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Manhattan Chinatown Report (long)

I am nearing the end of a year's employment near Manhattan's Chinatown, and wanted to post about my experiences in searching for good food. As background, my job is located a little southwest of Chinatown, so my eating primarily focuses on places closer to me rather than further away. I also try to eat cheap and fast lunches, but occasionally splurge. Anyway, I would love any tips people have about what I shouldn't miss before I leave (in about six weeks).

Great NY Noodletown - 28 1/2 Bowery (Bayard & Pell)
My Chinatown standby, where I ate dozens of times. I almost always ate the roast pork wonton noodle soup, which for $3.75 or something is one of the best bargains in the city: The savory broth, perfect shrimp dumplings, and sweetness of the pork make for a truly fantastic soup. When I was feeling a need for meat, I would get the roast baby pig, which just melts in your mouth. (Occasionally I would talk them into putting two and two together, and having the amazing roast baby pig wonton noodle soup; not on the menu but highly recommended.) I also enjoyed the salt and pepper squid, the soy sauce chicken, which is a very plainly flavored roast chicken that is nicely juicy, the BBQ squid, and the sampan congee (congee with seafood, peanuts, and scallions). However, their vegetables are pretty run of the mill, and their ma po tofu was bad. I also dislike the tea that they serve, which is too dark and kind of bitter. I have heard gripes about the service, but I think it's about average for a cheap chinatown place. The waiters are reasonably attentive and not rude; if you want better service, go to a tablecloth restaurant (where you will likely get worse food). Anyway, armed with some knowledge of what to order, this is hands down my favorite Cantonese place in NYC.

Big Wong - 67 Mott St. (Bayard & Canal)
Another Cantonese place with a very similar menu to NY Noodletown's. However, I thought the food here was not as good, and in particular I thought the roast pork wonton noodle soup was not as good: the broth was less flavorful, the pork less juicy and sweet, and the dumplings just less yummy. I also don't like the weird fast-foodish decor, and the greasy red-tile floor.

Big Wing Wong - 102 Mott St. (Canal & Hester)
Like Big Wong, I thought that Big Wing Wong's soup was not as good as that at NY Noodletown. That being said, I thought Big Wing Wong had excellent congee; less watery than Noodletown's, and really surprisingly flavorful for what is ordinarily one of the world's blandest foods.

Dim Sum Go Go (5 East Broadway @ Chatham Sq.)
By a mile, my favorite dim sum in Manhattan (yes yes, I know the best dim sum is in Flushing, but that's a hike). Unlike HSF, Golden Unicorn, and a few other places I have been but whose names I cannot remember, Dim Sum Go Go does not use carts. Instead, they make the food fresh after you order it. The result is fresher, more flavorful, and less greasy food. The regular assortment of dumplings are solid (shumai, shrimp dumplings, etc.), and they also have a vegetable one (I think the jade dumpling but maybe the pea shoot dumpling) that is surprisingly flavorful. All of the other dim sum standbys are good. The real crowd pleaser, though, is the pumpkin cakes. These are packed with deliciousness and I honestly cannot imagine anyone disliking them.

HSF - 46 Bowery (Bayard & Canal)
Greasy, lukewarm dim sum that has been sitting in carts for hours.

Golden Unicorn - 18 East Broadway (Catherine & Market)
Greasy, lukewarm dim sum that has been sitting in carts for hours.

New Green Bo - 66 Bayard (Mott & Elizabeth)
I'm not sure what to make of this place and the strong opinions it generates on this board. As everyone has said, the soup dumplings are excellent, much larger, more soupy, and more flavorful than the dumplings at Joe's Shanghai or at Grand Sichuan. But, other than the dumplings, I've had nothing memorable. Any tips would be appreciated. I should also mention that it was reasonably clean, so maybe the health code violations have hit home and now they are doing a better job on this front.

Joe's Shanghai - 9 Pell St. (Mott & Bowery)
As everybody knows, the soup dumplings are good but everything else is bad.

