A Culinary Tour of Manhattan Chinatown – Part 1

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Manhattan’s Chinatown is a national cultural treasure and home to some of the tastiest and most authentic Chinese food in the country. But the neighborhood is hurting and needs our help as many longtime family-run institutions there are in danger of closing. A lot of well-known establishments have closed forever, including the Jing Fong, a landmark and the largest restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown. 

Join us for a culinary tour as we explore cheap eats, sit-down meals, and shopping and learn how you can help.

This first post in a series about dining and shopping in Manhattan’s Chinatown includes our highlights as far as cheap eats, sit-down dinners, and a couple dessert and drink spots. 

A Culinary Tour of Manhattan Chinatown Cover

Street Food / Cheap Eats / Snacks

These restaurants are small, unassuming shops that sell amazing handmade food, including noodles and dumplings, at startlingly low prices.

The food quality and flavor is on point – quite similar to the food you’d get in China.

These shops may have small seating areas, though you can easily take the food out and enjoy it in a nearby park. 

And the portions are small enough that you can get one or two items to share with friends as a snack. Or combine several of them for an inexpensive feast!

You can eat well at any of these spots for $10 per person or less, including tip.

Shui Jiao Fu Zhou 

Shui Jiao Fu Zhou (aka Fu Zhou Cuisine), focuses on southern (Fujian) style boiled dumplings and has some other regional treats. Favorites include the pork and chive dumplings, wheat noodles with peanut butter sauce (a Fuzhou staple), and fish ball soup.

Address: 118 Eldridge St

North Dumpling 

This shop specializes in northern style pan-fried and boiled dumplings, as well as noodles, soups, and savory pancakes. I recommend the pan-fried dumplings, zha jiang mian (aka Noodle w. Meat & Bean Sauce), and chive pancakes – these goodies are straight out of Beijing..

Address: 27 Essex St

Shui Jiao Fu Zhou

Super Taste 

This shop sells noodles and dumplings as well, but in the regional style of Lanzhou, a city in northwest China. Try their house special noodles or Mt. Qi beef or pork noodles. If you order any noodle dish, you have a choice of noodle type – go for hand-pulled or knife-cut for some great toothy texture. The stewed pork burger (aka rou jia mo) and dumplings are also delicious.

Address: 26 N Eldridge Street

Fried Dumpling

The most straightforward of all these shops, this one currently serves only fried dumplings in the style of Shandong province. The skins are doughy and chewy and the filling is a savory pork with a touch of chive. If you’re in a sampling mood, this is a great place to stop on your way through the neighborhood – you can get a small order of dumplings ($5 for 17 pieces by the date of March 10, 2021) and continue onward. They also sell frozen dumplings to take home.

Address: 106 Mosco St

Fried Dumplings in Manhattan Chinatown

Table Service Restaurants

These restaurants work for any kind of meal from a quick bite to a grand feast.

In non-pandemic times, you might share a large table with another party – this is how they keep up with the high volume and keep wait times down. These days, you can dine at their outdoor seating area, or order takeout to go.

They have deeper menus than the spots above, and while they’re a bit pricier, the food is vastly underpriced for what you get.

Deluxe Green Bo 

A Shanghainese restaurant with dishes ranging from handmade dumplings and buns, Shanghai lo mein, giant pots of comforting stew, to Chinese-American classics like General Tso. A great place to bring a group once the pandemic is behind us, as there is something for everyone. You CANNOT miss their soup dumplings (xiao long bao), which some describe as a religious experience. While the whole menu is solid, their seafood chow fun, home style tofu, and winter melon soup with bamboo are all excellent as well.

Address: 66 Bayard St

Deluxe Green Bo Restaurant

Buddha Bodai (Kosher, Vegan)

Their dishes are all Chinese standards – shumai, BBQ pork buns, hot and sour soup, cumin lamb, shrimp fried rice, etc., but everything is vegetarian and practically everything is vegan! They make each of their mock meats in house, do not use MSG, and they have taken meticulous care to make them taste very close to what they imitate. If you do not like to eat mock meat, you can easily get a delicious meal made with natural ingredients and produce, because they mark all their dishes if it uses mock meat in it.

