Chinatown has moved on up to East 14th Street. Well, at least a little piece of it has, at Vanessa’s Dumplings. The proprietor, Vanessa Weng, opened this outpost a few months ago between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, after starting a smaller dumpling shop years before on Eldridge Street. At first, the new Vanessa’s looks like yet another storefront serving Americanized Chinese glop, but there is some fairly authentic Beijing-style street food here.
The namesake dish is outstanding. Go for the classic pork and chive filling, and forego the fried version (too chewy) for “boiled” (actually, steamed in a row of giant cylinders behind the counter). But if the East Village’s notorious dumpling war has tired your appetite for these dough balls, try the sesame pancake sandwiches instead. The pancake itself is more like a fluffy frybread studded with scallions inside and coated on top with sesame seeds. Traditionally these sandwiches are filled simply, usually with a tangle of cooked bitter greens (as they are sold from vendors under the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown). But the sandwiches here have gotten a little makeover and are stuffed with your choice of filling: pork, beef, vegetables, or tuna. Yes, tuna—a sign of Vanessa’s ambitions toward pleasing a wider palate. It should be avoided, along with the other non-Chinese items on the menu, like sushi and teriyaki. You can’t go wrong though with the pork sandwich ($2.99), full of delightfully fatty, soy-soaked meat. Each stuffing comes with the addition of carrot slivers, cilantro, and lettuce as well. In a strange cross-cultural coincidence, the sandwiches here end up tasting a lot like Mexican tortas, greasy but delicious.
Since the décor at Vanessa’s is quite industrial, you’ll want to get your sandwich to go, perhaps to munch in nearby Union Square. But before you leave, check out the shrine high above the door. Ensconced there is a gold statue flanked by some candles, but instead of a more traditional offering of flowers or oranges, here there are cans of Fanta orange soda.
Vanessa's Dumplings: Tel: 212-529-1329.