Grand Sichuan - 125 Canal St. (@ Chrystie)
Terribly disappointing. Such a far cry from the apparently unrelated uptown mini-chain of the same name. I was really hoping that this would pack the same explosion of flavor found at the 9th Avenue and Lexington Ave. branches (much less the food in Chengdu or Chongqing, which is far spicier and numbing than the food at Grand Sichuan uptown). Not a chance. I'm not sure I saw a single sichuan peppercorn and I sure didn't taste it. The ma po tofu was dull, the cold chicken with red oil was boring, and the kung bao chicken was Americanized and greasy. Lame.

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery (138 Mott St. b/w Hester and Grand)
Now that is one tasty sandwich. I dig on the crunch of the french bread contrasting with the savory-sweet of the roast pork and the seafood sausage, and again contrasting with the pickled cucumbers and cilantro. Since having their banh mi, I have not been back to a western deli. My only criticism is that, even though the ingredients are identical, it seems that sometimes the sandwich is more flavorful than others (perhaps they just add more ingredients). Still, it is always delicious (and cheap) and if my office were closer I would eat there twice a week.

Fuleen Seafood - 11 Division St. (Bowery & Market)
One of the many dingy but popular Fujianese seafood places on Division. I thought this was overrated and overpriced. Their king crab, which is apparently something of their speciality, was something like $40 and just not all that good. Although I have not spent much time eating Fujianese, you can find far more flavorful crab dishes at virtually any Chinese restaurant in Malaysia. Their blue crab was kind of gross; slimy and grey, making the dish appear like you were eating crabs off the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps someone can convince me otherwise, but for now I have no interest in returning.

Kam Chueh - 40 Bowery (Bayard & Canal)
Like Fuleen Seafood, Kam Chueh is far from cheap and not the kind of place to go for an ordinary lunch. I did, however, have an excellent steamed whole fish with ginger and garlic (for something like $20-25). This tasted almost exactly like the fish I have eaten in southern china, and thus I was quite impressed. Strangely, considering the quality of the fish, the place was almost entirely vacant at lunch (perhaps the dinner crowd is larger). Kam Chueh is also clean and pleasantly lit, so it is the kind of place you could bring non-chowhounders.

Peking Duck House - 28 Mott St. (Chatam Sq. & Pell St.)
Another of the more expensive tablecloth places, except specializing in duck rather than seafood. I would highly recommend this for dinner with non-chowhounders, as the atmosphere is nice and the food is consistently good, non-greasy, and non-spicy. I would also recommend this to chowhounders for their Peking Duck, which I thought was really good, with the proper crispy skin and juicy meat, and properly presented with the scallions and hoisin sauce. Probably the best Peking Duck I've had outside Peking. Other than the duck, nothing is fantastic, but also nothing is bad.

Pho Tu Do - 119 Bowery (Hester & Grand)
The best pho I have had in NYC. The pho dac biet (special pho with everything) is fantastic. The broth is far more lively and flavorful than at the other places I've been; beefy, peppery, and just a little sweet, the deliciousness really jumps off the tongue. The meats are also excellent, especially the thin-sliced raw beef. Good stuff.

Nha Trang - 148 Centre St. (Walker & Canal) and 87 Baxter St. (White & Walker)
Decent pho joints that, to me, define the norm for NYC pho. Not the best, and certainly not the worst, just totally normal and consistent. If anyone can tell the difference between the two branches they are a better man than I.

Pho Viet Huong (Nha Hang) - 73 Mulberry St. (Bayard & Canal)
Another Vietnamese place. The pho is not as good as at Nha Trang, and thus is a far cry from Pho Tu Do. But I did enjoy their Vietnamese chicken salad, a light chicken dish with cilantro, lime, and fish sauce, and the chao tom is also pretty good. For me, the one real winner here is the bo la nho, a stuffed grape leaf appetizer much like a greek or Turkish dolma, except that it is stuffed with sweet BBQ beef and then fried. Wow.

