Best Chinese Restaurant - 2012
Hsu's Hunan Yu
In many ways Hsu's Hunan Yu is a perfect cliché, an idealized version of every Chinese restaurant you've ever been in. (Close your eyes and picture a small, family-owned ethnic eatery. Got it?) The Hunan Yu is a tiny hole in the wall, a storefront tucked into an old shopping strip that contains a bar that calls itself a lounge (and looks to have time-traveled to our present age), a consignment clothing shop and, just for variety, a baby consignment shop. To say seating is at a premium would be an understatement; the roughly half-dozen tables would have trouble holding a Little League team, should one ever decide to drop by for brilliant Chinese in lieu of pizza and watery snow cones. A bulletin board near the entrance is covered with photos of the various high school students who've worked here over the years, many of them clad in graduation regalia. The walls are covered in novelty money and newspaper clippings and a thousand other bits of random memorabilia. Two of the owners' daughters work or have worked waiting tables and answering the phone. All of which is to convey that this isn't a restaurant so much as a second home. The owner, Mrs. Hsu herself, is behind the counter 99 out of 100 times you walk in the door; Mr. Hsu is nearly always in the kitchen. No fancy fusion cuisine here; no Korean-barbecue-burrito-yuppie-food-truck fare. Just every Sino-American delicacy that's served up at any carryout Chinese place restaurant worth its soy sauce. Every takeout order, regardless of the content, is given the same time estimate: fifteen minutes. (Shrimp lo mein? Fifteen minutes. A single plum floating in perfume served in a man's hat? Fifteen minutes. Whole pig wrapped in banana leaves and pit smoked? Fifteen minutes.) It isn't the menu that makes Hunan Yu special; it's the execution. Every dish is a flawless rendition, the Platonic ideal. The special fried rice is the best in town, the sesame chicken as dark and glossy and intense as a fine imperial stout. There are no surprises here, unless you count the unexpected joy of familiar perfection. If only all clichés were as rewarding.