The Peking Duck House, an extremely unprepossessing storefront lost in the clutter of Chinatown’s Mott Street, is the most consistently excellent restaurant in New York City. Compared to the other eateries in the area—which announce their presence with red and gold streamers, three-story vertical signs and fish tanks in picture windows—the PDH is almost clandestine in its modesty. And yet, for nearly 40 years, the sleek little restaurant, which was founded in 1978 and modernized in 2004, has been producing some of the best food anywhere in NYC.
The shock of how good the place is really ought to wear off. At some point the principle of diminishing returns should assert itself and the PDH should stop being such a surprise. But that never happens. The potato chip crispy, salty and succulent duck is alway astounding. The non-duck dishes are always revelatory and the bill always seems trifling.
Making the PDH even more surprising is the fact that it’s a one- dish restaurant. Just as diners order meatballs at Maroni’s and steak at Delmonico’s, people go to the Peking Duck House for duck. It’s possible for a restaurant that specializes to becoming boring, but PDH duck is so standard- raisingly high that it’s a pleasure every time. Ducks arrive in style on small trolleys and are carved tableside by a man who is obviously the Bruce Lee of duck carving. Each slice remains topped by a perfect curl of crispy skin and they are snuggled into papery pancakes with raw cucumber, scallions and honeyed plum sauce.
The fact that the PDH makes the best. duck. ever. does not mean they ignore their menu’s supporting players. The sizzling rack of lamb consists of crunchy, sweet little lamb handles served on a crackling plate with black pepper sauce. Fried spare ribs with honey are caramel- ized little cubes that arrive far too hot for human consumption, yet always tempt eager eaters into a searing, premature nibble.
The last remarkable thing about the PDH is that it’s possible to get a same-day reservation or even (hypothetically) walk in off the street and find a table. It’s not an undiscovered treasure, but it is far more accessible than most places serving food of a similar standard. The PDH is not aimed at the brassier Best of NYC lists, but it is as reli- ably outstanding as any restaurant in New York. In fact, it earns the highest praise one can bestow on a restaurant in that part of the city: It’s actually worth the search for parking in Chinatown.
The original Peking Duck House is at 28 Mott St. There is a location on 53rd, but it was not visited for the purposes of this article.pekingduckhousenyc.com