Tasty Dumpling - 54 Mulberry St. (Worth & Bayard)
Dumpling House - 118 Eldridge St. (Broome & Grand)
Very tasty. These two "restaurants" are almost identical, with similar (excellent) fried dumplings and a similarly limited menu. Aside form the fried pork & chive dumplings, I really enjoy the sesame pancake with beef, which is a thick sesame pancake cut open like a sandwich and filled with beef and pickled vegetables, not entirely unlike banh mi. Even if the food is virtually identical, I definitely prefer Dumpling House, which is laid out so that you can see them cooking the dumplings and cooking the amazing sesame pancake. I highly recommend watching them make the dumplings, then buying a pack of 50 frozen ones and cooking them at home by mimicking their technique (FYI, in a cast-iron pan, add maybe a 1/4 inch of oil and heat until quite hot but not smoking; then add as many dumplings as you are going to cook. Shortly thereafter, fill the pan most of the way with water, and then crank the stove to boil it off ASAP. All in all, it takes about 7 minutes to do this hybrid of frying and steaming).

Pongsri - 106 Bayard (@ Baxter)
Although Pongsri is a real favorite of the courthouse scene, I think it is utterly mediocre, remarkable only if you think Lemongrass is good. I have eaten there numerous times and never had anything that I thought was special or in any way different. That being said, I don't know any other Thai places in the neighborhood, and sometimes Thai is what you feel like eating. But if you want delicious, authentic Thai food, get thee to Sripraphai.

Finally, I can't forget:

Fiorlini's - 93 Baxter
Disgusting Italian food. Looks like you are taking a step back in time and tastes like you are taking a step back in quality. Also takes the dubious distinction of serving the worst cannoli I've ever had.

Anyway, I guess this got kind of long, but I hope to hear any thoughts or suggestions anybody has about places that I've missed or dishes I should try.

Thanks.

HH

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    1. Thanks for the rundown. Especially appreciate the heads up on Forlini--had eaten at a place with the same name in Montreal, which was pretty good, and was tempted to try the New York version.

      1. Since you're a dumpling fan, I'd encourage you to try out Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge-- we just wrote about it. I like it better than Dumpling House, not least because of the stuffed sesame pancake (and from another recent visit, the noodles with mashed sesame sauce).

        Nosher

        NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

        13 Replies
        1. re: Nosher

          Those pictures sure look intriguing, especially the Stuffed Sesame Pancake with Vegetable. I've never seen anything like that. Unfortunately, both Dumpling House and Prosperity Dumpling are a bit of a hike from my office. Do you know if Prosperity sells frozen dumplings? If so, it might make the trek a little more worthwhile.

          HH

          1. re: huzzahhuzzah

            You're lucky I kept the menu. Yes, they do sell frozen items: chive & pork, vegetable & pork, vegetable dumplings are all available, plus fuzhou wontons, and noodles w/ peanut sauce. Lots and lots of frozen stuff!

            Nosher

            NYCnosh: http://nycnosh.com

            1. re: Nosher

              Took your advice, Nosher, and my husband and I walked to Prosperity for lunch last week. YUM! Had the sesame pancake stuffed with beef and veg (reminded me of a bahn mi) and it was amazing. We also shared an order of steamed dumplings. With two of the pancake sandwiches, 10 dumplings, and a water, we walked out with a tab of $5. Amazing.

              1. re: Nosher

                I love the sesame pancake at Excellent Dumpling House up the street. So, if you say Prosperity's is even better, I have to pay a visit. In general, I'm grateful for all the dumpling stalls that have cropped up over the years, extending Chinatown's borders and making for some of the cheapest, tastiest chow around.

            2. re: Nosher

              I've noticed several new noodle places in this area. Two on the west side of the block of Eldridge just south of Canal claim to sell Lanzhou hand-made noodles, and one has Shaanxi noodles as well.

              1. re: Brian S

                Is there a place in Chinatown -or elsewhere in the city- where they make the noodles in front of you? I was very fond of a tiny Chinese place in Madrid where i could watch the guy making the noodles every day at 1pm... Is there anything like that over here?

                1. re: jacques gaudet

                  A man makes soba noodles in the front window of Soba Koh. It's not in Chinatown, nor is it Chinese, but maybe you're ok with that. He's in the slideshow:

                  http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/...

                  1. re: jacques gaudet

                    JG,

                    check the date....this post is from 2006...it may or may not be relevant any longer.

