Shun Lee is preparing to open its first Upper East Side outpost: Shun Lee Cafe at 1442 Third Ave. between East 81st and 82nd streets. The cafe recently hosted a private event, with Instagram account @moms_of_the_ues sharing a picture of the space’s interior, which appears extremely minimalist compared to the Palace location with its upscale furniture, artwork and paintings.
Shun Lee’s original location, Shun Lee Palace — which opened in 1971 at 155 E. 55th St. — has considerable differences from the forthcoming Shun Lee Cafe. A restaurant representative told us the menu at the new Shun Lee Cafe will be the same as the Shun Lee Cafe on the Upper West Side, which focuses on dim sum: small, sharable plates with offerings in six categories — sweet, baked, pan-fried, crispy, steamed and weekend-only options.
One popular option to be on the lookout for are Shun Lee’s rice noodle roll with duck, honey roast pork buns and beef shumai in the steamed category, the largest part of the menu. The crispy sesame chicken pancakes and seafood spring rolls are a good choice in the crispy section. You definitely don’t want to miss the baby spare ribs with hot peppers and black beans in the weekend-only section, along with the baked curry chicken turnover and sweet green tea rice ball. Everything on the menu at Shun Lee Cafe West is $8; time will tell if that makes its way over to the new location.
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If you were looking to try Shun Lee’s popular grand mariner prawns, orange beef or slippery chicken, you’ll have to head to the East 55th Street spot or cross the park to Shun Lee West at 43 West 65th Street. This location is the same address as Shun Lee Cafe (West), which was conceived to be a quick place to get a bite before a show at Lincoln Center, compared to Shun Lee West, which embodies a more upscale, fine dining experience. The same can be said for Shun Lee Palace.
If you’re wondering if there’s any chance of a menu change as things get ramped up at the new Shun Lee Cafe, an interview with the restaurant’s owner, Michael Tong, from 2011 might shed some light. Tong told Eater his menu has “gradually changed” over the years, but “We’re not fusion, we’re authentic. If you have authentic cooking, you can’t just change the basics. You can change the ingredients, you can use different new methods, but you cannot change the fundamentals.” Tong went on to say, “Chinese cooking is Chinese cooking. It’s one of the top three always rated by people — French, Chinese and Italian are the most popular cuisines even after all these years.”
Shun Lee Cafe is waiting to confirm operating hours and an official opening date. We heard it’s this weekend, but we got several different answers from Shun Lee employees. Keep tabs on their website for updates.