I love Chinatown here in NYC. For me, it is worth dealing with the throngs of tourists and people trying to score counterfeit handbags on Canal Street, to feel as if I am immersed in a foreign culture. There is also the added bonus of knowing that, if you do make a wrong turn, you just might stumble upon something fabulous.
Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to discover two previously unknown gems. The first was the retro fashion/vintage couture boutique Allan & Suzi which I wrote about yesterday. The other was 5-Combinations Restaurant (shown on Google maps as Central Buffet Incorporated) located at 195 Centre Street (at the intersection of Centre & Hester and Centre & Howard)
Now, a restaurant whose sole marketing strategies are faded yellow awnings advertising lunch specials for $4.75 and large windows, might seem a bit risky. Both, however, turn out to be effective tools. It’s hard to walk by an not think “$4.75… Really!?” and want to peer in the large, surprisingly clean windows. Which I did. What I saw was a no-frills interior, a 30-foot long buffet line, and a constant flow of Chinese patrons. (That is a particularly good sign for a Chinese restaurant located in Chinatown.)
Armed with my eBook reader and an appetite, I went inside for a closer look. What a pleasant surprise! They had a wide range of vegetarian foods including sauteed bok choy, Chinese eggplant, broccolini, bitter melon (blech, that is one vegetable that deserves its name), and green beans. They also have a variety of tofu dishes, mei fun noodles, lo mein, some very good looking fried chicken, and several different ham hock preparations. (While ham hocks are a personal favorite of mine, I opted not to try them on this occasion.) They even had giant wedges of seedless watermelon for dessert.
Having given the buffet a once over, I decided it was the perfect place for a quick lunch and a leisurely read. I paid my $4.75 (including tax – cash only, thank you), got my tray and loaded up. This is what I chose: Chinese eggplant, sauteed string beans w preserved turnip, mei fun noodles, broccolini and crispy fried shrimp. Well, not only was it worth every penny (at $4.75, that’s not saying much), but it was fresh, delicious, healthy and low fat. My one criticism was that the eggplant tasted a little too sweet and ketchupy. (I don’t know what Chinese sauce ingredient tastes like ketchup, but I am glad I made sure to indicate to the woman behind the buffet that I didn’t want her to mix the eggplant with the sauce before she put it on my tray.)
So, if you are looking for a good cheap lunch in Chinatown, here in NYC, Stop by 5-Combinations Restaurant at 195 Centre Street. You can’t miss the awnings!