Cheap lunch, rich meal

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Dumpling Kingdom -- West Village

227 Sullivan Street

New York, NY 10012

11:00-10:30 PM

Price: $3-10

The restaurant is small, with only six seats arranged around three eating bars. They keep things simple. Customers eat from plastic containers and styrofoam, some of the menu signs are hand-written, and heat blows from a table top space heater. The food is hot and colorful, rich with texture, both sweet, soothing and spicy. And according to the website, the founder cooks with an eye to traditional Chinese medicine. For example, the roast pork noodle soup cooks for three hours so that, “all the bad fats are expelled.”

But healthy cooking doesn't replace favor. Take for instance the mini hot pot. This tiny dish is jam-packed with flavor and textures: I couldn’t stop spooning down the sweet, salty broth even though the abrasive pepper flakes scratched at my throat. I slurped down sweet-potato based glass noodles, poked at fish balls (balls of fishy dough stuffed with beef) and felt the waxy black cabbage squeak against my teeth. When I needed a break from the spice, I mopped triangles of scallion pancake ($3.99 for eight pieces) around in soy sauce.

I went back and forth like this for half an hour, listening as customers came in and ordered, most of them young men from NYU. I was the only female customer during my entire lunch visit. Pork and chicken dumplings seem to be a favorite here, followed by the beef noodle soup. I paid, drank tap water out of a styrofoam soup bowl (no cups, apparently) and said goodbye.

Best dish: Pork Noodle Soup $9 --  full of broccoli, bok choy, meat and glass noodles in a deep savory (but not too salty) broth, it’s the perfect meal to eat slowly on a winter day. It’s a happy medium between Ramen and Pho: not as salty as Ramen, but not as bland as Pho. You may not make it through the whole bowl, so you could say this is two meals at $4.50 each.

Not impressed: Spicy Wonton Soup $6 -- too oily, not spicy enough

Favorite: Scallion pancake $3.95

Budget Guide:

$3-5: Pancakes, buns

$5-8: Dumplings

$8-10: Soups, hot pots

CultureTiffany OwensFood