Chinatown in New York, A Food Tour: Manhattan, Part One

Chinatown in New York Food Tour

Chinatown in New York is busiest from Christmas to New Year’s (that is February’s Chinese New Year’s). It is a time when Midtown Manhattanites need a reprieve from the tourists blocking up the sidewalks. ‘Tis also the season for Jews to have their Christmas Chinese feasts. And of course, wherever the locals go, so too do the travelers.

 

Most people are familiar with Manhattan’s Chinatown, the biggest in North America. But one of the next largest Chinatowns is also in New York, in an area of Queens called Flushing. For these reasons, here is my two part series: Chinatown in New York: A Food Tour of Two Chinatowns.

 

One of the specialties of Chinese gastronomy is dim sum. Essentially, it’s when food carts are pushed around a restaurant and eaters select small portions–some tasty, some terrible–from off the cart. Chinatown, which is an enclave of deliciousness and disgustingness, should be treated like a dim sum cart. Instead of settling down at one restaurant and eating their one great menu item and complementing it with a few average dishes, why not enjoy the best dish from Restaurant A and then head off to Restaurant B for their top delicacy, continuing this food tour until you are disgusted with yourself? (Tip: Take this food tour through New York’s Chinatowns with three friends and you can easily get to Restaurant H.)

 

Chinatown in New York, A Food Tour: Manhattan

 

This week, let’s take a look at the best restaurants to include in your food tour of Manhattan’s Chinatown.

 

BUNS AT JOE’S SHANGHAI OR GINGER

 

The best dish in Chinatown is steamed buns, also referred to as soup dumplings. They are eight doughy dumplings filled with pork and soup and served on a bed of cabbage for about $5.00. (You can also get them with crab for two dollars more.) Many restaurants in Chinatown try to pass off their steamed buns as world famous, but only one does it right. Actually two restaurants do it right: Joe’s Shanghai and Joe’s Ginger. Both restaurants are on Pell Street, but what most people don’t realize is that Joe’s Shanghai and Joe’s Ginger are the same establishment from their food to their menu. Most diners wait thirty minutes for a table at Joe’s Shanghai, while Joe’s Ginger usually has tables available.

 

When ordering Joe’s famous buns, eaters must apply the following technique or risk getting burned (and also feeling shamed for wasting a good bun). Lift the bun from the bamboo tray, bearing in mind that the dumplings sometimes stick together and pulling them apart too quickly can rupture one or even two buns, leaking them of their precious soup. Then place the bun in your soup spoon. Nip off the top and begin slurping out the liquid inside. Pour a little ginger soy sauce and the spicy sauce–a mix of chili paste and chili oil, which must be requested from the waiter–into the bun hole that you had created in the previous step. Then devour. Repeat process until all eight buns are gone. (I eat the cabbage, too, but it’s not for everyone.) If you’re looking for a second dish at Joe’s Shanghai or Joe’s Ginger, consider the thick Shanghai Fried Flat Noodles (about $7.00), which are stir-fried with beef and greens, or order the delicious string beans with minced pork.

 

Note: Many other restaurants in Chinatown serve soup dumplings, too, but for the same price as Joe’s you’ll most likely receive only six mediocre dumplings. If you are not taking this offense seriously, then I ask you this: Would you have settled for only six nights of Hannukah and six average presents when you were a child? Then don’t settle for six lackluster buns.

Joe's Shanghai Chinatown in New York

NOSTALGIC CHINATOWN

 

Wo Hop is a Chinatown institution where D-rated celebrities have their faces taped to the wall. Like Joe’s, Wo Hop also has two locations–the basement at 17 Mott Street and an upstairs restaurant one door down. Only eat at the basement. For some reason, all of the charm and taste dissipates as the food and service reaches street level. It’s the scuba effect, diving below sea level is just better than diving in a tank above ground. There is only one dish worthwhile at Wo Hop: Chow Fun. A line here is inevitable, but it’s well worth the wait for this wide noodle.

