Home to the largest population of Chinese people in the Western hemisphere, Manhattan's Chinatown can be daunting. Hurried shopkeepers peek out from windows while children play ball in the streets. In terms of food? Well, buckle up. To find the good stuff takes a little time and a whole lot of patience. If clean and tidy floors are on your list of musts, well...let's just say you may be better suited to grab grub somewhere else.
But if you're open for culinary adventure and looking for it on the cheap, there's few better places in the city to get your fill. From old-standbys-turned-neighborhood-hotspots like the dim sum restaurant Nom Wah Tea Parlor to fresh fusion newcomers like French-Malaysian Aux Epices, Chinatown is brimming with possibilities old and new.
If it's simply low costs and high value you're after, you'd be remiss to visit New York and not pass through Chinatown for dumplings at Prosperity Dumpling or Tasty Dumpling - locals will tell you that both spots often go head-to-head on lists like this one. Another option that's not as often documented are the food carts dotting the streets, so you can forget halal and skip right to the rice noodles.
Below, we dive into the 10 best restaurants in Chinatown.
Peking Duck House
The stylish, contemporary digs at this ever-popular Chinatown joint are a refreshing departure from the other, more ho-hum alternatives in the area. As the name suggests, the star of the menu here is the delicious duck. Prepared by pumping the fowl full of air, soaking it with boiled water and then slowly oven-roasting it until it's perfectly crisp, this main is served and carved table-side with the speed and flair of a chef at Benihana - but better. If duck doesn't do it for you, the restaurant also delivers a number of other tasty morsels including salt and pepper prawns, Peking-style lobster, fried sea bass and orange chicken. (212-227-1810)
French-Malaysian may not sound like it belongs in Chinatown, but this relative newcomer to the neighborhood is a welcomed addition among locals. With great lunch specials and counter service (they also offer dine-in), Aux Epices nails the cheap-delicious criteria that makes Chinatown special. Regulars say you can't miss the curry puff with potatoes and minced chicken, or the seafood laksa, a medley of shrimp, mussels, salmon, squid, tofu and eggplant in a coconut curry broth. This is also one of the only spots in the 'hood that serves up a curated selection of wines with drops from France, Argentina, Italy and Germany. (212-274-8585)
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Dim sum minus the push cart might seem like a crime to some, but Nom Wah Tea Parlor has perfected push-less patronage. Famous for its homemade lotus paste and red bean filling for moon cake, in addition to its almond cookie, you'll find bakery treats here alongside more traditional and savory dim sum offerings. The restaurant saw updates in 2010, but the food here has remained the same for decades. While it's true that this is a tourist haunt in every sense of the word, the history makes it a don't miss if you're in this part of the woods. (212-962-6047)
Though not much to look at on the outside, this Vietnamese restaurant remains popular thanks to its excellent dishes and reasonable prices. Among the regulars, favorites include staples like banh mi cary ga (curried chicken), the steamed fish for two, fried spring rolls, and barbecued pork chops. And of course, what Vietnamese hotspot would be complete without a decent version of pho? You'll find that here, though aficionados will tell you it lacks a bit of the je ne sais quoi of the pho in Queens. Make sure you head here early at lunchtime, as they tend to pack quickly. (212-233-5948)
Known for its high-end dim sum and cocktail pairings, Red Egg's menu is an amalgamation of Cantonese comfort food - think fried wontons and pork dumplings - and more exotic dishes like cold sesame jelly fish with smoked pork knuckles. While the restaurant serves main course meals, the star of its offerings is the dim sum. Served daily from 10am until close, the menu switches over at 4pm, though be warned that the evening menu is significantly shorter. All items are made fresh to order, so don't expect a rolling cart to cruise by during dining, as is traditional in a dim sum joint. Nevermind - the food is fresh, the prices are right and the regulars sing Red Egg's praises as one of the best dim sum spots downtown. (212-966-1123)
Royal Seafood landed itself on Eater's list of 38 Essential Restaurants in fall 2014, and for good reason. Not only has Royal earned its place among Chinatown's haunts, but it's also reasonably priced, which automatically gives it a leg up on some of its other Manhattan competition. Dim sum is served here all day, and the best way – scratch that, the only way – to order is family-style. Favorites include snails in black bean sauce, crispy chicken, pan-fried noodles and the salt and pepper squid. Be warned: weekends are a madhouse, so come early or prepare to battle the (sometimes slow-eating) crowds. (212-219-2338)
The original location is in Flushing, but the guys running the show recognized that if they wanted to get Xi'an cuisine out to the masses, they needed a Manhattan-based location. Enter the Bayard Street outpost of this mini-chain, which was one of the first New York restaurants to serve food from the Xi'an region of China. Specialties include spicy & tingly beef and "burgers" on flatbread, though regulars swear by the hand-pulled noodles with cumin lamb. While purists argue that Xi'an lacks a certain level of authenticity, culinary royalty and media (including Anthony Bourdain and Zagat) have crowned Xi'an a shining star in New York's Chinese food scene. (No phone.)
Aptly named for their bite-sized morsels of doughy goodness, Tasty Dumpling has amassed a steady flow of regulars. A hole in the wall joint of epic proportions, don't expect to find pristine conditions or top notch service inside. But we're in Chinatown - chances are you came for the cheap eats, not for the Michelin stars. The thing to order here are the fried pork and chive dumplings, which pack a good meat to dumpling ratio for a nominal fee ($1.25 for 5 of these bad boys). Unlike some of the other spots around, you'll also find a few tables, so you can sit back and relax instead of scarfing down your goods on the go. (212-349-0070)
Rice Noodle Cart
You generally won't find many street carts on "best of" lists, but the rice noodle rolls on Elizabeth at Hester deserve time in the spotlight. Interestingly, there are two carts directly opposite one another – both delicious, both viable options. English is an afterthought here, so don't go armed with questions. Here's all you need to know: you want the minced pork roll, add the egg, and slather on the Sriracha and soy. Don't even think about skipping the cilantro and onion, or traveling more than a block before popping open your Styrofoam box of yum. These gelatinous beauties lose their luster by the minute, so order and eat. (No Phone)
About Andrea Duchon
Andrea Duchon was bitten by the travel bug from an early age, and has lived in New York, Seattle, Cleveland and Sydney, Australia since 2007.
When she's not traveling or planning a trip, you'll likely find her eating tacos while throwing darts and watching the Cleveland Browns.
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