Eddie Pensier writes:
If you’re the type of diner who judges restaurants by hygiene and cleanliness, this sign in the window of Dinastia China might give you pause.
That is, of course, the New York City Health Department Sanitation Inspection Grade. A “B” grade means that the establishment has received between 14-27 points of “violations”, as judged by the inspector. This could mean anything from failing to sanitize knives to harboring salmonella.
Once you get inside, the atmosphere doesn’t inspire much confidence either. The décor could charitably be described as “utilitarian”.
Dinastia is a Chino-Latino restaurant. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s what happens when ethnically Chinese Hispanics open eateries catering to both aspects of their heritage. Half the menu has Chinese food, and half has Latin food. Most NYC Chino-Latinos are Chinese-Cuban, although there are also Chinese-Dominicans and Chinese-Venezuelans. The waiters at Dinastia in fact hail from throughout Latin America, and if you address them in Spanish, they’ll reply in kind.
Probably the most famous dish on the menu, and the one that kept me going there once a week for nearly a decade, was the chicharrones de pollo sin hueso.
The picture doesn’t do justice to the size of the crackling chicken chunks: each one would be the creditable filling to a chicken sandwich. The meat is juicy and flavorful and the crust is crunchy yet miraculously not greasy. The chicken can be adorned with the tableside condiments of hot sauce, soy sauce, or vinegar, or with the provided lemon wedge. But honestly they’re so damn tasty they hardly need anything at all. They are the standard by which I judge fried chicken, or you can think of them as the McNuggets of the gods. Accompanying the chicharrones are a perfunctory salad and maduros, the gloriously sticky fried plantains that serve as both side dish and dessert.
This platter of food, which comfortably feeds two hungry people, is priced at $13. Let that sink in.
Just as delicious is the beef stew, which my dining companion ordered off the lunch special menu. A deeply comforting, intensely savory, and messy dish served over a gargantuan scoop of rice, again with the super-basic salad. This largesse will set you back $7.
The rest of the menu is similarly generous: the bistec encebollado (onion-smothered thin beefsteak), pernil (roast pork) and Chinese-American classics like sesame chicken and beef with broccoli are all delicious and soul-satisfying. My seafood-eating friends tell me that the serrucho al ajillo (fish fillet broiled with vampire-killing amounts of garlic) is sensational as well.
Even though in so many ways the Manhattan of my childhood is disappearing, replaced by a bland corporate Singaporeish homogeneity, I feel grateful that places like Dinastia still exist, even on the ultra-gentrified Upper West Side. What you get is honest and authentic, and I don’t mean hipsterized, fancied-up Authentic™, created to provide a slumming nostalgie de la boue experience. I mean the sort of place where working folks could get real, tasty and unpretentious food, a neighborhood joint from back in the day when working-class people could actually afford to live on the UWS. (It wasn’t that long ago.) Where I, in that cash-strapped two days before payday, could buy a bucket-sized takeaway container of rice and beans and stretch it out for two, perhaps three meals.
There are fancier restaurants in New York, and I’ve shared some of them with you. But there might not be any more honest than Dinastia. Go visit before it, too, becomes a casualty of the times. And for the love of God order the fried chicken.
Dinastia China, 145 West 72nd Street, New York