Snacking Tour of NYC Chinatown
NYC Chinatown is somewhat expansive and, if it’s your first time visiting, utterly bewildering. From the throngs of locals hurrying to get across (China)town, to the gaggles of slowly meandering tourists, to the fruit, vegetable, and maybe-contrabands-maybe-not vendors that fill the streets, Chinatown has its own, busy charm in all this chaos.
There are some things that Chinatown lacks: super-convenient subway options, empty taxis, and Duane Reades come to mind. However, food is Chinatown's specialty, and with some exploration, a savvy tourist can uncover many tasty restaurants and cafes in a very compact area.
This guide is meant to highlight some of these offerings. The options below are great for snacking, and taken together, they can form a “snacking tour” of Chinatown. This list will only cover the western part of Chinatown, which is roughly bordered by Lafayette St. on the west, Broome St to the north, Bowery to the east, and Worth to the south. The best subway stop to reach this area would be the NQR/6/J Canal St. stop, which puts you right on the western edge of this box on Canal.
Here are the places, roughly in north to south order:
- New Kam Hing Coffee Shop, a great first stop, is famous for its light and fluffy sponge cakes. They’re snack-sized and only 70 cents each (or if you’re into luxury, go for the green tea flavored ones at $1.00 a pop), but I would highly advise against filling yourself up too much here. There’s also a selection of coffees and teas to start off your tour. This is the only stop on this list north of Canal Street.
- For bubble tea, you have a couple of great options on Mott Street. Ten Ren is a major tea-selling chain from Taiwan, but they also have little cafes (the cafe here is a few doors north of their shop). The cafe emphasizes its use of slightly higher-quality or more unique kinds of teas, and if mix-ins aren’t your thing, there are plenty of exotic ‘pure tea’ options.
- Alternatively, if you’re more into creative flavors and tea-based drinks, try Teariffic Cafe right down the street. Their menu is much wider and spans many distinct sections, ranging from the traditional milk teas to special ‘mixed drinks’. There are also plenty of food options here, so consider grabbing a seat and ordering some of their Taiwanese snack-sized dishes to try.
- If you’re into soup dumplings, continue walking down Mott Street for the southernmost restaurant on this list, Noodle Village. This place’s soup dumplings come out quick and are some of the best in Chinatown. Being relatively newer, their buzz hasn’t reached the levels of Joe’s Shanghai nearby, but Noodle Village is starting to be consistently packed during meal hours as people realize that their soup dumplings are amazing. If you’re looking for a fuller meal (not advised in the middle of this snack tour!), Noodle Village also has some great entree options, especially in the noodles and rice categories. Noodle Village is a bit more of a traditional sit-down restaurant, and the soup dumplings won’t be as good to-go.
- Take a quick detour onto the strangely hard-to-find Doyers Street for Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles. The noodles here are indeed good, but for this tour I’d highly recommend trying out their dumplings (boiled over fried, but both are good). While a bit pricier than the (in?)famous Prosperity Dumplings, Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles has some of the best dumplings in Chinatown. This store is also a bit more sit-down in nature, but the dumplings will be good to go in a box as long as they’re eaten warm.
- From the east side (i.e. Bowery), turn onto Bayard to reach the final bubble tea stop on this list, Vivi Bubble Tea. The bubble tea options here are a bit more limited and are more representative of the drinks you would get at a large bubble tea chain, but Vivi also has a number of great snack options. These include Taiwanese snacking classics such as basil popcorn chicken, Taiwanese sausages on skewers, and takoyaki. They also often run buy-one-get-one deals,
- Keep going west on Bayard and make a stop at Xi’an Famous Foods. This hole-in-the-wall has actually gotten a lot of press (including from the likes of Anthony Bourdain) for bringing authentic Xi’an food to Chinatown. The things to try here are the cumin lamb burgers, the ‘liangpi’ cold skin noodles, and if you’re really a carnivore, the spicy cumin lamb plate.
- The final stop is right next door: the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which is one of the few (only?) ice cream shops in Chinatown. They’re known especially for their Asian-inspired ice cream flavors, including black sesame, lychee, taro, and green tea.
These eight stops are just some of my favorite places for snacks in Chinatown, but there are definitely many more establishments to try and discover. And this only draws from half of Chinatown - past Bowery, Chinatown continues along East Broadway and runs all the way to Essex, where there’s an F subway stop (if you’re walking from the western half, look for the statue of Confucius). Chinatown is really best done on an empty stomach.
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