This pint-size dumpling den serves one of the best budget meals in Chinatown: four pan-fried pot stickers for a buck. The plump, hand-made wrapper—chewy with crisp, griddle-pressed edges—is folded around a juicy pork-and-chive filling, its rich flavor at odds with the cheap price. $1.
You’ll be confused when you show up to this old-school Cantonese joint—the outside inexplicably says 102 noodles town. But clarity hits when you taste a slice of the roasted duck, with its fatty, succulent meat and crackly, burnished mahogany skin. You can get the bird over rice or congee ($5), but purists should stick to a mere drizzle of hoisin. $10 for ½ duck, $20 for whole.
The litmus test of a good Chinatown bakery is its dan ta (egg custard tart), and there’s no tastier tartlet around than the one at this Two Bridges bakery. What sets the three-bite sweet apart is its melt-in-your-mouth custard filling, eggy-sweet but not cloying and skillfully wrapped in a buttery, crisp-around-the-edges crust. 90¢.
“You live in Chinatown and don’t know what Ten Ren is?” an Asian teen incredulously screeches on his iPhone outside the Chinatown outpost of this popular tea chain, first opened in New York in 2001. And the incredulity is valid—lines here regularly wind into the street. Boba novices should start with the classic pearl milk tea, a smooth, strong black milk variety studded with super-fresh, chewy tapioca balls. $3.
Nestled amid sidewalk stands of dragon fruit and rice rolls, this Canal Street cart doles out $1 paper bags filled with 15 quarter-size balls of batter. Pillow-soft with a crisp exterior, the puffs are made to order in a special waffle iron and taste like the sweet cross between a fortune cookie and a French madeleine. $1.
Owner Lorna Lai knows her teas the way a sommelier knows terroir. Curious sippers peruse the well-stocked shelves of the Hong Kong native’s nook, which boasts more than a thousand jarred loose-leaf varieties from around the world, available by the ounce ($1–$17). Lai’s house-made herbal blends are a standout, in exotic flavors like holy basil and bilberry.
Every inch of this block-spanning mart is packed with Chinese staples: Lacquered roasted ducks hang in the butcher shop; neat rows of egg tarts fill the bakery displays; and prepared-food stations hawk pay-per-pound delicacies like shredded pig’s ear, stewed tendon and gamy beef tongue.
Karaoke: K-One KTV
This recently renovated two-floor (the second floor is still out of action) spot atop Shanghainese restaurant Full House is a late-night destination for young Chinese-Americans. Mirrored halls bedecked with chandeliers and strips of neon lights lead to private rooms for 5 ($25–$50/hr) to 25 ($68–$135/hr) people. New Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English songs are added weekly, and as with most Chinese karaoke dens, you get a free tab for food and drinks from the full bar, equivalent to what you pay for the room. 212-925-1999. Cash only. Reservations recommended.
Blowout: Mess Look
If the sleek black-and-white decor and the dance music thumping from TV screens don’t tip you off, the stylists sporting funky ’dos (purple hair, anyone?) and customized black tees with slashes and safety pins should leave you in no doubt that this two-year-old hot spot for Hong Kong hipsters is undeniably trendy. But an affordable blow-dry can be found here, too, ranging from $15 to $20, depending on how much flatironing is needed. 212-226-7826, messlook.com.
Nails: Rich Nail Spa
A handful of manicure tables and elevated, massage-giving pedicure chairs occupy this cozy salon. Exposed brick, outdated English fashion magazines and a MOR soundtrack form the backdrop to bargain manis ($8), pedis ($18) and combos (Mon–Thu, $20). Foot massages (30mins $25) are also on the menu, and flip-flops ($3–$8) are for sale in case you want to preserve your newly painted toes. 212-965-8998.
Massage: Fishion Herb Center
At the end of an AstroTurfed alley off Mott Street is an unexpected gem. In 15 linoleum-floored, semi-private rooms, therapists dole out a combination of Chinese acupressure and shiatsu massage (30mins $20), while foot massages (40mins $25) are dispensed at armchairs in the downstairs communal area. 212-966-8771, fishionherbcenter.com. Reservations recommended.
Stuffed with juicy pork and leeks, the crunchy-bottomed dumplings doled out by this no-frills booth are worth the extra quarter. Wenzhou native He Fen Zhu—who used to sell his snacks from a street cart—mans the massive woks, refilling them with fresh-wrapped pot stickers as supplies dwindle. Four for $1.25.
