photo by Robert Menzer
Szechuan-inflected Chinese is having its moment, but old-school Lower East Side Cantonese stalwart Congee Village plods along quietly, always there and always good. The terrible tiki drinks here are as sweet as they are strong, the Tsingtao always seems to be room temperature, and the kitchen tends to have a heavy hand with the cornstarch. Make sure there are soy and chile sauces on the lazy susan before sitting down; hailing a waiter is as difficult as snagging a crosstown cab at shift change. But settle into your meal in one of the crowded dining rooms and let one of the 30 varieties of the spot’s namesake rice porridge work its magic on body and soul: Starchy and soothing, congee is a bland canvas for salty peanuts and ground pork, mushroom and duck, even snails and frogs, if that’s your kind of thing. The house special garlic chicken is not to be missed, the bird hacked into tawny strips and interspersed with whole garlic cloves. Order, too, the excellent scallion pancakes. Oh, and you’re not a New Yorker until you’ve belted out a Queen tune in the karaoke lounge downstairs.