Cantonese roast meats and much more
Constrained by a small word count, I often choose restaurants with relatively short menus. I correctly took Vinh-Sun to be a Cantonese "BBQ" specialist, a retailer of roast pork, whole suckling pigs, ducks, and chickens. But it's also a spanking-clean Chinatown restaurant serving a broad Cantonese and Hong Kong menu that's so delicious, generous, and value-priced that I gladly shredded my expense account to explore it. A roast duck, chicken, and pork rice plate ($6.95) is exemplary: a hefty portion of three moist yet crisp-skinned meats, chopped with deft speed and precision by the meat-cutter, served with good rice and steamed gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce. If all they served was this one dish, I'd still return.
But there's much more, like congee, the heartwarming rice porridge that swiftly dispels the waning year's chill: chicken and black mushrooms ($4.75) is tasty, but you should also try frog ($6.50), from the same texture/flavor neighborhood as chicken wings. Several versions of Hong Kong–style soup noodles boast a clear, perfect chicken stock that could probably cure colds, as in the wonderful shrimp-dumpling noodle soup ($4.50). Hong Kong–style lo mein ($5.95) uses lightly pan-crisped noodles as a base for a huge mound of "barbecued meat" (a/k/a char siu: sliced boneless roast pork with a sweetish red glaze). Excellent frying technique shows in the superb dry-fried spicy chicken wings ($6.75/12) and spicy, salty dry-fried squid, scallop, and shrimp ($16.95). If you've tasted only American-Chinese beef chow foon, the gloppy stir-fry of flat rice noodles, you'll find the Hong Kong dry-fried version here ($5.95) a revelation. Stir-fried pea-pod stems ($12.95) deliver a lovely fresh-pea flavor. The only disappointment is hai nam chicken ($9.50/half; $18/whole), a dull steamed bird hacked up and served on barely flavored rice with cucumber slices.
The space is deceptively large: 40 first-floor seats plus another 70 upstairs. Beverage options include milk tea in the Hong Kong style ($1.25/hot; $1.95/cold) and Chinese lagers ($4). Service is fast and typically brusque, and the late-night hours draw more than a few inebriated nightclubbers ordering excellent scallion pancakes ($2.95) and ho-hum General Gau's chicken ($9.50). If you've come all the way to Chinatown, don't make this mistake. Once you've tasted Vinh-Sun's more authentic dishes, you may well find yourself acting like a local at that retail counter, ordering a gloriously bronzed whole roast duck ($17) or a hunk of roast pig ($6.50/lb) to take home.
Vinh Sun BBQ & Restaurant, located at 58 Beach Street, in Chinatown, is open daily, 8 am–2 am. Call 617.338.1368.
: On The Cheap
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