                    For hand pulled noodles, go to <seriouseats.com>. They have a feature on noodle shops throughout the city. I've posted the link a couple of times, but they always get deleted for some reason. Also, most of the hand pulled noodle shops seem to be on East Broadway...including:

                    Eastern Hand Pulled @ 28 East Broadway

                    Here's a little more information from another thread.

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/524562

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Eastern does it in front of you as does 144 E Broadway (i like 144 E Broadway, but Eastern is pretty good as well)

                      1. re: Lau

                        Right. Mr. Gao of Eastern Hand-pulled Noodles does his noodle making right in front of your eyes on a wooden table. Seems to make far less of a racket than 144 East Broadway!

                        Other Chinese hand-made noodle shops (but without the noodle making show) in Chinatown are:

                        Super Taste at 26 Eldridge.
                        Lan Zhou at 27 Eldridge (they have knife-cut noodles as well.)
                        Food Sing 88 at 2 East Broadway.

                        Am I missing anyone?

                        Super T

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Thanks! Heading there. Now I have a question: both places seem to make noodles for La mian, the place I was talking about did not make the noodles for soup necessarily, you could order any type of dish with noodles. Is this possible here or are they just for soup?

                          1. re: jacques gaudet

                            Mr. Gao of Eastern Hand-Pulled Noodles does have 炸醬麪 Zha Jiang Mian – Meat and Bean Sauce with Noodles. #21-Spicy Meat Noodle on his menu. I've not had his version. You can ask him (he speaks English) about any of the other 80+ noodle dishes he offers. The vast majority though are prepared for a noodle soup type dish.

                2. re: Nosher

                  i just had some of the fried pork and chive dumplings from prosperity. delicious! much better, imo, than fried dumpling, tasty dumpling, or excellent dumpling. sadly, they were out of the stuffed pancakes.

                3. sorry to hear that you had a bad experience at fuleen. the several times i've been there i've had excellent food, though nothing from the seafood tanks.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: wleatherette

                    i agree. i've only had good experiences at fuleen, and consider it one of my favorite family style dinner destinations. their dungeness crab that is broken and then sauteed with their pepper dry seasoning is delicious. i've been to almost all of the restaurants on your list, and i agree with you on many points, and disagree with you on some. i suppose having lunch is very different from dinner, and most of these places i've had dinner.

                    for instance, kam chueh i go for a late night snack (they're open til 4 AM) and they have great salt baked shrimp (shell on) and garlic spare ribs and is one of the only restaurants in the city that does rice casseroles (rice cooked with toppings in a stone bowl). also, i've been going to nha trang for literally 17 years, and i like their pho but i don't think it is their strong suit. i love their pork chops, perfectly marinated, thin, and distinct bbq taste.

                    i totally agree with you on pongsri, and a manhattan alternative would be pam's real thai in clinton. i love dim sum go go. pretty much agree on everything else actually.

                    i really like the pho at pho grand. they also have avocado shakes, which sounds odd, but is actually really refreshing, slightly sweet.

                    i would also try happy shabu shabu on canal and orchard. not necessarily summer weather food, but yummy individual hot pot nonetheless.

                    sweet and tart cafe is one of my old faves: really good shrimp and watercress dumpling soup, their bamboo rice is one of the most addictive foods ever. fried rice with chinese sausage and taro steamed in a bamboo section.

                    xo kitchen is also quite tasty, but may be a bit far from your work.

                    1. re: jungirl

                      Great post jungirl. Thanks for the Kam Chueh late nite tip. One thing though -- you can get rice casseroles at countless places throughout the city. Just off the top of my head, in Chinatown, Yummy Noodles specializes in them, the ones at Cantoon Garden are quite good, even Sweet n Tart has rice casseroles, as does Dragon Gate on Elizabeth.

