Critics’ choice: Uncommon Asian fusions

Fat Rice; Chifa; LA Crawfish

Fat Rice Chicago

Every meal served at this hit neighborhood joint “keeps a dying culture alive,” said Jeff Ruby in Chicago magazine. Macau, a former Portuguese colony that sits near Hong Kong on China’s southern coast, developed a remarkable fusion cuisine during Portuguese occupation that only the territory’s oldest residents remember in detail. But two years ago, during a visit to China, young Chicago couple Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo became fascinated with Macanese food and tracked down a 94-year-old fellow chef to pick her brain. Today, Chicagoans line up around the block to try Conlon and Lo’s take on Macanese specialties like Balichang catfish or Portuguese chicken in coconut curry—each dish a quiet celebration of both Conlon and Lo’s respective heritages. The titular dish is paella-like and “unforgettable”—“a giant pot swimming with garlic-and-sofrito-scented rice that includes disks of Chinese sausage and duck, a king’s ransom of roasted chicken, littleneck clams, grilled prawns, a tea egg, and pickled raisins.” Diners are certain to find “plenty to love.” 2957 W. Diversey Ave., (773) 661-9170

Chifa New York City

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“Every nation demands its own version of Chinese food,” said Robert Sietsema in The Village Voice. In Peru, 19th-century Chinese immigrants improvised with local ingredients to create a cuisine that became known as chifa, a word also used for a café that serves it. A handful of chifas have been doing business in Queens for about 20 years, but now that melting pot of a borough has welcomed a restaurant that seeks to push the food slightly upscale. Only so much height can be attained, though: Fried rice and lo mein “occupy the cuisine’s soft and savory center,” and even the most satisfying dishes seem designed to clean out the pantry. The fried-rice dish called aeropuerto, because it hails from a restaurant near Lima’s airport, is a “tangled mass of rice and rice noodles dotted with garlicky chicken tidbits.” It’s “damn good,” too, “though it might remind you of Rice-a-Roni.” Unless you like such heaps of food tinted an “alarming pink,” avoid the kam lu wantan. But I can heartily recommend the tallarin Taypa—a giant wad of noodles with beef, chicken, pork, quail eggs, green bell peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and broccoli.” 73-20 Northern Blvd., (718) 898-0108

LA Crawfish Houston

I’ve begun to think of my city as a culinary crossroads, said Katharine Shilcutt in the Houston Press. At this must-try takeout counter inside a Chinese supermarket’s food court, the crawfish pho alone might represent “the culmination of the charmingly messy way in which Vietnamese and Cajun cuisines have entangled themselves in port cities like Houston.” Tables near LA Crawfish are perpetually packed, so don’t shy from begging a spare corner from strangers when it’s time to snap open your snow crab claws or gulp down your pho. Unlike the beef-based broth of traditional pho, the broth here is “subtle and graceful,” a perfect complement to the crawfish meat and andouille sausage mingling below the surface. It’s become “one of the reasons I can never leave Houston.” 1005 Blalock Rd., (713) 461-8808

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