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Forgotten restaurants of Chinatown

So many restaurants... it's easy to stick to your faves and pass the rest by. Here are a few, never mentioned on Chowhound, that you might have passed by. All are in the most touristy part of Chinatown, though all are patronized by a predominantly Chinese crowd. None is a contender for best in the nabe... but if you placed any one of them in any American city between NY and California, they'd be the best in 500 miles. Here they are, from south to north.

Lucky 11 11 Mott This used to be a Taiwanese place, but new owners added on some Shanghainese and a few Cantonese dishes. You can have a great Taiwanese chicken-basil casserole accompanied by Shanghainese dishes such as intestines in brown sauce. I havent been there this year, and on my last visit the quality had gone a bit downhill. I'm hoping that that's temporary, this was one of my faves.

Sing Wong, 13 Mott I like their casseroles, e.g. grouper, lightly breaded, with mushrooms and tofu in a lovely brown sauce. Havent been this year.

Danny Ng Pell St My first time at this old Cantonese standby tonight. I ordered pork belly with preserved veg from the Chinese menu. I've had better... but, judging from the procession of elaborate, elegant fish and seafood dishes that went to the other tables, the kitchen has too.

Mr Tang 50 Mott St. Yes it looks like a tourist trap, but you can get good Cantonese stuff if you stay clear of the tourist fare.

Asian Cafe 51 Bayard I love this place. Yes they offer weird stuff to entice a younger, American born Chinese crowd, like spaghetti with ham, chicken and corn, but they do the traditional stuff really well... I like the casseroles. The service, which when they opened was like something from the three stooges, has vastly improved. Always crowded.

Dragon, 200 Centre. A new place just north of Canal. I've been once, had the stewed chicken casserole, and it was very good though not the best I've had. (I cant remember the full name.)

Does anyone know any others? I've omitted those known on this board, such as New Big Wang at 1 Elizabeth, Cantoon Garden, and East Ocean.

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  1. I think you need to take another visit to Danny Ng. They have a bunch off dishes on their chinese menu that are worth trying. They have a good salted cabbage and chicken dish. They do have a duck and veggie dish on their regular menu that is good. They got some other stuff that I didn't get to try. They have a chicken stuffed with sticky rice but you should go with more people.

    The forgotten one is Yuen Yuen which I still like going to because they got some old school stuff.

    7 Replies
    1. re: designerboy01

      Ah yes, Yuen Yuen. I tracked it down (it's on Baxter near Elizabeth) and had a look. It's very easy to overlook if you dont know its there. The menu is written in Chinese. The people eating there looked like successful businessmen from the suburbs returning for a Madeleine-like taste from their childhood. I'd heard they are famous for their medicinal soups, so with help from one of the businessmen I found that section of the menu. It's a white poster on the wall, and lists several soups including turtle. I'll have to return and try it.

      Question: is it dangerous to eat medicinal soups? If it's really medicine, even herbal, I'd no more want to eat one than I'd want to sneak into a stranger's medicine cabinet and pop pills at random.

      1. re: Brian S

        Baxter doesn't intersect with Elizabeth. From what I can gather, it's at Bayard and Elizabeth.

        1. re: Pan

          That sounds about right. Address is 61 Bayard. I believe Yuen Yuen is best known for snake soup. From what I can tell, medicinal Chinese restaurants (at least the very few that have popped up in the U.S.) are geared more for a person's general well being, as opposed to going to a herbalist to address a specific medical condition.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            Yes, it's Bayard and Elizabeth. Sorry about the mistake I would have eaten there last night, but it was full! So I ate at nearby Cantoon Garden, which I've loved ever since it opened 10 years ago. It has improved over the past year, by the way.

        2. re: Brian S

          Brian they got an English menu there too. Just ask for it. It doesn't have all the items there. The medicinal soups are more like tonics and they are not harmful. Just think of it like taking vitamins. These soups are steamed. But the ones you get there are probably cooked, refridgerated, and then reheated. Normally they take a long time to cook. That place has probably been there for more than 40 years. When I go I go for the lamb on rice. I do see the older generation ijn that restaurant and brings back memories when I went there as a kid. It was that place and mei lei wah that was there back then. They got desserts there too, so don't miss out on that too. They got some rice dessert there and soy custard. The food here is Cantonese...my favorite out of all chinese cuisines.

