china1A fluorescent Chinese menu blinks up on a wall behind a window flecked with dirty rain spots and grime. A tiny slit behind the register reveals from the kitchen little more than familiar smells of soy sauce, salt and mysterious meats. It’s not what you think – but nowadays, few things in New York are.

This is Mission Chinese Food, an outpost of the San Francisco phenomenon that has taken the City by the Bay by storm and since has moved East to surprise New Yorkers, a breed that puts Chinese takeout above church.

But this ain’t your mama’s Chinese takeout restaurant. Sure, it looks like that from the outside, what with its basement location and dingy exterior – but that’s supposed to be “cool”. Once you’re accepted into the fold, you are led to a back room, past an open kitchen where today’s youthful culinary elite are chopping and plating with inked arms and piercings. The dining room is washed in a red glow, making it look more like a concubine’s office than a restaurant, while a scarlet paper dragon twists along the ceiling.

china2And then it comes time to order. You won’t find eggrolls or wontons at this particular joint. The signature dish at Mission Chinese Food is its thrice-cooked bacon. Typically a signature dish never really lives up to the hype, but rest assured: it most certainly does. The taut pieces of bacon give off a smoky, almost jerky-esque flavor (we’ll call it haute jerky, if that helps you), and the meat rests on chewy rice pancakes that absorb the chili spices and bacon juice. (If you can manage to not eat the whole dish, save the leftovers for breakfast and cook with fried eggs.)

Then the menu gives way to old classics like buckwheat noodles with cilantro and seafood, and dishes more palatable to the epicurean hipster, like Kung Pao Pastrami and Stir-Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes.

The wait is long, even on a Sunday night – usually an average of an hour and a half, but with a plethora of bars in the vicinity, it’s not too bad of a situation. Dishes max at a reasonable $13 (save for the Veal Breast a la Orange, which is a hefty $24), and the portions are meant to be shared.

I think I’ve said all I can say on this eatery. You can read my elegant prose again and again or you can get yourself down to Orchard and Rivington and check it out for yourself.

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