Restaurant Review: Buddha Bodai

Buddha Bodai
5 Mott Street
(between Mosco Street and Worth Street)
Chinatown, Manhattan

4296 Main Street
(at Cherry Avenue)
Flushing, Queens

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

Ready to welcome in the Lunar New Year with some feasting in the heart of NYC’s Chinatown, we visited Mott Street’s Buddha Bodai for an evening meal.

The restaurant is in a great location, near the tip of Mott Street as it opens into Chatham Square (though the original Buddha Bodai actually lies in Flushing, Queens – both restaurants are run by co-owners Kent Zhang and Chef Joe Wong). For our geekier readers and NYC trivia buffs, one of the last classic video arcades in the city sits across the street from the restaurant, and brings benign packs of loitering youths to the sidewalks on that block.

The interior is nondescript, though this is no surprise to those who have eaten in Chinatown before – most restaurants in the neighborhood aren’t exactly vying for interior design awards. The service is quiet, but excellent; despite being incredibly busy with the New Year’s crowd, the servers and bussing staff were very attentive, and they arrived quickly when my overexcited arms knocked over my full glass of mango juice (they also quickly replaced that drink at no charge). In addition to my thick, sweet mango drink, Brian also got a gingerale which he was able to keep upright on the table.

However, the highlight of Buddha Bodai, is the food. This isn’t haute-cuisine, and you won’t find any surprises on the menu ( it reads like what you’ll find at every Chinese restaurant anywhere in the country). The surprise lies in that, despite being a purely vegetarian venue, they are able to replicate meat dishes with total perfection.

We began with a fried duck appetizer. While I don’t usually care for the leathery, stringy texture of the fake duck used in Asian vegi-meals, I note an exception for this dish. The “duck” was perfectly fried to give it just enough balance between chewiness and crispness, with a basic sweet and sour sauce that felt just right.

The General Tso’s chicken, served with steamed broccoli, was a totally convincing replica for the real (meat-based) thing. Brian and I shared that dish along with a “barbecued meat” fried rice (aka pork fried rice), the flavors of which further invoked fond memories of Friday night Chinese take-out meals as kids.

The total cost came to $25 each; not the cheapest food in town, but certainly among the best in the neighborhood, and for ex-omnivores looking to satisfy a Chinese food craving, Buddah Budai can deliver on that desire with unmatched precision.

Food (3/4)
Atmosphere & Service
Value (2.5/4)

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