          1. re: designerboy01

            My mother-in-law, a Korean who lives in Tokyo, recently visited and cooked us a medicinal soup using black chicken, dates and brown rice as the main ingredients. Are you familiar with this recipe, and, do they serve it at the place you are talking about?

            1. re: Polecat

              Koreans usually cook that with gingseng. Black chicken is normally used for medicinal soups. The Korean name for the soup sounds very close to the chinese cantonese prononciation Samgyetang. Sam=ginseng gye=chicken tang=soup. They serve the black chicken at Congee on Bwoery for about $4 a jar. My japanese friend freaked out when there was a chicken food coming out of her soup. I thought that was funny. I don't think they have the black chicken. They got about 6-8 soups if I recall. I had the water duck soup. The other soup I don't remember but it tasted like medicinal bark...not sure. I had the turtle there. They also got softshell turtle soup at the old Congee Village and at Jazzi Wok. I took my non-chinese friends there and they really enjoyed the soup and asked me what I ordered. I told them it was soft shelled turtle (which is like fish) and there was an uncomfortable pause...thought that was funny too.

      2. Danny Ng is my favorite place.

        You definitely have to give it another try. They're famous for their prime rib with spinach dish - everyone that I have taken to the rest. raves about it. If you like pea shoots, they have a good one in a soupy broth.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sashimi

          Oh I agree. When I saw the elaborate, delicious-looking dishes that every other table got, I decided to give it another try. Also, someone taped a great review by Sietsema on the wall next to the toilets, and that convinced me too. http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0...

        2. I'll throw out a couple cheap dumpling houses that I haven't seen mentioned. At 7 Allen St. is a place that should be mentioned if only because of it's name, or more precisely its names. The front and the side of the awning have different names--one says Dumpling Kingdom and the other says Kingdom of Pancakes. Anyway this is your place for good, cheap onion pancakes. At 25 Henry St. is a place called Fried Dumpling. I don't know if it's related to the other Fried Dumplings, but the menu seemed to be quite different from the Fried Dumpling on Mosco. A featured item is a soup dish containing 8 dumplings for $2. Order it to go and they put it in this really nice plastic container, possibly the nicest I've gotten at a Chinese restaurant.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Chandavkl

            Kingdom of Pancakes is now called Taipei Noodle House or something like that. I'm glad I got a shot of the sign before they changed it. That was my favorite NYC restaurant name of all time. I guess I should have tried their namesake -- the noodle soup I tried was insipid. The time I was there a guy came in looking for American-style pancakes, but they couldn't understand what he was saying, so it was a pretty amusing conversation.

            1. re: Peter Cuce

              Wow, that was fast! I was at Kingdom of Pancakes not that many weeks ago. Should have brought my camera, too.

                1. re: Peter Cuce

                  Thanks for the pictures. I'm going to print them out and put them in my photo album--nobody will know I didn't take them!

                2. re: Chandavkl

                  If you really want to print them out, shoot me an email (it's in my profile), and I'll send you a link to the original size pictures, or even the photos themselves.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. Anyone ever go to the ancient Nam Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers? I've never seen it mentioned anywhere - kind of like "personna-non-gratta", the tea parlor that time forgot.

                Went there with my wife a few years ago for dim sum; the curiosity was killing me. Very old, atmospheric, kind of like walking through a time warp. Seemingly hundreds of beautiful, dusty old tea tins lining the walls up to the ceiling. We were the only customers on a late Saturday morning. The wait staff was friendly, but kind of slow-moving, like they were walking through light shafts under water. It truly felt like David Lynch via Chinatown, only in an amusement park vein, not sinister.

                Anyhow, I guess because I'm a sucker for atmosphere, I kind of liked the place, found the jiggly, gelatinous par-for-the-course dim sum items middling to decent. I had a smile on my face the whole time. My wife, however, is probably more objective - she found the food to be "greasy" and stomach churning.

                Before that time and since, I have often passed by Nam Wah, at various times of day, and never seen anyone inside, no customers.

                I stopped by again, around a year ago, to sample one of their almond cookies, which they sell in bags or individually as you walk in.

                Anyone else ever venture into the Nam Wah?

