It’s easier to stumble on Taste of Northern China than to find it. The address is 88 East Broadway, but the storefront is around the corner, on Forsyth Street, with a mysterious 106 above the door (a suite number, it turns out). The name Taste of Northern China appears on the menu but not on the sign out front, or at least not in English — the Chinese characters translate roughly as Northern Delicacies, with the not-so-helpful English addendum China Local Cuisine.
偶遇“北方美食”可能还容易些，专门去找反倒不易。它的地址是百老汇东88号，但是店面实际上在街角另一边的福赛斯街，正门上方有个神秘的106号（后来才知道是套房的编号）。菜单上有英文店名Taste of Northern China，门面上只有中文店名，旁边加的英文注释“China Local Cuisine”（中国地方美食）没有太大帮助。
No matter. You’re here now, with a fistful of skewers in loose foil, smoky, salty and heady with cumin and chile: a talonlike whole green pepper, longer than the stick it’s impaled on and crazily hot; string beans cut into two-inch clips and speared horizontally, evoking vertebrae; beautifully tender little chicken hearts, lean and closer to steak than chicken; nubs of translucent beef tendon, to work the jaw; cauliflower freckled with char; a squid’s snaking arm.
Best is the griddle pancake, as it’s called on the menu, a disc of dense yet somehow still fluffy flatbread that suggests an oversize English muffin, dusted (no, that’s too delicate a word — dredged) in more of that salt-cumin-chile mix and thrust on two skewers to stay upright. It is such a pleasure to carry it, like a lollipop, through the streets of Chinatown, taking small bites of the warm, fragrant bread with the sheerest barbecue crust. Someone could serve these at Smorgasburg with artisanal salts and make a killing.
A staple of the Uighur community in northwestern Xinjiang Province, the bread appears elsewhere on the menu stuffed with long-braised, half-collapsed pork with flickers of ginger, garlic, cassia, cloves, coriander and star anise — a Chinese burger, or rou jia mo. It shows up in soup, too, chopped down to the size of mah-jongg tiles and bobbing among translucent mung-bean noodles and thin, pliant strips of lamb.
The restaurant’s owner, a robust woman named Hui Jun Wang, is from Henan Province in the east, on the North China Plain. Seamed with rivers and railways, with six other provinces at its borders, Henan has been crossed by strangers from strange lands since Silk Road days. Perhaps accordingly, the menu here draws a wide map.
From Hubei Province, Henan’s southern neighbor, comes re gan mian, or hot-dry noodles: muscular strands, clingy but not sticky, cooked the night before and doused with sesame oil, then cooked again and tumbled with sesame paste, salted chiles and scallions. This is breakfast in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, and hot only in temperature, more punchy than spicy.
The former occupant of the shallow, stall-like space was Xi’an Famous Foods, now a thriving restaurant chain. A few Xi’an specialties, from Shaanxi Province to the west, are reprised here, including liang pi, gluten noodles in sesame paste and rousing vinegar, with the balance tilted toward the tang. Rugged hunks of gluten are tossed in, springy touches among crunchy sprouts, peanuts and cucumber.
“北方美食”位于一处路边摊式的狭窄空间，以前属于一家名叫“西安名吃”(Xi’an Famous Foods)的餐馆，如今“西安名吃”已发展成一个兴隆的餐饮连锁公司。西安是河南省西侧的陕西省的省会，那里的几种特色小吃这里也有，比如凉皮，它是一种面筋面条，以芝麻酱和爽口的陈醋调味，两者相得益彰、味道浓郁，并配上粗糙、有弹性的面筋块以及脆脆的豆芽、花生和黄瓜。
Qishan noodles, also from Shaanxi, are chewy bands in a hot-sour broth, topped by a chile-plowed heap of minced pork, carrot, wood-ear mushrooms and day-lily buds, with the faintest leavening from a crush of fresh parsley. “It looks like an exploded dumpling,” one of my companions said, and then we fell silent, chopsticks warring over it. (Note that this dish appears on the paper menu as “noodles with ingredients” and on the photo menu as simply “pork noodles.”)
岐山臊子面也来自陕西，面条筋道，汤是酸辣味的，里面有辣味碎猪肉、胡萝卜、木耳和黄花菜混合物，新鲜的碎欧芹更为之增添风味。“看起来像是饺子爆炸了，”一个同伴说。说完我们都陷入沉默，开始用筷子跟面条大战。提醒一下，这种面在纸质菜单上写的是noodles with ingredients（带配料的面条），在配照片的菜单上只简单地写着pork noodles（猪肉面条）。
The widest noodles of all lurk in a nearly red broth mobbed by hunks of beef, cabbage and whorls of onion, with the added vehemence of doubanjiang, hot fermented bean paste, in the style of Sichuan Province to the southwest.
Yes, the tiles are slightly grubby. There are only a few stools along an orange wall. The Manhattan Bridge rattles above. You must pay in cash, but this is easy at $1.25 a skewer, with not a dish over $8.