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NYC

Review

Noah Devereaux

Mission Chinese Food

$$$$
Written by
Noah Devereaux

Mission Chinese used to be one of the best parties around. Its creative food, hip hop soundtrack, and neon lights drew birthdays and rowdy client dinners and friends celebrating long-overdue breakups. It felt less like someplace to eat before a night out, and more like the night out itself.

While the party’s still going on at Mission Chinese, now it feels like most people left hours ago. The two-floor space has colorful lights, a fish tank in the middle of the dining room, and a hallway that looks like a house of mirrors. All of those things, plus some big leather booths and loud music, make this place feel more like a club than a restaurant. In the past, that was part of the draw - and it was once extremely hard to get in here. But now that it’s emptier, the clubby space just feels a bit awkward.

The food also isn’t as good as it used to be. Crowds of people (us included) used to line up for intensely spicy, super flavorful chicken wings and rice cakes with bacon. But now those rice cakes don’t have any kick, and the bacon is just a concentrated blast of salt and smoke. There’s a sashimi appetizer served with so much sweet ponzu sauce that you can barely tell the difference between the slices of bonito, scallop, and salmon. Rather than spending $16 on salt cod fried rice, just ask for a side of white rice, which tastes nearly the same. You do still get some spice in dishes like the chicken wings and hot and sour glass noodles, and if you want a large-format experience (which Mission Chinese is also known for), the head-on fish is a good order.

All those dishes somehow come out faster than seems possible given factors like cooking and walking, so you should stagger your order, and definitely mix in some of the still-great cocktails. Focus on the drinks and bring a fun group, and you can have a good time here. But if you’re curious about the Mission Chinese experience, we’d recommend going to the new location in Bushwick instead. For right now at least, it feels like a party that’s still in full swing.

Food Rundown

Salt Cod Fried Rice

There are a few small bites of Chinese sausage in addition to the cod, but still, this is bland. Save the $16 and just ask for another side of white rice.

Lobster Eggroll

The shell is thin but crunchy, and even though you get way more flavor from the glass noodles than the lobster, it’s still pretty enjoyable.

Peanut Butter Noodles

These peanut butter noodles come with shredded daikon and chili oil. The daikon doesn’t offer any textural difference from the noodles, and the chili oil gets totally lost under the heavy dose of peanut butter.

Chongqing Chicken Wings

This is one of the only dishes here that still has quite a bit of spice. The numbing feeling, which gets more and more intense with each bite, doesn’t mask the juicy meat. These should be on your table.

Sashimi Trinity

We wish we could taste more of the sashimi here, but there’s too much of the sweet ponzu sauce.

Mapo Tofu

The mapo tofu here is pretty mild, but that allows you to taste more of the rich pork and beef fat. Get this if you’re here.

Hot & Sour Glass Noodles

This is a must-order. There’s a slow burn from the Sichuan peppercorns, and the big slices of tender and slightly crunchy lotus root give the light noodles some substance.

Steak Tartare

This is a big portion of steak tartare - six lettuce cups each filled with a large scoop of raw meat - with a large amount of salmon roe on top. We always like a spoonful of fish eggs, but the roe is cured and mixed with onion dressing, so the whole thing becomes very salty.

Kung Pao Pastrami

The pastrami is salty and fatty and pretty good for a few bites, but most of the dish is just made up of celery and mushy home fries.

Drunken Fish

This head-on, bone-in fish is very good. There’s a lot of meat, which is tender and rich, and it’s served over a pool of sauce that you’ll want to pour over any extra rice you have on the table.

Thrice Cooked Bacon & Rice Cakes

These rice cakes used to be much spicier, and now the bacon in this dish is so salty and smoky that it’s hard to taste anything else. We never thought we’d want to ask anyone to hold the bacon, but that’s how we feel when ordering this.

House Special Fried Chicken

There’s not much going on in terms of spice or salt or any flavor besides the chicken itself. And at $24 for a half-chicken, we wouldn’t order it again.

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