                      1. re: Peter Cuce

                        i think we're talking about different rice casseroles, b/c my chinese friend specifically told me the ones at kam chueh are really difficult to find. in LA, you can only order them at banquets now. it has no sauce, its actually just plain white rice cooked in a pot with a few things on top. i like the preserved meat and chinese sausage one. comes with 2 different kinds of sausage and some sort of dried beef. some chinese broccoli and they just cook the rice in the pot to absorb the juices. it takes a while to make. then they bring it out and serve it with a bowl of some sort of soy sauce and oil and scallion sauce, which you mix into the rice. i think you're talking about the rice casseroles with more sauce and toppings? i like those too, i will check out your suggestions. :)

                        1. re: jungirl

                          i dunno what you are describing sound just like the ones at Yummy...check it out and let us know

                      2. re: jungirl

                        jungirl, I've been meaning to try Nha Trang's pork chops for a while, mostly based on your own recommendation in an earlier thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...). I managed to get there today for lunch, and yes indeed those are some tasty porkchops. I've had the same dish at the uptown mecca of mediocrity, Saigon Grill, but never at one of the linoleum table places, where I order pho about 98% of the time. Needless to say, Nha Trang's porkchops were delicious and far superior to the Saigon Grill version.

                        I'll have to try the salt-baked shrimp at Kam Chueh. I was impressed by the steamed fish and remain somewhat dumbfounded by the emptiness of the place, considering the apparent quality of the food.

                        I also agree with you that Pam Real is good for Manhattan Thai, but I don't think it is in the same league as Sripraphai. I'll try to make it to Pho Grand, Sweet and Tart, and XO Kitchen. Thanks much for tips.

                        As for Fuleen Seafood, once again it seems that everybody else is having solid meals there while I am 0 for 3. Dungeness Crab with pepper dry seasoning sounds worth a try, but does anybody else have any concrete recommendations?

                        HH

                        1. re: huzzahhuzzah

                          the cheapest fishes; the three egg pea leaves (or other greens) the soupy baby clam appetizer and the salt-baked squid.

                          1. re: huzzahhuzzah

                            i love those pork chops, i've been eating them since elementary school! and on top of the broken rice, the juices sort of seep into it and the rice is delish too!

                            kam chueh has been rated a "sleeper" (high rating, lower number of votes) in the past by zagat. it is always empty, i agree. but more tables for us! :)

                            i have yet to try Sripraphai, been dying to. its in queens, right? i think for manhattan pam is my favorite. pam real thai encore (their second restaurant) is a funny super modern version that opened up on 47th and 9th (2 blocks away from the original). the font on the menu is so modern it's difficult to read, there are no right angles on the walls or corners, you sort of feel like you're eating in a stanley kubrick movie. that said, there's never a wait and the food is exactly the same.

                            as for fuleen, i can give you a few suggestions. the fried tofu with shrimp and ponzu type dipping sauce app is great. so is their salt baked tofu app. i like their geoduck 2 ways, they bring you sashimi with wasabi soy, and then take the stomach and deep fry it into little bite size pieces. their peking duck is also quite good, prepared traditionally in 2 different ways. the wraps are shanghai flat bread-ish buns, instead of pancakes. then they take the rest of the carcass and carve it in the kitchen and stir fry the meat near the bone with veggies. i also like this one dish, it's chopped beef with black pepper. it comes with diced onions and some sort of chopped pea pods. yum! ooh! their razor clams with black bean sauce (not on the menu) were really really good. they don't always have it. my friend has told me their peking CHICKEN is also excellent, but they don't have that every day either. i also like the e fu long life noodles with seafood. really good finish with some sambal chili sauce. personally the crab is too difficult for me to eat (it's a lot of work for little meat) and i'm terrible at eating crab (i end up with a lot more shell than meat in my tummy!) but the dry sautee they use is heavenly. i'm content literally just sucking on the shell pieces like a lollipop. i think lobster would be easier to eat with the same preparation. the clams in a spicy pepper soup are really yummy too.

                          2. re: jungirl

                            sweet and tart lost their lease...I think the Flushing brach will remain open

                            1. re: kenito799

                              OMG, please tell me this isn't true. are they totally closed or are going to? i will travel to flushing just for that rice and stockpile it in my house. i kid you not.

                              1. re: kenito799

                                I heard they are in process of looking for another place in chinatown, NY. They plan to be back.

                          3. Thanks a million for the great run down of restaurants in Chinatown. It's been a long time since I've gone to Chinatown, and at my last visit, my old favorite was gone, so it's great to have an updated list of where I should try.