Let’s be honest: There is NO bad time to go to Wo Hop. There are times, though, at which you can waltz in and sit down, and there are times that you’ll be squeezed in at the front of the restaurant wondering if the facsimile restaurant of the same name upstairs could really be as bad as everyone told you. Last night, pleasantly, was one of the former, and as my first trip back to Wo Hop since starting this blog, I can say that I’m extremely pleased with both the quality of the food and that my opinion of American Chinese food hasn’t suffered for exposure to the real deal.
I can’t believe that Wo Hop has been around since 1938, but that’s what the menu claims, and I don’t doubt that the cramped basement space COULD have been around that long. It seems to have practically 70 years of photos and memorabilia tacked to the walls, including (in a weird reality/fiction mix) a photo of Mike Bloomberg filming an episode of Law and Order while standing next to former Senator and actor Fred Thompson. No word as to whether the Senator was attending in an official or fictional capacity.
Our food was certainly for real, starting with what my dining partner termed “the best” cold sesame noodles he’d ever had. They were certainly light-years better than the peanut-buttery crap I was served at the last American Chinese place I went to. We both had to be careful not to fill up on them, as we had also ordered an array of mains: the unique honey crispy chicken and pork fried rice for my friend, while I went adventurous with salt and pepper squid.
First, my cephalopod: it sort of reminded us of a Chinese fried calamari, except in bigger chunks and a bit chewier than perhaps is ideal. Nonetheless, the batter is as salty as advertised, with the necessary hint of pepper (though you may want to add more), interspersed with green peppers. You could certainly eat an ocean of this without feeling grease-laden.
Also thrilling was the honey crispy chicken, which takes a barbecue-flavored sauce and uses it to put a new spin on the classic sweet and sour chicken. Thankfully, all of the pieces of chicken are actually identifiable as such, and the batter is neither constructed of cement nor soggy. You might want to slosh your rice around in the sauce when you’re done.
We certainly did our fair share of sloshing, though the pork fried rice would have been fine unadorned. Just the right amount of grease and quality pink-tipped strips of pork distinguish this rice from the average iteration. Again, the only limitation to how much of this rice you could consume is your stomach’s size – not feeling ill after half a plate is always a plus.
I declare Wo Hop (at 17 Mott Street – the upstairs one is apparently the Canal Street handbag of Wo Hops) to be the best American-style Chinese in the city. As we all know, though, my opinion matters for naught – just get over there on a random weekday night and try it for yourself.