Open City Magazine | Night at Mission Chinese

On an evening in late August, I finally decided to take the plunge. Reservations be damned; it’s nearly impossible to book in advance at Chef Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese restaurant and parties are limited to six people max. I had a party of four, including my friend, Chen Jia, visiting from Los Angeles. The restaurant is located in the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that has historically been inhabited by working-class immigrants, hence all the former tenements, and is noted for having been a center of Jewish culture. It’s not a neighborhood particularly known for its Chinese culture. That would be to the west, where lies the ever-sprawling Chinatown.

As I walked down Orchard Street, I was drawn to the hazy green opium-hued glow that emits from the storefront of Mission Chinese. A half-block away, I could already see the line of patrons outside. Manning the hostess counter—pieces of ply-wood nailed together—were two kids (or what looked like kids) in ratty jeans and ironic T-shirts.