Tag Archives: lo mein

Tasty Dumpling

A plate of dill-and-pork dumplings from Tasty Dumpling

Has a restaurant ever had so many things going for it…?

For two years, I’ve lived within minutes of Tasty Dumpling. But somehow, I’m only just now finding out that it’s this unprecedented combination of everything I love and look for. First and foremost, it’s nut-free Chinese food, which is alone enough to win me over. But it also happens to be particularly good nut-free Chinese food, walking distance from the elevated cube I call home, served up very quickly, in a wholly painless setting, for next to no money. This, I think, is worth celebrating.

I came across this place in somewhat of a weird way. I was wandering aimlessly around my neighborhood, as one does, when I walked by Tasty Dumpling’s storefront and noticed how small their menu was. (I end up spending a lot of time walking around Chinatown, which is, of course, filled with Chinese restaurants. Most of those restaurants’ display menus are long as hell, so I tend not to bother with pausing to conduct my preliminary once-over for nutty dishes. Tasty Dumpling’s, though, looked promising.) So what’d I do? I stepped aside, dialed the number on the awning, and watched, through the window, as the cashier picked up the phone, asked me to repeat myself, then told me all I’d hoped to hear: No nuts. Nor peanuts. Not one.

[Why didn’t I just step inside and ask in person? I don’t know. I think calling feels more formal and less spontaneous (and thus more trustworthy), though I’m well aware that’s probably just an illusion. In general, I always feel a little better about restaurants I’ve contacted via phone or email than I do about those I’m not able to reach in advance—and while I do really believe that written communication is, for these things, a lot more reliable, I acknowledge that a phone call probably has next to no real advantage over a face-to-face conversation with an employee. That’s especially hard to deny when you’ve just watched a cashier pick up the phone and answer your question just as he or she would’ve answered it had you been physically present, but…well, I’m insane, and I do what makes me worry least. Haven’t you noticed?]

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Now, when I talk about cheap meals, I usually mean those that’ll come to under $10 per person. And while I admit that definition of “cheap” might be a little too liberal, that isn’t something I have to worry about in labeling Tasty Dumpling. This place isn’t just NYC cheap. It’s cheap-cheap—like, stuff-you-and-a-friend-for-$8 cheap. And at that price, can you really go wrong? (Yes. You can definitely go wrong with a $4 meal. Not at Tasty Dumpling, though.)

Fried pork-and-chive dumplings—the tried-and-true, and my personal favorites—come 5 for $1.25. Dumplings with “off-menu” fillings (like dill and pork, advertised via handwritten sign) cost a lot more—$5-ish for 8—but “a lot more” than $1.25 is hardly something to whine about. Soups will run you $2 or $3 ($4 or $5 if it’s noodles you’re after), and stir-fries (yes, they have them) around $5. Pancakes, $2-ish. Sodas, $1. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that Tasty Dumpling won’t strain your wallet. You can probably even pay for your whole meal with nothing but the quarters you’ll find lying around your apartment…not that I’ve ever done that or anything.

Anyway. That’s more than enough about pricing. 500 words in, I’m finally ready to talk about food. I’ll start with this, then: Tasty Dumpling makes some good-ass fried dumplings. The pork-and-chive are best, I think, followed by the dill-and-pork, then the beef, then the others—but it’s hard to go wrong, really, provided you manage to choose whatever it is that appeals most to you. The wrappers—on the doughy side, though never tough—are strong enough to hold the fillings, which are themselves ridiculously moist and flavorful. And the vinegar (sitting on every table, and safe, too, as far as I can tell) only helps.

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About the pork-and-chive dumplings (immediately above), I don’t have all that much to say. The filling’s your average pork-and-chive dumpling filling—juicy, greasy balls of pork and chive—with one key difference: this stuff is approximately as good on its own as it is inside a wrapper. (Tasty Dumpling is big on forks and small on chopsticks, and for whatever reason, I’m straight-up hopeless at forking dumplings. With these, though, it’s no big deal when my filling ends up on my plate.)

On the other hand, the dill-and-pork dumplings, pictured at the top of this post, are like no Chinese dumplings I’ve had before. The dill flavor is particularly prominent—overbearing, almost—which reminds me more of, say, bagels and lox than of Chinese takeout. Of course, it’s entirely possible that these are just as standard as the pork-and-chive dumplings, and that I’m just ignorant and inexperienced. But still: If you’re into dill, these are worth a try.

A scallion pancake from Tasty Dumpling

Of course, Tasty Dumpling also has a number of non-dumpling offerings, too. And though it does seem a little silly to write about (or, for that matter, to order…) anything but the namesakes, I feel compelled to sing the scallion pancakes’ praises. The pan-fried noodles, pictured second above, are at once busy and underwhelming, and soups offered aren’t really my thing—but the pancakes? The pancakes! Pictured immediately above, they aren’t at all what I imagine when I think of scallion pancakes, but you know what? I don’t care. These, thick and chewy—dense and bready, even—have stolen me away from the thin and flaky Platonic ideal I’ve come to expect, and I can’t even pretend to have any complaints about that. God, I love these. Especially fresh off the pan.

