Did you know that 1983′s Scarface was a remake of a 1932 film of the same name? Or that 1993′s Homeward Bound was a remake of a 1963 original?
Hwa Yuan Szechuan is also a remake. Originally opened in the 1960s, Hwa Yuan was one of Chinatown’s most popular restaurants until it closed in the 1980s, and is credited with introducing New York to cold sesame noodles. The reboot, which opened in 2017, is located in the original space on East Broadway. Yes, all of that is nice to be aware of. But Homeward Bound isn’t good because its first iteration was as a movie called The Incredible Journey where the animals did not speak. It’s good because... it’s just really good. The same can be said about Hwa Yuan, which doesn’t earn its rating for being nostalgic or historic. It earns its rating because it has really great food.
In fact, when you walk into Hwa Yuan, the last thing you’d think is that this place is old. Traditional, maybe, but everything in the massive two-floor space looks brand new, from the ironed tablecloths to the two pairs of chopsticks everyone gets (one for serving yourself, and one for eating). Given the sheer square footage of this place, it can feel empty and maybe a little stiff at times, but by the time you’re wrapping a piece of crispy duck skin inside a pancake, you won’t be paying much attention to the surroundings.
Speaking of duck, the whole Peking duck here is a star, and worth a trip on its own. Featuring crispy bits of skin and tender meat, this duck is easily in contention for #1 Peking duck in NYC. The famous cold sesame noodles are a must-order too, and will make you realize that so many of the cold sesame noodles you’ve had before were basically just a jar of commercial peanut butter.
But Hwa Yuan isn’t just about its headliners - this place has a strong ensemble cast, and even the supporting guest stars can impress. The soup dumplings, for example, are excellent. As is the whole fish. And the mapo tofu. And the crispy beef that could double as a dessert. In other words, bring friends. Hopefully, you’ll get one of the many big round tables upstairs.
If you do want nostalgia or history, there are plenty of NYC restaurants - in Chinatown and elsewhere - that are worth checking out. But it’s not the reason to come to Hwa Yuan Szechuan. You’re coming here for the very, very good food.
Cold Sesame Noodles
They’re famous, and they’re good. The noodles have some bite to them, and the sauce has the slightest kick of spice.
Pork Soup Dumplings
With thin wrappers and flavorful broth, these are some of Chinatown’s finest soup dumplings. Make sure everyone gets at least one.
Dry Sauteed Tangy Crispy Beef
This an appetizer, but it’s sweet enough that we’ve nicknamed it “dessert beef.” That’s not a bad thing. If there were a practical way to put these in a bag and carry them around as a snack, we’d do that.
Carved tableside, this is one of NYC’s best peking ducks. Make sure you grab some of the extra crispy pieces of skin buried in the middle, and don’t be ashamed about picking up one of the legs and placing it in front of your face. The pear as accoutrement (in addition to the typical scallion and cucumber) is a nice touch.
An excellent rendition of soft tofu and pork in hot chili oil. Get this to add some spice to your meal.
Whole Fish With Hot Bean Sauce
The question to ask yourself before ordering this is, “Do I like whole fish?” If the answer is unequivocally yes, then get this.
Tiger Shrimp With Spicy Ginger Sauce
By now, you’ll see that most things here that involve spicy, gingery, garlicky sauces turn out well. That’s true here.