We can all chat about what's in fashion, popular, or cool, but who really can say what makes those things so trendy? This is the precise question I asked when I finally found myself outside of NYC's revered Mission Chinese Food a couple weeks ago. A narrow, concrete stairway led to an underground joint a little bigger than a closet. A neon menu lit the entryway, as did moderate prices... along with a 2-and-a-half hour wait. And it was only 6pm.
So what exactly makes this hole-in-the-wall THE hole-in-the-wall of the moment? What makes it one of America's 20 Most Important Restaurants and a presence on Grub Street's Restaurant Power Rankings for countless weeks?
To be honest, I'm still not really sure. The ~$12 entree prices are alluring, considering the food is a rather innovative, modern take on traditional Chinese. But at what point is waiting two-and-a-half hours not worth it? About two hours ago, in my books. We opted for ordering takeout, trekked back to my apartment, cooked up some Jasmine rice, and soon found ourselves feasting on the bounty of Mission Chinese in the comfort of my own kitchen.
Our order? Grilled lamb meatballs, red braised eggplant, and Mongolian long beans to share. The eggplant was the favorite of the night, followed by the crazy-spicy beans and the very earthy lamb meatballs. Nothing was familiar about this Chinese food, which is probably part of the reason we did, overall, enjoy our Mission Chinese experience. We still can't tell you why everyone loves this place so much, but we know for a fact that they do, and you probably will, too.