To date, we’ve explored well over thirty restaurants for our “Sunday in Chinatown” series. While the process of finding our “next great spot” is exciting, it has recently become quite challenging, having been to so many already. Fortunately, I’ve been told there are millions of people in New York City who aren’t me, and millions who may have opinions and recommendations that aren’t mine. So this week, Stephanie Ta, longtime reader and first time eater with Sunday in Chinatown, came along and brought us to Eldridge Street’s wildly cheap Fu Zhou.
Fu Zhou, like countless other restaurants in Chinatown, is one I’ve walked past several times, rarely giving it a passing glance, mostly because they offered dumplings at what seemed to be an exorbitant amount ($2 for 7) compared to Eldridge’s other shops. So, I assumed it was to be ignored. Well, as usual, I was very wrong.
Fu Zhou is small, cramped, and a bit gritty… nothing out of the ordinary in this part of town, but nothing that would beckon any passerby in for a meal. Its “B” rating may initially scare you away, until you realize that most of the people you love and care about in this world were “B” students… or worse. You gave them a chance, and you can do the same for Fu Zhou.
Start with an order of boiled dumplings ($2 for 7, or $3 for 11). They’re much bigger than the potstickers you’ll get at Vanessa’s a few storefronts away, and have quite a bit more flavor. Their soft, thin skins are just chewy enough, and the ground pork and scallions inside pair perfectly with a slightly salty dumpling sauce. Best part? Fu Zhou’s family of cooks will prepare them fresh right in front of you, a far cry from the dumplings you’ll find in football stadium-sized woks down the street.
Next, do yourself and your dining group at large a great service, and order Fu Zhou’s fish balls ($2 for a small, $3 for a large). Unlike other restaurants we’ve been to, where fish balls tend to be small, overcooked, and so bouncy that it’s very possible to hurl one at your plate and have it land in your mouth (yes, we’ve tried it), Fu Zhou’s are near perfect. Oddly enough, because they’re Fujian fish balls, they don’t have a scrap of seafood in them. They’re instead stuffed with delicious ground pork, a surprising, yet welcome adjustment.
In an effort to move beyond the word “balls” in your dinner conversation, order rice balls with beef ($3) next. Deliciously soft and sticky, these Mochi-like creations are filled with marinated beef and broth, and were the sleeper hit of the night. Dip in a mixture of dumpling sauce and sriracha to kick it up a notch. Order plenty if you’re eating with a large group. These will be the first to go.
If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, try the wonton soup ($2.00). The wontons, light, delicate and airy, are each stuffed with a tiny bit of ground pork… just enough to add a bit of complexity to an otherwise very basic dish. While it wasn’t our favorite dish of the night, it was a perfect compliment to the more flavorful, meat heavy dishes on our table.
Finally, be sure to order a plate of noodles in peanut sauce. For just $2, you’ll receive a heaping serving of hand-tossed noodles lathered in a tangy, spicy peanut sauce. A quick “chopstick autopsy” will help make this a more manageable eat, as it seems there’s only one mega noodle twisted and knotted into a dish that can be pretty frustrating to eat, let alone share with others.
Fu Zhou beat our collective expectation by a longshot. Despite sharing the street with countless dollar dumpling spots, Fu Zhou has managed to provide one of the best “bang for your buck” situations in Chinatown. Sure, it can feel dirty and claustrophobic at times, but you live in New York City. We’re betting the average LES apartment isn’t much better. Fu Zhou is run by a modest family who work hard to ensure you love your meal. The majority of them don’t speak a lick of english, but a poster-sized menu and your pointer finger should be able to work together to figure it out. Next time you’re thinking Vanessa’s, give this place a shot instead. You’ll be the talk of your gang.
And the best part of it all? On our way out of the neighborhood, a few ragtag teenagers (we’re assuming some things, here) set off a few “street fireworks” shortly before sprinting away from a looming NYPD patrol car. Ahh. Just another Sunday in Chinatown.