It's definitely been an eventful second career for chef Richard Chan. Born and raised in Singapore, Chan came to New York City in 1984, and spent more than thirty years running a travel business in Queens before selling the whole operation — complete with its fleet of buses — in 2017. And then he was finally able to pursue his true passion: cooking the foods of his beloved homeland.
The chef part of his life started out great, with a place called Yummy Tummy in Murray Hill, Queens, that became something of an instant hit after some early media attention. COVID was not kind to Yummy Tummy, however.
"We were doing a lot of dining in, not a lot of takeout, so we were forced to close during the early days," Chan told Gothamist. "When they reopened indoor dining, we were already behind by like six months in rent, so we negotiated with the landlord and gave up the premises."
But Chan did not give up, and in November of 2020 he opened the excellent Rolls Rice in a Flushing food court, specializing in what he called "modern, untraditional rice rolls." The location wasn't quite right for the concept though, said Chan, so when a space became available in the Queens Crossing Mall, he leapt at the opportunity. Maybe a bit too fast.
"The initial idea was to move Rolls Rice over here and expand our menu," said Chan. "Unfortunately, after we signed a lease and moved here, the building didn't let us extend our venting hood, so we couldn't feed our steamer into the equipment, and had to give up Rolls Rice."
And now, after all that, we have Sin Kee, Chan's third restaurant in as many years, and this time the chef is focusing on Singapore's legendary hawker fare.
A pair of entree-sized birds lead the way, with top billing going to Chan's Hainanese Chicken Rice, "the national dish of Singapore." The chicken here is slow-poached, skin left on, poured over with broth and served at room temperature, gizzards and spicy pickles on the side. It's delicious.
Also very good is the funky Teochew Braised Duck, sticky with dark soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and star anise. This comes with chunks of soaked-through tofu and tons of SK taro rice. Chan said he will follow tradition and reuse Sin Kee's braising liquid, giving it more and more depth of flavor after each use.
“In Singapore some places have been using the same broth for 60 or 70 years,” he said. “I don’t intend to use it for quite that long here in America, plus I’d be 149."
There's a lot of action in the "snacks" section of Sun Kee's menu as well, including Singapore street food classics like Chai Tow Kueh, a delightfully chewy radish-cake stir fry with scrambled eggs and pork lard, and a crazy-rich Oyster Omelette, which stars a gratifyingly large number of briny, tender bivalves. The Singapore Satay is generously portioned as well, with a half dozen skewers of fat, heavily-seasoned hunks of pork or beef (or both) served in an insulated bag. Definitely get Chan's thick, fiery peanut sambal with these.
Chan also plays around with other regional flavors, in dishes such as Thai Lemongrass Popcorn Chicken; Tawainese Guo Bac, a pork belly and mustard greens bun; and H.K. Faux Shark Fin Soup. Sibel Crunchy Fries with chili crab sauce, Fried Fishball Skewers, and deep-fried SK Bacon Bites round out your snack options, and for dessert, you can get a tub of pandan-flavored BoBo ChaCha, a coconut milk soup of sorts thick with sweet potato and taro chunks. Chan said he expects to receive his liquor license soon, but housemade non-boozy drinks like Barley Lime and Purple Tea are available in the meantime.
Sin Kee is set somewhat apart from its Queens Crossing Mall food court neighbors, with what amounts to a separate entrance on 138th Street, though all the seating throughout the sprawling space is communal, so you can grab a table wherever.
A lot of Singaporeans who live in New York have come in and they say the food here makes them feel like they're back home."
The stall's design is as playfully corny as you'd expect from a man who named his previous restaurants Yummy Tummy and Rolls Rice. A cartoony mural covers one wall, featuring Singlish slang like Shiok (the equivalent, I was told, of "rad" or "dope"), and Chope, which is what you call the packet of tissues you leave on your seat at a hawker center to "save" it when you go up to buy more food.
"I've cooked this food all my life," said Chan. "We grew up on this food. In Singapore, there are hawker centers everywhere. Just walk down from your flat and go into any hawker center. A lot of Singaporeans who live in New York have come in and they say the food here makes them feel like they're back home."
Sin Kee is located on the first floor of the Queens Crossing Mall at 136-20 38th Avenue in Flushing, and is currently open from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily (718-878-3108; sinkeenyc.com)