In the perpetual foodie rivalry between West and East coasts, there’s one battle that’s worth a taste test: Mission Chinese. After the flagship was opened by restaurateur Anthony Myint and Korean-American chef Danny Bowien in San Francisco’s hip Mission District in 2011, New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood welcomed its sister outpost in May this year.
Lauded for its traditional neo-Sichuan specialties fused with a street food vibe, we sent two Jetsetters to find out which restaurant is the real Kung Pao. Nikki Ridgway got in line in NYC, while Jess Blumensheid visited the original spot in San Francisco. Here they compare notes.
Five reasons to eat Mission Chinese SF:
1. It’s a classic. Opened by Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint in February 2011, the world’s first Mission Chinese has a hella-cool vibe that’s hard to replicate. Think a waitstaff donning neon stretchy garb, rickety fake wood laminate-topped tables, dim party lights, blasting Asian dance music and abiding whiffs of salted meats and roasted peanuts.
2. $3 Tsingtao. Wait, what? $3 Tsingtao?! That can’t even get you a slice at Two Boots in NY! True there’s no Brooklyn Lager at the flagship Mission Chinese, but for half the price of tap beer and a more authentic taste, who can complain?
3. The Loo. Going to the bathroom at the SF flagship has become part of local lore. The trek from the punk-blasted dining room to the kitchen where clinking woks stifle sounds of traditional zhongruan on the radio is a real trip. Although you’ll want to kiss the cook after trying the Westlake rice porridge, don’t disobey the “Don’t talk to the cooks” sign. It’s there for a reason.
4. No reservations, no problem. In SF, the two- and four-top tables are a hot commodity that are turned over as quickly as they’re served, so even though you might have to wait outside an hour (or two, on a Saturday), you’re guaranteed to get your salt cod fried rice within minutes.
5. More bang for your buck. Lucky for New York, most of the classic menu items are offered coast-to-coast, but the prices aren’t. Order Beijing vinegar peanuts, Ma Po tofu, Kung Pao pastrami, salt cod fried rice and the sizzling cumin lamb breast, all for $48. That leaves you about $6 (or two Tsingtaos) richer in SF.
Five reasons to eat Mission Chinese NY:
1. Two-flames trendy. New in New York is a short-lived tag, but Mission Chinese will ride out summer 2012 as white-hot as its Thrice Cooked Bacon. Go now for a side of the scene and return in the fall for everything else on the menu.
2. Some reservations. A Manhattan restaurant that accepts reservations is the mythical mate of a Midtown cab at 4 p.m. Yes, you have to email weeks in advance, and then wait a bit once you arrive, but somewhere behind Mission Chinese’s claret curtain, your name is on the list.
3. Beer. It’s on tap in two varieties (Brooklyn and Sixpoint Crisp) for diners and gratis in a keg for those in line in the tiny storefront. Extra points for the still and fizzy water served in glass bottles at no extra cost.
4. Disco 2000. After adjusting your eyes to the pink lighting, admire the mismatched furniture, kitschy lanterns and silk dragon draped across the ceiling during the three minutes it takes for your food to arrive. After that it’s eyes down until the check appears.
5. Clean plates. You’ll over order and then you’ll eat the lot. The pork jowl and radishes, broccoli beef and thrice cooked bacon were table favorites, but it was the veggie dishes — stir-fried sweet peas, spicy Mongolian long beans and cold noodles — that will have me at the back of the line for round two.