New York’s best Chinatown restaurants are more than dim sum and Peking duck—although, the downtown neighborhood is rife with fantastic options for both. No, the food possibilities expand well beyond some of the city’s best Chinese restaurants to include creative Mexican restaurants, ramen dens and Cali-coolcafes. Whether you’re looking for traditional soup dumplings or French-Malaysian fare, these Chinatown restaurants have something for you.
RECOMMENDED: Full neighborhood guide to Chinatown NYC
Best Chinatown restaurants
One of New York's first dim sum houses opened in 1920 at a crook in Doyers Street referred to as "the bloody angle." That Chinatown passage witnessed the grisly havoc of the Tong gang wars, but the bakery and tea shop has a sweeter reputation: Its almond cookies and moon cakes were legendary. For more than three decades, the Choy family ran Nom Wah but sold the operation in 1974 to Wally Tang, who in 1950 started there as a waiter and eventually became a manager. In 2010, Wally Tang passed the establishment on to his nephew Wilson Tang, a banker at ING Direct. Tang did away with cooking dim sum dishes en masse and now each mouthwatering plate is cooked fresh to order.
One of the city’s most talked-about Chinese menus can be found at this San Francisco import on the fringes of Chinatown. But don’t expect traditional dishes here—Mission Chinese Food celebrates an American take on Asian cuisine in all of its lost-in-translation charm. Though the buzz has simmered since chef-owner Danny Bowien first appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on the NYC scene, the focus is still on searing hot Szechuan flavors in in-your-face dishes like thrice-cooked bacon, mapo tofu and kung pao pastrami, plus supersized family-style feasts of roast duck and prime rib.
Even in the city’s dim sum center, Royal Seafood stands out from its neon-ceilinged, cart-toting neighbors. While classics like chicken feet, turnip cake, short ribs and a host of deep-fried dishes lure the brunch-hour rush, it’s the off-the-menu lobster that garners rave reviews well into the evening. Meals are served family-style at large communal tables, so look for it on your neighbor’s plate before ordering your own.
A hole-in-the-wall temple to the cuisine of China’s Henan heartland, Spicy Village is a pilgrimage site for adventurous eaters and regional cuisine purists. While the illustrated wall-mounted menu boasts noodle soups, dumplings, and, yes, soup dumplings, don’t even bother giving it a second look. What you’re really here for is the No. 7, the Big Tray of Chicken, a red-hot plate of bone-in poultry chunks and potatoes marinated in Budweiser, MSG and a blend of chili oil, star anise and Szechuan peppercorn. Can’t stand the heat? Add on an order of the house-made hand-pulled hui mei wheat noodles.
Over the years, Great N.Y. Noodletown has proved that it can deliver on the promise of its name. Choose from panfried selections (boiled angel-hair noodles that are lightly fried for a crunchy-soft texture) or softer preparations (served floating in a flavorful chicken broth); they can be ordered with roasted pork, duck, chicken or ribs. Suckling pig is also a treat, but the supply usually runs out by 8pm. In a signature combination, Chinese flowering chives are sautéed with duck, scallops, fish or squid. The chives lose their pungency and sweeten in the flash of heat, making them a great accompaniment for delicate fowl or seafood.
From the outside, this might look like an old-school slice of Chinatown, but this “New Age” Mexican boite from El Rey’s Gerardo Gonzalez is as strong a sign as any where the neighborhood is headed. Located in the former home of Winnie’s karaoke bar (with the retro sign to prove it), the restaurant hits all the tell-tale signs of the neighborhood’s newest incarnation. There’s the mustard banquettes, the on-trend ceramics and a light, produce-focused menu that’s designed, down to the cocktails, to be mixed, matched and shared. Let the carnitas, which come dosed in three sizes (“single,” “lovers” and “familia”), lead the way.
The first thing you see at Oriental Garden are the crabs waving their claws inside a front-window tank. That’s a good sign, for this Chinatown stalwart (with brightly lit dining-hall decor) specializes in fresh, Cantonese-style seafood and embraces a lengthy menu of dishes such as steamed whole fish, glazed prawns with broccoli, and clams galore.
Talk about a melting pot: A French and Chinese husband-and-wife team—Marc Kaczmarek and Mei Chau—is dishing out traditional Malaysian food in Little Italy. Chau (born to Chinese parents in Port Dickson, Malaysia) and her Parisian hubby have revived the East-meets-West vibe of their beloved Tribeca bistro Franklin Station Cafe (shuttered in 2008) at this bright, narrow restaurant. The teensy open kitchen supplies big portions of homestyle fare, from laksa (spicy Peranakan noodle soup) to lemak (coconut milk rice, the national dish of Malaysia). The 550-square-foot spot is humbly outfitted with old-fashioned tin ceilings, exposed brick and black-and-white tiled floors, and features a rotating selection of Kaczmarek's colorful photography of Manhattan street art.
Part of a local Chinese-food chain featuring the mouth-tingling cuisine of the ancient capital of Xi'an along China's Silk Road, this spot bears the same short menu of spicy noodles and cumin-flavored burgers but in roomier digs. Unlike its sparely appointed siblings, a mix of antique touches (porcelain figurines from the Ming dynasty) and modern effects (framed photos of frequent customer Anthony Bourdain) decorates the 40-seat restaurant.
At this SoCal-inspired café, the lineup can change weekly. Expect colorful plates with equal parts Japanese, South American and Mediterranean influences. The menu has included a bonito chili–spiced black-rice bowl loaded with sweet potato and eggplant, and braised chicken in stick-to-your-ribs apricot couscous.
Your waiter parades the roasted duck past your party before placing it on the center show table. A chef brandishes his knives dramatically, then slices the aromatic, crisp-skinned, succulent meat with great flair. Folks at other tables drool with envy. (They might not know the establishment doesn’t require ordering the specialty in advance? Pity.) Select the “three-way,” and you'll score the duck main course (complete with pancakes and plum sauce for rolling up the goods), a vegetable stir-fry with leftover bits of meat, and a cabbage soup made with the remaining bone. Yes, the menu lists many dishes besides Peking duck, but reading it will only delay the inevitable.
A Japanese stalwart on a block in the very heart of Chinatown, this subterranean restaurant serves up a traditional menu of ramen and mazamen (that’s soupless ramen) dishes. The Tokyo import is known for its bowls of rich broth and complex flavors, but it’s the green curry variety, with its bone-warming sardine- and pork–based broth, that keeps the city’s noodle lovers lining up.