Ying Du, especially without roast duck, gets old after a while so when work load permits, I change it up with some Chinatown steam table action at Lunch Box Buffet. The first time I went a few years ago, I went after work and it was godawful. Everything tasted old, and the free soup tasted exactly what you imagine free soup to taste like: tepid water with salt. Lunch, however, is a different story; complete night and day. Two weeks ago, I actually went two days in a row. I would have made it three days had something not happened on the second.
First off, as with everything in Chinatown, the prices are incredible. It’s $4.50 for four items with rice or five items without rice. If you take it to-go, it’s $4. Crazy. Really, if you eat in Chinatown often enough, eating anywhere else seems like a gyp.
When I went two weeks ago, the first day, I loaded up on pigs feet in a slightly sweet brown sauce, steamed blood cakes with shredded scallions, bitter melon with black bean sauce, and pork riblets. The pork and bitter melon were decent, but the highlights were the chewy pigs feet and the soft blood cakes. The pigs feet were better only because the woman at the station was more stingy with the blood cakes. (C’mon, gimme more blood!) And as for the free soup, it was hot and actually tasted like soup. It was a light beef broth with radish cubes. I was impressed.
The second day, I went for the pigs feet again, but also got lo mein, pork belly, steamed chicken, and bok choy.
The pork belly looked promising, but was tough and dry, even with the generous layer of fat. The chicken was also dry. I opted to push it aside to eat the pigs feet instead, which again was very good. The bok choy wasn’t anything special, but it was cooked right so it still had a bit of crunch.
The lo mein I was also digging, again because of the al dente vegetables, until out popped a black hair. If you eat out a lot, you’re bound to see a stray hair once in a while (I got one at Ying Du last year), but this hair bothered me because I could see the skin around the bulb still attached. I guess the hair was fresh at least… ugh. That’s when I decided two days in a row was enough. I’ll be taking my chances another day.
Lunch Box Buffet
195 Centre Street (b/n Hester & Howard St; map)
NY, NY 10013