Spicy Village, that glorious shoebox of a restaurant revered for its hand-pulled noodles and Spicy Big Tray Chicken, has made a lot of people happy since it first opened a decade ago. Including me, many times. In fact, their signature dish, with its meat and heat and saucy, slippery carbs, offers one of the best, most deeply satisfying dining experiences anywhere in the city.
The one downside over the years: with only sixteen or so crammed-together seats, it can be difficult to actually eat at Spicy Village, certainly pre-pandemic when the place was always packed and now again with omicron raging, when the last thing you want to do it sit two inches from some stranger while you eat.
So it seemed like great news when a place called New Spicy Village (housed in the former space of Shu Jiao Fu Zhou) opened last month about three blocks away from the original on Eldridge Street. The menu is almost exactly the same here, and there's a banner outside that looks like a low-res printout of the other Spicy Village's signage, complete with the Forsyth Street address. It's a little confusing, but with 22 seats spread out over the J-shaped room, it's much easier to get a little distance from your fellow diners here should you decide to eat inside.
Best of all, based on a mid-afternoon feast last week, the Spicy Big Tray Chicken at New Spicy Village, served if you want (and you do want) with a pile of hand-pulled wide noodles, or Huimei, is exactly as delicious at the New Spicy Village as it is at the original.
There's the bone-in bird that requires focus with each bite, lest you crack a tooth on a piece of cartilage. There's the soft, fatty bits of skin lolling around the wok-like platter, and the thick, chewy noodles, and the sodden potatoes, and the complex sauce laden with star anise, garlic, fiery chilis, and numbing peppercorns. It's one of those dishes that triggers an irresistible momentum, as you indelicately shovel it all down with chopsticks and hands, barely glancing at your companion once things get rolling. Pure pleasure.
What's the deal with this place though? Is it a sequel? A ripoff? A replacement? A family feud? As both Eater and Grub Street discovered, it depends on who you ask. So after my meal at New Spicy Village, I asked Zeng Xin Lian, who told me that he was the owner of both Spicy Villages, and that the chef was the same at both places, and the reason he opened the new spot was because the lease on Forsyth Street was coming up for renewal and he wasn't sure what would happen. In effect, New Spicy Village was his safety net.
This all made perfect sense, and he stated it with conviction, albeit through a somewhat halting translation by his daughter. But five minutes later, at Spicy Village proper, I couldn't even finish my first question before the woman at the counter (who was not the co-owner, Zeng Xin's sister Wendy Lian, and preferred to go nameless) declared: "He's crazy!" She said that they had no idea what Zeng Xin was doing, that New Spicy Village had nothing to do with them, and that Spicy Village is not closing.
If nothing else, let's hope the latter is true. However murky the origin story of the new place, there's certainly room for two Spicy Villages in Chinatown, even if they're only a few blocks apart, and especially if we ever get back to crowding into restaurants again. I've probably eaten Spicy Big Tray Chicken more than any other single restaurant dish during the past ten years, so as long as no one's getting hurt, I'm down with doubling my chances for diving into this beauty for at least another decade.
New Spicy Village is located at 118 Eldridge Street, at the corner of Broome Street, and is currently open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily (646-609-3048; newspicyvillage.com)