BY GABE HERMAN | Chinese restaurant Lucky Lee’s got extensive media coverage when it opened in the Village this April, but not for the reasons it had hoped for.
The owner Arielle Haspel, a Manhattan nutritionist who is white, advertised the eatery as a place for “clean” Chinese-American food that wouldn’t leave diners feeling “bloated and icky.” The name Lucky Lee’s had a stereotypical connotation, and the restaurant’s decorations included bamboo and jade aesthetics.
There was instant backlash on social media and accusations of cultural appropriation. Haspel apologized soon after in a New York Times article, saying changes were being made after listening and learning, and she added, “Shame on us for not being smarter about cultural sensitivities.”
Several months later, Lucky Lee’s is still serving to customers at 67 University Place, between East 10th and 11th Streets. The name is the same, but the controversy has died down.
As for the food, Lucky Lee’s offers a menu that is free of gluten, dairy, wheat and corn. Non-GMO oils are used, and there is no refined sugar, MSG or food coloring in the food. They also don’t cook with peanuts, cashews or pistachios.
The limited menu includes chicken, beef, shrimp and veggie dishes. There’s baked sesame chicken, chicken and broccoli, baked General Tso’s chicken, kung pao shrimp and the vegan ‘shrooms and broccoli. There are jasmine rice and brown rice options, or riced cauliflower for the especially carb-averse.
The food is tasty and clearly comes from fresh ingredients, though too much sauce in the dishes can take away from other flavors. The portion sizes are rather small, based on a recent afternoon order. Main dish prices range from about $11-18, which isn’t too bad, but would be a better deal with bigger portions.
Lucky Lee’s has decidedly mixed reviews on Yelp, having three stars out of five overall.
Some reviewers really liked the food, and there are some five-star reviews. Others, however, found the dishes to be bland.
“I wanted to like this place so much,” one woman wrote. “As someone who’s allergic to gluten and tries to eat well, I’m always excited by new gluten free options. But the food was actually inedible. Given the number of places that are now able to make things gluten free, I’d skip this one.”
With the mix of good and bad reviews, however, Lucky Lee’s is worth a try for those interested in the food, now that the controversy has died down. More info can be found at luckyleesnyc.com.