Mainstream Chinese food is often synonymous with a cheap and greasy meal, convenient whenever the idea of preparing dinner seems unthinkable. For chefs, however, Chinese means comfort food. It’s fast, flavorful and best of all: open late. It's also interesting: "Chinese cuisine is the most technical, evolved and intricate cuisine in the world,” says F&W Best New Chef 2012 Corey Lee of San Francisco’s Benu. China’s 20-plus provinces each boasts a distinct set of signature flavors and cooking styles, but you wouldn't always know it from local menus stocked with decidedly Americanized dishes like Sweet-and-Sour Pork and General Tso’s Chicken.
“That’s the sad, and kind of beautiful thing about Chinese food,” says Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien. “They make this sweet, sticky sauce and deep fry everything, because that’s what Americans like. I like that a lot, but as a food-loving culture, people do want to taste different things and go outside of their comfort zone.” In honor of Chinese New Year on Sunday, F&W asked some of our favorite Chinese food-obsessed chefs and restaurateurs for advice on how to find restaurants that are authentic and delicious.
1. Chaos matters, except during brunch. “Usually the places where everyone is speaking Chinese are the best,” says Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien. “That’s how I found East Corner Won Ton in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I walked by and saw a line of old Chinese people out front yelling orders. There was no order to anything. And so I went in and said, ‘I’ll have what they’re having.’” But be wary of when the crowds are forming. “In the Chinese culture, brunch is always busy,” says chef Joe Ng of NYC’s RedFarm. “And it’s not busy necessarily because the food is good, but because it’s a time to get together with family and friends that maybe you haven’t seen in a while.”