While most people tend to flock to popular Chinese spots like Pacificana and Lucky 8 in Sunset Park, it is sometimes more rewarding to seek out places on the side streets, like Yun Nan Flavour Snack which specializes in Yunnanese cuisine.
On this latest venture, my son and I found ourselves inside Lai Lai Gourmet, a narrow noodle shop just off 8th Avenue on 53rd Street. Here you will be lucky to find a table. Most people wind up sitting at a long formica counter with tiny stools for seating, which can be a little treacherous if you are a large person. If you are seeking a pristine spot to eat, this is not the place for you.
The menu here is posted on the wall in Chinese on what resembles colored ribbons that you might find at a state fair. The friendly woman behind the counter, who is also the cook, doesn't speak a stitch of English. She referred us to an English-speaking patron who helped us with our order.
Here you will find oversized bowls of piping hot soups, some with pork and others with cockles, and noodle dishes in all shapes and size made with your choice of rice, wheat or egg noodles.
I quickly found myself sitting in front of a large bowl of soup filled with wide ribbons of rice noodles and loads of veggies; including chopped up bok choy, mushrooms and a few different types of seaweed. The noodles giving the soup added richness as they began to melt away. It was the perfect dish for a chilly winter day. My son, meanwhile, was tackling a huge bowl of egg noodles sitting in a bath of peanut sauce and topped with crisp scallions. As he was digging in, the woman came over to give the dish a proper stir, mixing in all of the juices from the bottom of the plate.
As we feasted on our midday meal I couldn't help but feel that we had somehow been transported to China for a moment. What a pleasure. And so was the price. Our entire bill came in at just four dollars.