 

QUICK, CHEAP BITES IN CHINATOWN

 

Is Chinatown at $5.00 too much for you? Try Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry Street or an unnamed dumpling hole-in-the-wall on Mosco Street. You’ll get five dumplings for $1.00 to $1.25. The stainless steel restaurant on Mosco Street also serves four fried pork buns for $1.00. On Bayard Street, the chain Xi’an Famous Foods does lamb quite well. Sample their cumin lamb burger on your Chinatown food tour.

 

MIDNIGHT IN CHINATOWN IN NEW YORK

 

Most Chinatown restaurants keep normal dining hours. If you’re doing a late-night food tour, hit up Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle Inc. on Doyers Street. As the name implies, they serve tasty hand-pulled noodle soups in the least atmospheric spot in the district.

 

DIM SUM STOP-OFF

 

I do not want to recommend too many dim sum restaurants in Chinatown (that will have to be another post) because the deceptively small portions are surprisingly filling and I fear too many of you will ruin your food tour of Chinatown by getting carried away with ordering at a dim sum restaurant. It has been my downfall many times. But I do want to suggest one dish at Oriental Garden on Elizabeth Street. Try the scallop dim sum, which is so delectable it can satisfy those seeking an appetizer, entree, or even dessert.

 

DUCK, DUCK, RIBS

 

For Peking Duck, glazed ribs, and a good chuckle, eat at Big Wong at 67 Mott Street. Neither the name or the “Grade Pending” sign in the window could deter me.

 

VIETNAMESE FOOD IN CHINATOWN IN NEW YORK

 

Vietnam offers some of Asia’s most incredible cuisine. It’s simple, healthy, and delicious. On Baxter Street, just south of Canal, there are three Vietnamese restaurants in a row. One is called Pho Pasteur, the other two have names too complicated to remember. All three (Author’s Update: After revisiting these places and watching prices go up and quality go down, the only one that I’ll recommend any more is the establishment in the middle…) Nha Trang still offers delicious pho soup and tasty shrimp summer rolls (goi cuon) for less than $10.00.

 

DUCK, DUCK, PIG’S FEET

 

If you like Vietnamese food, but want to stray from the usual, go to New Boky on the corner of Bayard and Mott. Delicious country style duck or surprisingly scrumptious pig’s feet are both served on a mound of rice with Vietnamese pickles. Enjoy the 1980’s decor where the CPR signs on the wall are so ancient that they were hung well before the Heimlich was even a maneuver.

 

CHINATOWN COWBOY

 

If you’re a southerner in for Christmas and the culture shock is still palpable, try New Beef King Corporation on Bayard Street for some jerky. I should warn you, it’s not like momma used to make, but oyster-flavored or fruit-flavored beef jerky is the closest you’ll get to home on this Manhattan Chinatown food tour.

 

Note: Bring cash with you, as most places will not accept credit card.

 

Disclaimer: I cannot take responsibility for those who over-eat, contract food-borne pathogens, or transform into hipsters if they purchase the Wo Hop t-shirt. (I purchased mine when it was not cool.)

 

Photos of soup dumplings by Alexis Lamster
Photos of Chinatown in New York window by Jazz Guy

Posted on by Noah Lederman in New York, Or Bust

5 Responses to Chinatown in New York, A Food Tour: Manhattan, Part One

  1. sam lederman

    wo hop was the place to meet up with cab driver buddies back in 68-69. you paid .85 cents for a chow fun , which didn’t require any chewing……it was so greasy that it just slid down your throat.

  2. Matthew Jay

    Hell yeah! And I was with you at a bunch of these places. Next time we do Chi Town, I wanna get Chinese style lamb testicles. WARNING to all readers. Don’t fill up at any one place you go to, get small things at each stop or you will burn out early!

    • Noah Lederman

      Matthew, you certainly are a great eating partner. Lamb testicles would certainly be an interesting addition to our food tour. And readers, Matthew’s last bit of advice is very important to follow.

  3. Bob Hancock

    Be sure to stop by Spicy Village on Forsyth St The only Henan restaurant in Chinatown. The food is delicious and the owners are so nice. I’ve been sampling Chinatown eateries for over 10 years and this is my go to place.

    • Noah Lederman

      Thanks for the tip, Robert. I’m going to add Spicy Village to the next food tour and I’ll let you know what I think. Any dishes you suggest?

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