In 1967, a chef by the name of Yu Fa Tang—known to everyone as “Shorty” —opened up Hwa Yuan Szechuan Inn in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Born in Sichuan province and kitchen battle-hardened serving banquets around Taiwan, Tang made his way to New York by way of Hong Kong, Brazil, and India. By the time he opened his restaurant on East Broadway, he’d made his name among New Yorkers for one dish in particular: cold sesame noodles.
The origins of most iconic dishes are heavily debated and sesame noodles are no exception. But many credit Shorty with inventing the now classic Chinese-American dish. There are plenty of cold dishes in Sichuan and throughout China, but Tang’s version used both American peanut butter and Chinese sesame paste—a perfect fusion, punched up with vinegar, chili oil, and just enough sugar for balance. Whether or not they were the first, The New York Times once called them “the best cold sesame noodles Manhattan ever tasted.”
Years after the original Hwa Yuan Szechuan Inn shuttered, Shorty’s son, Chien Lieh Tang, and his grandson, James Tang, reopened at the same site. The current incarnation of Hwa Yuan Szechuan can feel a bit sterile, with the starched tablecloths and borderline-stuffy formality of a hotel, but the food is exceptional. The Beijing duck is among the best in the neighborhood, while the ma po tofu, which comes with a finely calibrated balance of seasonings and restrained heat, is transcendent.
And of course, the noodles are still there. Tossed and twirled tableside so that the sesame sauce emulsifies before your very eyes, they’re presented ungarnished, just the way they have been for decades.
Know Before You Go
The move here is to come with a large group and try as many banquet-style dishes as possible.