One of the most crushing blows of my celiac and shellfish allergy diagnoses was having to remove Chinese food from my restaurant repertoire. When I was originally diagnosed there simply were no options out there and my love of Chinese food would remain something akin to looking for a gluten-free unicorn. When I was in Hong Kong and Macau it was definitely a challenge because navigating with my shellfish allergy posed a unique challenge.
Fast forward to years after my diagnosis and that unicorn has indeed been found as gluten-free Chinese options first gained notoriety at chains like P.F. Chang’s – though unfortunately, the last time I visited, there was literally one thing that I could eat because all of their other gluten-free items contain oyster sauce. Not really being a chain restaurant kind of guy, I never really bothered to go out of my way to re-visit.
Living and working in New York City I am spoiled for gluten-free choices and when one day, on a complete fluke, I noticed that Shun Lee Palace (a stone’s throw from my old office) was on Seamless and more importantly had a gluten-free menu, I was hooked. Now there are Chinese restaurants and then there is Shun Lee which has been a New York fixture since 1971. It is definitely at the higher-end of the price spectrum (and no gluten-free lunch specials here) and their gluten-free items in general come at a premium. That being said you are rewarded with expertly prepared dishes that are far more exciting and flavorful than what you might find at a more Americanized grab and go type of establishment. There are still some U.S. influenced standards, but there is a host of more traditional dishes that you don’t often see on a menu.
Walking-in is like stepping back in time – a time when dining was an experience to be savored and service was not an afterthought. The gluten-free menu is relatively small in comparison with the regular menu but still offers a very nice selection of appetizers, soups and main courses. The lunch and dinner are the same with the exception of the prices with dinner obviously coming in higher than lunch.
My final recommended go-to lunch at Shun Lee is their fried rice. Take everything that you think you know about fried rice and toss it out the window. Shun Lee’s version is light, not greasy and mildly seasoned so that the accompanying ingredients take center stage and the rice is chock-full of fresh vegetables, egg and whatever protein you choose (chicken, pork, shrimp, or vegetable are all options). Just a side-note: If you want pork you will get wonderful natural pork (not roast pork – which is not gluten-free at Shun-Lee).
If you are in Manhattan or planning a visit, then definitely add this Chinese staple to your visit. You will not be disappointed and it will forever change your perceptions of what fine Chinese cuisine should be.
Shun Lee has two locations in New York City:
Shun Lee Palace
155 East 55th Street
Shun Lee West (and Café)
43 West 65th Street