Chinatown in the East Sixties
One of my great surprises since I started working in Upper Midtown East (just south of Lower Upper East Side) was that I could find great Chinese roast meats near my office. In fact, the quality of the meats at these two regular haunts of mine is at least as good as that at most Chinatown rice shops.
Kar Won, at 116 E. 60th St., just west of Lexington, is a bustling fast food type of place with some made-to-order options. They do a big take-out business, but there's also a reasonably comfortable seating area up a few steps and away from the bustle. Lots of Chinese Americans eat there and for the area prices are quite low. I usually get either noodle or wonton soup with two roast meats when I go. I haven't had much luck with the duck, as I've usually gotten bony pieces without much meat, but the roast chicken is a winner in the poultry department, and the soy sauce chicken is pretty good too. But the real star at Kar Won is the roast pork. This moist, succulent pork may be the best I've had at any Chinese restaurant in quite some time.
China Fun, at 1221 Second Avenue (at 64th Street), is a different kind of place. It's a sit-down restaurant with waitperson service specializing, for the most part, in standard Americanized Chinese fare (there's also a branch on the Upper West Side). But, once again, the roast meats are the surprise find. The roast pork is good, the soy sauce chicken is good, and the roast duck is quite possibly the best of its type I've had in New York. The duck pieces are plump, meaty and incredibly flavorful, with a hint of star-anise. For a lunch special you can choose one, two, or all three meats, served with rice and pickled cabbage salad.
I've always found that ordering roast meats and/or noodle soups is the best approach at a Chinese restaurant where one would expect general mediocrity, and every once in a while these dishes turn out to be oases within a particular restaurant's otherwise culinary desert. If I end up at an Ollie's branch, say for a quick meal before a show at Lincoln Center, I know I'll be safe with a roast meat noodle soup. Same goes for Sammy's.
There are also several hole-in-the-wall places in the garment center that serve "Chinatown-style" roast meats and noodle soups, but they're always ridiculously crowded, so I've never tried any of them.