The Early Word: Mantao Chinese Sandwiches

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When Tribeca's Province Canteen closed, many were disappointed--not because the place's mantao sandwiches were as traditional as they are at, say, Andy's in Rego Park, or as impeccably sourced as the those at Momofuku, but because the place offered a wide range of flavorful, spicy, unusual sandwiches that could be eaten singly as a snack, or doubly as a meal.

Luckily, Province Canteen has resurfaced as Mantao Chinese Sandwiches, in the relative culinary no-mans land of 53rd Street and Second Avenue. The heart of the menu remains the sandwiches, but dumplings, noodles, and soup are also offered.

Mantao is a steamed, sweetish, fluffy bread from Northern China, and the restaurant makes their substantial, sesame-seeded version in-house. You often find the bread used to make pork buns, wrapping up pork belly, cucumber, cilantro, and hoisin sauce.

Here, that basic combination is called the original pork bun. It's a good addition to the genre, although the pork belly's balance of fat to lean skews too rich for some tastes, and you might miss the hoisin. Braised short rib and cabbage kimchi make excellent partners, the short ribs seasoned bulgogi-style with soy sauce, garlic, and a tiny bit of sugar. But best of all is the spicy mackerel, the deliciously fishy fish in a dry, slightly spicy marinade, along with pickled onions.

The mackerel, despite being the smallest of the sandwiches sampled, was also the most expensive: $4.50 versus $3.95 for the others. (You can get an entire mackerel fillet for that.) An egg sandwich goes for $2.50. Generally, it's a shade high, but still in the under-$10 lunch range--and definitely worth a try if you like mantao.

235 East 53rd Street, 212-888-2490
mantaonyc.com

Below, clockwise from the bottom: mackerel, short rib-kimchi, original pork belly bun

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