickles (napa cabbage, carrot, chili oil, sichuan pepper) , Beijing Vinegar Peanuts (smoked garlic, anise, rock sugar), and Smashed Cucumbers (salted chili, sesame paste, garlic) ($4 each). $4 is quite expensive for the tiny portions of dishes that, in my opinion, could be/should be complimentary (like Korean banchan). They were not incredibly special but the fact that they even had Sichuan Pickles and Beijing Vinegar Peanuts made me excited. I had not had them since I was in China. Truth be told, they weren’t authentic and these appetizers definitely lacked in quality. I quickly forgot about them once the hot dishes came.
Dammit, there was another mediocre cold dish that I forgot about. This is the Tiger Vegetable Salad ($8.5) with Xi’an herbs and lettuces, fresh chili, turnip vinegar, all wrapped in a crispy seaweed with sesame seeds. Also way overpriced. Tiger Vegetable is simply a concoction of finely sliced peppers, cucumbers, onions and cilantro. Xi’an Famous Foods has a Tiger Vegetable Salad that is half the price of this. The salad is refreshing and serves as a good palate cleanser, nothing more.
Finally, the hot dishes. This was a special so I don’t remember the price but it was delicious. It was a plate of sautéed shiitake and enoki mushrooms with some Chinese celery (smaller and more delicate than American). The mushroom flavors were extremely smokey and strong. Chinese celery has a slightly stronger and more aromatic flavor that contrasted very nicely with the meaty shrooms. I would be very happy having this with a bowl of white rice for any meal of the day.
“Mouth Watering” Chicken ($9) is a classic Sichuan dish that I grew up eating very often. This version included dry-spiced chicken hearts, vegetable noodles, and sichuan peppercorn oil. The traditional version is much saucier and includes many more pieces of chicken without the vegetables. This was a refreshing version because the crucial flavors of sweet, spicy, and numbing were all present without the extra sauce and oil. With all the veggies and minimal oil, I imagine this is a much healthier 21st century version of “Mouth Watering” Chicken. I still prefer my grandma’s saucier, meatier, slightly sweeter version, though do appreciate this new interpretation.
This was one of my favorite dishes from our meal. It was the McPig Tails ($10) with three dipping sauces and fries. Wow, what an awesome interpretation of the classic marinated pigtails. My grandma brings us a bag full of marinated pig tails when she visits from Sichuan. They are juicy, fatty, chewy, and so g-damn good. If you’ve never had pig tails, the texture is a bit like pig feet – very QQ. Mission Chinese takes the classic, covers them in a batter, and fries them up. I have never had or heard of anything like it. The crunchiness of the batter complemented the sticky, chewiness of the pig tail so well. The fries were unnecessary but were a fun addition.
Pictured here is the Chongqing Chicken Wings ($10) with explosive chili peppers. This is an interpretation of the Sichuan 辣子鸡丁 or Fried Diced Chicken with Peppers. Rather than diced chicken, chef Danny Bowien replaced it with wings. The wings were numbing, spicy, and hot hot hot. The numbing quality made them extremely addicting, part of why I can never get enough of Sichuan food. I think diced chicken is still a better option because of the lack of bones and the sheer number of pieces you get with diced chicken over wings. Nonetheless, these were some fiery delicious wings and made all of us salivate for more.
This is one of LAW’s favorites: Thrice-Cooked Bacon ($12) with Shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, and chili oil. H.K., who has been here quite a few times, noted that you tend to get a lot more bacon when you come for lunch rather than dinner. Definitely a useful tip because the bacon was smokey, fatty, crisp, and succulent. The carbby rice cakes tasted great with the bacon and paired with rice, made for a heavy, heavy bite. Chef Bowien also used black beans to add a little sweetness to the chili. Part of why I love Sichuan food is that the dishes are always sweet and spicy, not just spicy.
Mongolian Long Beans with roasted chili, horseradish, and chili oil ($12). I had no idea this was a Mongolian dish because it is a fairly common Sichuan dish that all of China has adopted. Every household makes their own kind of dry-fried green beans or 干煸四季豆. This is the best version I have had in NYC that wasn’t from my own kitchen (har har har). Most Chinese restaurants here tend to miss the point of “dry-fried” and often make a very saucy version. The green beans should be fried with oil and minimal sauce, making them even slightly burnt sometimes for that extra char flavor. Mission Chinese did a good job with this.
We all split the Lamb Broth and Walnut Miso ($9) with chick peas, collard greens, pickled shiitake, and fresh rice noodles. I don’t normally like lamb very much, especially when it is extra gamey tasting. Broths scare me most because broths tend to bring out the flavors of whatever meat you use. I surprisingly really liked this dish. It was a great interlude to our spiceful meal because it was mild and soupy. The rice noodles were very fresh. You can tell because day-old rice noodles break apart very easily. These noodles were bouncy and very chewy. The chick peas and collard greens were interesting additions. I didn’t realize there was Walnut Miso until looking up the menu just now for this blog post so didn’t taste anything nutty. I’ll definitely look for it when I try it again.
Salt Cod Fried Rice ($11.50) with slow cooked mackerel, Chinese sausage, lettuce, and egg. This is also somewhat of a classic fried rice dish but made with Chinese sausage instead of the usual diced chicken. You can try the original Salted Fish and Diced Chicken fried rice at Congee Village. Both versions are delicious but I think the Mission Chinese version was of a higher quality. I really liked that they used a ton of scallions and the rice was good quality jasmine rice. The rice was dry and did not stick together at all, a sign of good fried rice made with at least a-day-old steamed rice.
Fish Fragrant Eggplant ($12) is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes of all time. The Mission Chinese version was right on point with the flavors but diverged from the traditional as they added sunflower seeds, tomatoes, and basil. The sunflower seeds gave the otherwise soft-textured dish a nice crunch. I love cooked tomatoes and basil so enjoyed this addition as well. The only thing that makes this dish slightly not as good as the best I’ve had is that the eggplant wasn’t fried enough. The very best Fish Fragrant Eggplant had eggplant that is every-so-slightly crisp on the outside.
Finally, our last dish was the Sizzling Cumin Lamb Breast ($16) which included watercress, charred dates, and chili pickled long beans. I’m bummed that I didn’t read the menu beforehand (we let H.K. order because she knows this restaurant) because I had no idea the bed of veggies were meant to be eaten! I love dates and would’ve loved to try the charred dates and pickled long beans. We were all pretty stuffed at this point and didn’t even care to try the “decorative” bed of veggies. Again, not the biggest fan of lamb but this lamb was amazing! Definitely one of the highlights of the meal, along with the pig tails. The lamb just fell off the bone and was extremely tender on the inside. The exterior was crispy and had an excellent charred flavor.
We also ordered the Westlake Rice Porridge ($11) with sweet shrimp, braised beef, egg, and cilantro, but sadly didn’t get a photo. The porridge, like the lamb broth, was a great mild addition to our meal. The porridge was light yet flavorful. It was a little bit more watery than porridge from Congee Village, however, I actually prefer this because I feel that the overly thick porridge from Congee Village is made with starch additions. This tasted more natural and simple. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here, partly because I was in great company, but also because the food was flavorful and well-thought out. We ordered a little too much, which made our bill much higher than it could have been ($30 each without drinks). Next time I come, I’ll just get the essentials with a bowl of rice. Comfort food.