They have an extensive plant-based dim sum menu as well. If you are curious how tasty vegan food can be, give this place a try! Their BBQ meat (and any dish using it), black pepper portobello mushroom, chicken fried rice, and stuffed eggplant-tofu-pepper are our all-time favorites, but everything we’ve tried there has been wonderful.

Address: 5 Mott St

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Hou Yi Hot Pot 

Our go-to hot pot restaurant, they run an all-you-can eat operation at a set price that varies by the day of the week (weekend pricing is higher due to demand). Their broths and sauces, while perhaps run-of-the-mill by domestic Chinese standards, still combine for a very satisfying meal. If you’re familiar with hot pot, this place should be a breeze. But if you’re not, check out this post for some tips on how to approach it. It’s a really fun meal to enjoy with a friend or five. (We are also fans of the hot pot at the nearby 99 Favor Taste and usually go to whichever has the shortest wait time.)

Address: 92 Hester St

Dessert and Drink Shops

Depending what you’re in the mood for, there are some great places to grab a sweet bite or a drink you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Pinklady Cheese Tart 

They make cheesecake tarts that are a great example of creative east-west fusion. Flaky tart shells are filled with a delightful runny cheesecake accented with Asian flavors such as black sesame, taro (Japanese yam), and matcha. Best enjoyed warm.

Address: 11 Mott St

Pinklady Cheese Tart

Silk Road Cafe

Their menu features a number of very high quality Chinese teas, as well as coffee, iced teas, fresh fruit drinks, snacks, waffles, and desserts. We had a great experience with the Bai Mu Dan / white peony tea (delicate white tea rich with fruity and floral aroma) and milk tea with coconut jelly (satisfying chewy cubes, similar to boba).

Address: 30 Mott St

Silk Road Cafe

Cantonese Chinatown Institutions

I felt that Cantonese food deserves special attention here, given Manhattan Chinatown’s largely Cantonese roots.

Cantonese restaurants have been the mainstays of the neighborhood for over a hundred years and continue to be a major part of Chinatown’s core.

My understanding of Cantonese cuisine is limited, as I was born and grew up in northern China. But I have a deep appreciation of the Cantonese goodies I am familiar with, and some of the dishes I was fortunate to encounter while traveling to Guang Dong and Hong Kong.

One famous Cantonese place in Chinatown came to my mind – Nom Wah Tea Parlor

It’s been in operation since 1920 and features dim sum and other Cantonese classics in a nostalgic/historic diner ambience. While everything we tried there was tasty, the shrimp siu mai and phoenix buns (steamed buns filled with a sweet salty runny yolk custard) were especially nice.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Dim sum from Nam Wah

We’re working on a post to share our recommendations for a few more of our favorite Cantonese spots in Chinatown, as well. Stay tuned to find out where to get the best barbecue, wontons, and dim sum!

A Few Final Tips for Dining in Chinatown

Bring cash

While many businesses in the neighborhood accept credit cards, Venmo, etc., many also accept only cash. Fortunately, everything is quite inexpensive so you needn’t bring a large amount.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation from the restaurant staff if you’re not sure. I’ve included some of my favorites in the post above, but I still ask staff for help if I’m feeling lost as to what to order. And I’ve never been disappointed.

Explore

Follow your senses and curiosity. As you walk through the streets of Chinatown, you’ll see and smell things that you might not find elsewhere. If you smell some amazing food cooking, or if you notice a great aroma at a fruit stand, stop and give it a try! Or if you see something that intrigues you – a plant, type of produce, anything – ask someone about it. This is the place to indulge your curiosity.

Do you have any favorites I didn’t mention? Or questions about visiting Manhattan Chinatown? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading and happy eating!

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Gwen says:

    Shanghai at 14A Elizabeth street has amazing fried tiny pork buns and Shanghai standards. We love the Lo mein, rice cakes, and stir fried pea shoots. Soup dumplings are also delicious. It’s a small place but very welcoming for a sit down meal.