                12 Replies
                1. re: Polecat

                  My husband and I were in there once, we just had tea and almond cookies. one other couple came in after us. it is totally old school, and dusty. i liked the atmosphere. there is an older man that sits and reads the paper towards the back. The woman that served us was very nice. We'd go back for tea and cookies, if the mood ever strikes. but i don't know if i'd actually eat anything else there.

                  1. re: twiggles

                    yes, tea and cookies, thats what its best for. they also have dim sum kind of dishes too like har gau and shu mi and the like that i also enjoy. nothing great foodwise tho. however, yes the place has atmosphere in spades and it is a treasure for what it is. in fact i think it is so old that it was the very first tea parlor or first place to serve dim sum or something like that if i am not mistaken.

                    1. re: mrnyc

                      "...the very first tea parlor or first dim sum..."

                      This would definitely not surprise me. It's worth checking out online or asking other chowhounds. I would have to agree that there are far better places to eat, but, as you both say, it's a nice after-meal place to hit for tea and cookies.

                      Let's appreciate it while it's still there.

                      1. re: Polecat

                        Yeah, the big Chinatown information board (on the triangular traffic island on the south side of Canal St. where it intersects with Baxter and Walker Sts.) identifies this place as Chinatown's first dim sum restaurant and tea parlor (although it doesn't specify it by name), IIRC. I rarely see anybody in there either. It doesn't give off a very attractive chow vibe to my senses, but I'll have to try the cookies and tea ("brewed in ancient tea canisters" or some such, according to one website).

                        The board also says the legend about Doyers Street's unusual angle is that the merchants wanted to keep out "straight-flying ghosts." Hmmm, that's awesome. I guess ghosts like tea and dim sum and cheap barbers.

                        See also:
                        http://tinyurl.com/o834k

                        1. re: Polecat

                          no, as i say it's not chowy at all i'm afraid.

                          otoh, vibey its got!

                          thx for clarifying its rep, i had read that somewhere long ago.

                    2. re: Polecat

                      About old-school places like this, a post I made last year on the history of Chinatown might be relevant.

                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                      1. re: Brian S

                        Ike, thanks for the link. I'm pretty sure the "straight flying ghosts" have found their way into Nam Wah. one can only hope. there's also a Vietnamese place right next door that I've often wondered about. Never see anyone going in there either. hmmm...

                        Brian, I just bookmarked your thread, am looking forward to reading it. thanks.

                        1. re: Polecat

                          Hi Polecat. Always good to see your postings. If you mean Doyers Restaurant, it was formerely called simply Vietnam Restaurant. There are lots of older threads mentioning it, but hardly any newer ones:

                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                          Many feel it's one of the top Vietnamese places in NYC, although I've gathered from one or two experienced hounds that Little Saigon in Montclair NJ (formerely in Nutley NJ) is better than any Vietnamese place in Manhattan. (Many hounds feel that NYC's Vietnamese is kinda lame overall.) I've been to Little Saigon -- that's my neighborhood -- and it's very very good indeed.

                          1. re: Ike

                            I never thought it was the top Vietnamese place in NYC. Many better places in Brooklyn (or Manhattan even).

                            1. re: Ike

                              I agree with Peter. In its former incarnation, at least, it was mediocre. I don't know if I've tried it since the latest name change.

                              1. re: Pan

                                I used to get take out delivered from there. First thing I really noticed from my takeout food that I can really taste the wok air in the food. I have been meaning to go try that place for dinner. I enjoyed my takeout lunches from there very much.

                          2. re: Brian S

                            Thanks for the link. Having written about the Chinese Exclusion Laws in a prior life I'm glad to see the word getting out on this episode of American history. This ties in directly with the type of food found in Chinatown over the decades. American Chinatowns as discovered by tourists were enclaves established by early 20th century illegal immigrants (almost all of my ancestors were illegals) from a small rural area of China (the villages of Toishan, outside of the city formerly known as Canton) and their progeny. Interestingly, this culture was frozen in time here in Chinatown while the original motherland itself continued to evolve. For example, Toishanese Americans use still words that are considered as archaic and haven't been used in China in decades. Likewise, much of the food found in throwback Chinatown restaurants today probably doesn't exist anywhere else in the world today, as it reflects the old Toishanese/Cantonese diet from that particular time period as adapted for American tastes.