It’s a combination you might not expect: Mexican cuisine melded with the flavors of Taiwanese street food. But that’s what you’ll find at Lucky Luna, a new restaurant that opened its doors on Nassau Avenue in January.
And man, are the baos good.
The restaurant comes via a trio of New Yorkers who have spent decades in the food industry. Chef and co-owner Howard Jang helped open Mission Chinese Food NYC, which inspired him to study up on Asian cuisine. He met Lucky Luna’s beverage director and co-owner Ken Ho while working at Michelin-starred Boulevard in San Francisco. Co-owner Marisa Cadena, the restaurant’s general manager, has worked in food service across the country and in southern Mexico.
Now about those baos. They’re the snack food dreams are made of: fluffy, light and stuffed to the brim with a rich mix of slow-cooked duck confit, scallions, hoisin mayo and chicharrones.
While the Mexican influence doesn’t necessarily shine through on this dish, the baos were the best thing I tried — and the main reason to come back. But that’s not to say there weren’t other delectable dishes too.
Next up were the “reverse” carnitas: tender heritage pork shoulder braised in beer, oranges, tomato and spices and topped with cilantro and onions on a corn tortilla. The shiitake “moo shu” tacos are a playful reconstruction of “moo shu” pork, with sautéed mushroom and salsa instead of pork and hoisin.
True to the restaurant’s locally-oriented focus, the tortillas and steamed buns are made by Tortilleria Nixtamal in Queens and Peking Foods in Brooklyn.
The restaurant’s Taiwanese offerings were big on comforting flavors as well, especially the lu rou fan, which comes with braised ground pork on a bed of steamed rice, pickled mustard greens and onions, cilantro, scallions and a poached egg to top it all off. Each simple flavor contributed nicely to the larger dish – and a touch of Lucky Luna’s homemade hot sauce (the perfect blend of vinegar and spice) gave it a kick.
Another standout was the pozole, an Oaxacan-style stew with pork and hominy. The hominy lended a rich texture to the brothy soup without making it chewy. The congee, a type of Asian rice porridge, was surprisingly creamy with a subtle meaty flavor courtesy of some shredded duck. And braised peanuts were an unexpectedly soft and fitting touch.
For the sweet stuff, Lucky Luna now offers two desserts: arroz con dulce de leche, a Mexican-style caramel rice pudding, and mango panna cotta made with fresh citrus cayenne and Thai basil.
The restaurant’s décor is simple, and the service is friendly and informative. Cocktail aficionados will be pleased with the drinks menu, which offers anything from a smoky Oaxacan Old Fashioned to a sweet, slightly bitter rum libation called “Sailing East.” Perhaps most promising of all is the kimchee and nori Bloody Mary served at weekend brunch – but that’s for another trip.
167 Nassau Avenue
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