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      Thank you for the recommendation! Will check out the spot next time we visit Chinatown 🙂

  2. Stuart says:

    A beautiful tour. Wish I wasn’t stuck on the West Coast. Those pictures make me awfully hungry. Time for you to tour San Francisco Chinatown, then do Seattle, and on to Vancouver.

    • Bill Zigrang says:

      Agree with Stuart.

    • DB says:

      Is the little tea house on Powell still there? Old gentlemen brought their pet birds (in cages) on Saturday mornings for tea. SF’s Chinatown is charming. But! My heart is here.

  3. Frank says:

    I’m a native New Yorker (left for SF Bay Area in 1976) and I don’t recognize a single one of these restaurants. My last job in NYC was about one block from Chinatown and had lunch there five days a week. My apartment was two blocks from the Brooklyn side of the Wiillamsburg Bridge and so many dinners, too.

  4. Nora-Adrienne says:

    I’ve eaten at the Buddha Bohai many times over the years. It’s a place to take my strictly Kosher friends to enjoy Asian food.

  5. DB says:

    Wo Hop 17 Mott is old school Chinese American. It’s a great place and has been around since the 1930’s. Lots of fun.

  6. richard paul says:

    xiao long bao is indeed a religious experience! WHen I Lived in Toronto that has thousands of Chinese restaurants we would drive 40 minutes to the suburbs of Markham to Ding Tai Fung for their dumplings. Great Article. and thank you

    • Swati says:

      I wish Din Tai Fung would open in NY. Went thrice on a three day trip to Seattle 🙂

      • Maggie Zhu says:

        Oh seriously! I love Din Tai Fung so much.

  7. Swati says:

    I love Dim Sum go go for my vegetarian family. They have a wide array of veg dim sum, even better than what we used to have when we lived in Singapore.

  8. Martin Cener says:

    Having missed Chinatown for a year now, may I be nostalgic? My Brooklyn College Mandarin class celebrated end of term a Nom Wah in 1966. I’ve been buying dumplings from the literal hole in the wall dumpling lady( is she ever not there) since they were five for one dollar. Deluxe Green Bo has been my restaurant of choice for single lunches, family and friends dinner. Nice to see my choices “validated”.

  9. Sashi says:

    Hey Maggie, we live in England. Really appreciate you sharing this story on Chinatown. Having visited NYC a couple of times, a Chinatown is a favourite tourist site! Sad to hear about the families affected and the impact of recent events on them all. Thank you for highlighting it.

  10. sc says:

    Thanks for your article, Maggie!

    Our family grew up eating the delicious dim sum at Nom Wah. Still a favorite. I’d like to recommend Hop Lee, another one our favorite restaurants, that specializes in wok hay, the mastery breath of a wok. It’s the kind of place where the Sifu-Chefs still spend hours making lai tong, complimentary fragrant and varying house soups, that warms the soul.

    Our “Uncles” (our familial term for the servers who still don the cheerful red cotton vests from back in the day) there are earthy, funny, witty and thoughtfully quick to tell you if you’re ordering too much, which for us, was always. I especially miss the cool nerd-glasses wearing “Elder Uncle” who retired awhile back. He was quad-lingual in Spanish, his first language, Cantonese, Mandarin and his native roots language of Toisan. We’re happy that he’s enjoying his retirement, but miss seeing him.

    We’re just one of a multitude of fiercely-loyal diners who go into full rapture over this place and its staff. We’ve eaten nearly every item on the menu. But I’d like to recommend a all-time favorite dish that’s not on the menu: fried salted fish and minced pork pancakes. It’s a promise of full-on happy.

    Other menu staples are pan-fried three treasures, which are stuffed minced shrimp in jalapeños, fried tofu squares with minced pork, and Chinese eggplant in a finger-licking garlic sauce; when in season, Cantonese-styled stir-fried crabs; snow pea leaves in garlic sauce; minced pork with sweet peas over white rice; shrimp with lobster sauce; fish and bean curd strips in a hot pot; and stir fried squid with salted-and-tart mustard greens.

    Just make yourself a fixture there and feel the culinary love coming from their kitchen. Enjoy!

  11. Frank says:

    I hope that this series will include a mention of the Thai grocer on Mosco?

    • DB says:

      Thank you! I’d like info about that place, too.

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