Food aside, though, I think it’s worth mentioning that Tasty Dumpling’s an easy place to be—and I really appreciate that, given the sorts of places I’ve been known to subject myself to. Granted, the atmosphere itself doesn’t do much: it isn’t all that clean, nor all that aesthetically pleasing. But I’m much more interested in what Tasty Dumpling doesn’t do. It doesn’t aspire to be anything it isn’t; rather, it admits to half-assing what it half-asses—decor, customer service, whatever. It doesn’t aim at cool or hip or trendy. It doesn’t claim to be “healthy,” and there are no superfoods involved. Fortunately, Tasty Dumpling is humble: greasy, quick, and cheap. (And yes, it’s tasty, too.)

Find Tasty Dumpling at 42 Mulberry Street, between Bayard and Mosco. But do note that they close each night at the ridiculously early hour of 8:30pm, and that in the 45 minutes or so before closing, service is a little spotty. Also, don’t be caught cashless—there’s an ATM on site, but its fee will cost you more than a whole order of dumplings.

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Han Dynasty

Pork lo mein from Han Dynasty

For a while there, bagels were my holy grail. They just seemed to be the one thing I couldn’t even come close to finding, and for a while there, they were the food I wanted most, too. Since finding a workable bagel place, though, I’ve realized (remembered, really) that there are plenty of foods that are much harder to safely source—and at the top of that list is Chinese.

Takeout Chinese food (authentic, inauthentic, and everything in between) is hard not to love. But Chinese restaurants seem to all use nuts, and the nature of wok cooking is such that cross-contamination is a very real possibility. A restaurant would need to be nut-free in order for me to feel safe—but in all the time I’ve spent on this planet, I’ve never so much as heard of a nut-free Chinese restaurant. Google searches lead almost exclusively to recipes, unanswered questions, and questions with unhelpful answers. So basically, I figured the situation was hopeless.

I used to eat Chinese takeout pretty often, but I stopped when I got old enough to understand the risks involved. By now, it’s been years (and years) since I’ve dug into some spring rolls, chicken with broccoli, or my favorite: pork lo mein—and naturally, my craving has been building since then. I’m getting tired of abstaining, though, so I figured it was time for me to start combing through menus, sending emails, and making calls.

One of the (very) many restaurants I looked into was Han Dynasty, a Sichuan mini-chain with two New York City locations: one in the East Village, and one the Upper West Side. I’d sent them an email, but got impatient while waiting to hear back, so last Friday afternoon, I decided to give Han Dynasty a call. The man I spoke with understood my question—which is uncommon, no matter what type of restaurant I’m calling—and sounded confident when he assured me that they didn’t use any tree nuts in anything. He even double-checked on whether I could eat peanuts and sesame seeds, which was a good sign.

His apparent competence, combined with my absolute desperation for Chinese food, sent me (and my equally desperate boyfriend) running to Han Dynasty that same day. To be honest, though, this restaurant isn’t quite what I was looking for. I’m not really into spicy food, so Sichuan cuisine and I tend not to get along. But Han Dynasty does have a few dishes I’ve been known to lust after, even if those dishes aren’t the ones owner Han Chiang recommends. Still, I figured the place was worth a try, at the very least. After all, I’m hardly in a position to be choosy.

When we arrived, the guy who took my order reassured me that they don’t use any tree nuts or tree nut products in any of their dishes. They do use plenty of peanuts, though—and I figured it’d be best to try to avoid any dishes that explicitly contained peanuts so as to avoid any potential cross-contamination on that front. (It’s notoriously difficult to find peanuts free from tree nut cross-contamination, and I figured Han Dynasty was unlikely to be using a supplier that’d be safe for me. Better safe than sorry!)

Anyway, in an attempt to avoid both mouth-numbing spice and potentially-contaminated peanuts, I ordered something I’ve been specifically craving for a while now: pork lo mein (pictured above). Lo mein isn’t Han Dynasty’s speciality (they’re known for their dan dan noodles, actually) but I wanted to give it a try. Sure, it’s on the section of the menu marked “Kids & Baby Adults”—but I’m both, so perhaps the lo mein would be perfect for me.

I also ordered the Taiwan pork belly buns, not expecting them to be filled with crushed peanuts (though I should’ve known, because gua bao usually are). As soon as Sam bit into one, though, he told me there was something nut-like and crunchy in it, so I decided it’d probably be best for me to stay away.

I did eat the lo mein, though, and it wasn’t half bad. It wasn’t the best lo mein I’ve ever had, but I certainly did enjoy it. Pork lo mein is pork lo mein; rarely is it ever intolerable, and I took this helping down without issue, despite its oversized vegetable chunks. It was certainly on the bland side, and the pork itself was a bit too starchy—but hey, safe Chinese food. There’s only so much I can bring myself to complain about.

Pork lo mein from Han Dynasty

I’ve since tried the scallion pancakes, too—another dish that isn’t quite recommended—and though I have very little to compare them to, I can confidently say that I liked these a whole lot. They’re crispy, greasy, and satisfying, and though they aren’t the most flavorful thing in the world, they do hit the spot.

So…while I didn’t try anything I should’ve tried, and while my opinion is probably heavily tainted by desperation, I’m more-or-less satisfied with Han Dynasty. Maybe (hopefully!) someone out there will read this and put this place to better use than I ever will. But for now, I’m going to go order some more lo mein and continue my search—with a little less desperation, fortunately.

Find Han Dynasty at 90 3rd Avenue, between 12th and 13th, or at 215 West 85th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. Of course, they also deliver—and if you, like me, live too far away, their food’s also available through Doordash, Postmates, and Caviar.

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