Food crawl in New York’s Chinatown: meat on a stick edition

The man with the gas mask recommended I get the lamb. As smoke from the charcoal grill wafted heavenward, up from his cart toward the Manhattan Bridge, I stood there having an internal debate. There was a special that day: chicken hearts. Or should I just get the lamb and move on to my next stop?

Welcome to Lamb on a Stick, also known as Xinjiang Kebabs. It’s a misnomer for sure, as this cart, anchored until around 9pm on most days on the corner of Forsythe and Division Streets next to the Manhattan Bridge in New York City’s Chinatown, serves up an array or carnal delights, all attached to a stick. Nearly everything I’ve eaten here has been almost transcendent: the lamb, for starters, is unctuous and juicy. But why stop there? The griller (the guy keeping the smoke out of his face with a gasmask or his non-mask-wearing wife) is also quite skilled when it comes to chicken wings, beef, and partridge. Since I discovered the cart a few months ago, I’ve been back every week, hoping to try everything here. And at $1 per stick, it’s very possible to get full on the cheap.

Xinjiang Kebabs is just one of a handful of places in Chinatown I’ve found since I decided to regularly eat my way through the neighborhood. The Atlantic recently ran an article claiming Chinatowns in America as we know them–In New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, for example–are dying; a collective relic of a time when China was poor and its citizens clamored for a better life by retreating to American shores. But with China’s economic rise, so the logic of the article goes, there will be less immigration. And as the population of these ethic enclaves in American cities grows old, they will cease to exist. Or be taken over by another immigrant population (see New York’s Little Italy).

Whether the Atlantic piece is prophetic or not, it got me thinking that there are a lot of restaurants in Chinatown, some of questionable quality and some very good ones. How to figure out which ones to go to and which to avoid? I decided to go find my very own canon of Chinatown restaurants. Starting, of course, with Xingjiang Kebabs. The next place I usually hit up after a couple sticks of meat is the Malaysian beef jerky spot. At Malaysia Beef Jerky, Inc., located at 95 Elizabeth St., you won’t find a Slim Jim or that dried jerky we grew up masticating on. This is moist and tender and just spicy enough to dazzle the palate.

But before I headed there, I had a decision to make at the cart: I said yes to the chicken hearts, which were grilled perfectly. The taut exterior gave way to a burst of flavor. I also opted for the lamb and beef. Two sticks each.

Not yet full, I would head on to the Malaysian beef jerky spot and then, as per usual, stop off for some soup dumplings and then maybe one or two other out-of-the-way spots. Just another food crawl in Chinatown.

[Photo credit: Kirsten Alana]