My Dad has made his way down the dark steps of Wo Hop since his days at NYU. I have been going for as long as I can remember, with a tradition forming once I started college in Wisconsin. I quickly realized that in the Midwest, the quality of Chinese food would never live up to my high expectations set from days eating in Chinatown. On my first flight home from Madison, I landed at Newark Airport and my Dad promptly drove into the city, at any time of night, making his way downtown to Wo Hop to satisfy my Chinese food needs.
When my friend, Mike, told me he had never been to Chinatown, I made it my duty to remedy the situation, and where better to take him then my beloved Wo Hop. Located on Mott Street in the more hidden area of Chinatown, this spot is completely off the beaten path. The nearest subway stop sits at least eight blocks away, if not further, causing you to walk through the dimly lit streets, with neon Chinese signs as your only guide. When you make the final turn onto Mott, the bright glowing sign for Wo Hop lights up the streets. If you didn’t know that this was the spot, you would walk past its entrance, located down a flight of cement stairs.
I walked down the cement stairs to find Mike sitting inside the small open room. The decor of the restaurant always makes me smile, with signed photographs, stickers and anything else creating a collage on every inch of the walls. The booths are relatively filled at most hours of night, including 9:30pm on a Monday, attracting some of the most diverse crowds. An elderly couple sat to our right, big group of middle aged adults to our left, and four very stoned college kids across the room.
The waiter immediately brings over glasses of hot tea and water, as we glanced over the menu. He attempted to hand me a fork, but with a big grin on my face I asked for chopsticks instead. My Dad taught me how to use chopsticks at a very young age, and our entire family feels that it adds to our Chinatown street cred every time we turn down an American fork. I glanced up from the menu to the smiling picture of Joe Biden, added to the collage on the wall. This is definitely my spot.
Wo Hop sells beer, but you need to know to ask for it. They brought over a chilled bottle of Tsingtao for each of us, and we toasted to an awesome meal to come.
My Dad says you can judge any Chinese place by the quality of their Cold Sesame Noodles. So in order to teach Mike the proper way of Chinatown we ordered the noodles, categorized as “appetizers” to start.
The portion size was huge, but it hardly mattered. We devoured the noodles with ease. The noodles are soft, lightly coated with the sauce made from a combination of peanut and sesame. Sesame seeds and scallions garnish the dish, to add a bit of bite and raw bitterness to a sweet dish. Cold sesame noodles are a staple of Chinese cuisine and can so often be over dressed or over embellished with the addition of cucumber and other fix ins. These are the classic version, straight forward and simple, and down right delicious.
Next, we had to order my favorite dish, Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce.
I could eat this dish forever and be in culinary bliss. The pieces of purple eggplant are cooked down to the point where they melt in your mouth with ease. The thick black bean sauce combines a sweet tang with subtle heat from garlic and pepper. It coats the eggplant adding such a dimension of flavor to the delicious pieces of vegetables. Even Mike, who claims to dislike eggplant, found himself going back for second helpings. It’s the eggplant dish that can turn haters into lovers. My all time favorite.
Next for the main courses of the meal, we ordered Shrimp in Lobster Sauce and per Mike’s request, General Tso’s Chicken.
The pieces of shrimp swam in the rich, sticky and decadent broth. The broth almost had the consistency of egg drop soup, which is a specialty at Wo Hop. The shrimp was cooked simply and perfectly, with the sauce elevating the seafood flavor of the dish. It’s definitely not a dish for the health conscious, but delicious nonetheless.
Finally, the last part of the meal was General Tso’s Chicken, where Wo Hop made a classic “Americanized” dish something much more extraordinary.
Breaded and fried to a crispy, golden brown, the pieces of chicken were sweet and crunchy, with a hint of spice. I found myself picking out the little pieces, for added elements of crunch. Broccoli and Onion broke up the extreme fried flavor, with bursts of fresh flavor and sweetness. I don’t think I can look at this typical cheap Chinese food dish ever again after devouring this at Wo Hop.
We packed up our bags of leftovers, since this was more then enough food for two. Like all Chinese leftovers, Wo Hop food makes for excellent lunch the next day, and will make all of your co-workers extremely jealous.
At any hour of the night, Wo Hop will satisfy your Chinese food craving by bringing authentic dishes to the heart of Chinatown, New York. Open 24-7, this underground spot attracts all crowds, making the experience even more memorable. If you haven’t been to this New York institution, you have no idea what you’re missing.
Wo Hop – 17 Mott Street – New York, NY
Location: Chinatown, NY
Perfect For: Adventurous Eating, Authentic Dining, Cheap Eats
Reservations: Not Available
Favorite Dishes: Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce, Cold Sesame Noodles, Egg Drop Soup
*Notes: Cash ONLY