Big Wong has been holding it down on Mott Street since before you were born (probably), slinging juicy roast meats laid over rice or atop gloriously greasy noodles to legions of locals, tourists, and drunk cheap-eats seekers from all over the city.
In other words, it's a Chinatown Cantonese classic. My first Big Wong feast was likely in 1982 or so, almost certainly after too much (or just enough!) drinking, and there have been many more meals there ever since.
The place has never been bestowed with quite the same iconic accolades as its fellow Mott Street eateries Hop Kee and Wo Hop or the nearby Great NY Noodletown, but it's always been a favorite of mine in the neighborhood for a quick and satisfying, somewhat nostalgia-laden bite.
Which is why I was excited to see that the owners of Big Wong were expanding outside of Chinatown. But would a second Big Wong feel the same, especially if it's located in, say, prime Williamsburg, on North 5th just off Bedford? An area, as Curbed put it recently, that has already moved beyond its "Soho-ish wave of gentrification" and into its "Fifth Avenue era"?
The short answer is, no, it doesn't feel the same. But also, it doesn't matter, because the food here is great. And the prices, while higher than what you're used to on Mott Street, still sit firmly in $20 Dinner territory. Plus, in a Big Wong first, they've added dim sum to the mix at their Brooklyn outpost.
"We're dedicated to preserving some traditions of Chinese food, especially Cantonese style," Big Wong's owner Bill Li told Hell Gate. "You know, many of today's customers came as kids, and we hope that this happiness can pass from generation to generation."
My usual order, Big Wong's sweet and satisfying roast pork, definitely made me happy, and can be had over white rice (add on crisp bok choy for $2.50 extra), or in fried rice, or with lo mein, or crunchy fried noodles, or in an omelet with gravy, or stirred into some thick congee, or dumped into a bowl of noodle soup.
That noodle soup provides an excellent base for Big Wong's fatty, funky roast duck, and, after shaking on lots of salt and pepper, the congee worked nicely with chopped beef. (Chili oil is also available, if you want to perk things up further.)
There are at least 25 different dim sum options, from crab meat soup dumplings to vegetarian spring rolls to a pan-fried Philly cheese steak mini bun. We went for the plump, shrimpy "Sui Mai Emperor" dumplings, and they really hit the spot. Seems like they have this dim sum stuff down.
There's so much more here too. Barbecued spare ribs. Shredded pork with pickled cabbage. Beef with black bean garlic sauce. Salt and pepper pork chops. Mapo tofu. Chicken with broccoli. Hot and sour soup. Heck, even that old warhorse chop suey makes an appearance.
The exterior signage maintains the look of its original Chinatown storefront, and continues to have the head-on ducks hanging in the front window. Inside, however, the energy quickly dies. There's nothing on the walls, no music playing, and the lighting is waiting-room harsh. The service is certainly warm and welcoming, but they may want to pump up the vibes a bit so that pop-in guests stick around. Still, it's exciting to see restaurants like Big Wong open up new locations throughout the city—the classics are classics for a reason.
The Williamsburg Big Wong is located at 135B North Fifth Street, between Bedford Avenue and Berry Street, and is currently open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily (929-489-3539)