Vietnamese food may be the focus at this restaurant, opened in 1999, but locals aren’t lining up for the pho. Instead, you’ll find diners patiently waiting single file at the metal counter by the front window, where they offer Cantonese barbecue, including juicy, crisp-skinned ducks drizzled in sweet soy. $5.75 for ¼ duck, $10.85 for ½, $20.75 for whole.
For still-warm pastries, head to this bakeshop’s New World Mall outpost, where a stream of hungry shoppers keeps the ovens working around the clock. While the tarts come in flavors like coconut and lemon, we stick with the traditional: a wobbly egg custard cradled by a buttery, tender crust. $1.25.
Fill up on Xinjiang-style barbecue at this cart, usually parked across from St. George’s Episcopal Church. Meat skewers are expertly roasted over charcoal and topped with a cumin-and-cayenne spice mix popular in western China. Our favorite is the lamb, but for less than two bucks a pop, you can afford to try ’em all. $1.25.
This sprawling supermarket inside New World Mall is a cook’s paradise. Push through throngs of basket-wielding shoppers for affordable grocery staples, plus hard-to-find fruits (like the spiky red rambutan from Southeast Asia) and seafood (such as live eels and razor clams). Asian snacks, including Pocky and white gourd juice, pack shelves.
Karaoke: Monster KTV and Café
Ascend a stairwell lined with dinosaur images and neon lights to this buzzing ten-year-old institution. There’s an extensive list of English tunes (searchable by artist or song name) waiting for you in rooms that fit between 7 and 20 warblers. Call ahead to reserve a room, especially on weekends and even if you’re swinging by before 7pm to take advantage of the half-price rates (daily 11am–7pm). 718-445-7300. $30–$49/hr.
Blowout: Hair Manna
No-nonsense owner Manna buzzes around making sure her customers are having their needs met at this comfortable salon, where a blow-dry ranges from $10 to $20. Wait your turn on black couches and armchairs surrounding a TV that screens entertaining movies from the likes of seminal Hong Kong actor Stephen Chow. Pro tip: Be careful not to confuse the street-level entrance with Bebe’s orange awning next door. 718-461-0200, hairmanna.com. Reservations recommended.
Nails: CoCo Glamour Nails and Spa
Within a madly popular, two-year-old mall lies this no-fuss salon, sandwiched between a beauty supply store and a clothing shop. The bustling parlor offers manicures ($8) and pedicures ($16) with a wide selection of basic OPI polish and more complicated nail embellishments. 718-661-2088.
Massage: New Wenzhou Massage
There’s no English sign for this joint, which serves up plain and simple Chinese reflexology that keeps neighborhood regulars coming back for weekly treatments—just look for the pink second-floor billboard above Curry Leaves Restaurant’s yellow awning and follow the stairs up a flight. Soothe your soles with a foot rub (60mins $25) or opt for a body massage with a brief hot-stone treatment (60mins $30); both are $5 off between 9am and 5pm daily. Splurge on any body massage or a multitreatment package (five hours of foot massages for $90, for example) to get access to the spa’s bare-bones sauna and shower facilities. 917-238-2998. Cash only. Reservations recommended.
A good roasted-meat house is judged by the quality of its duck, and the glistening poultry at this Cantonese joint make it the Chinese BBQ king in Sunset Park. Hanging off S-hooks in the front window, the birds—with crackly, golden-brown skin and succulent flesh—always sell out by dinnertime. Arrive early, especially on weekends. $9 for ½ duck, $18 for whole.
This chainlet—there are three locations within a ten-block stretch—plies dozens of Chinese pastries. But don’t let the dizzying variety turn your attention away from the classics, like this round tartlet with a luscious eggy filling and flaky puff-pastry crust • 5408 Eighth Ave between 54th and 55th Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-853-9888) • 5711 Eighth Ave between 57th and 58th Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-853-8188) • 5910 Eighth Ave between 59th and 60th Sts, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-567-9288) $1.
The first of its kind to open in Sunset Park’s Chinatown, Ten Ren continues to be the go-to store for both tea leaves and bubble drinks. The iced sippers shaken by baristas at the green marble counter, include the classic zhen zhu nai cha, a creamy black milk tea packed with chewy tapioca balls ($2.50). Shelves lined with golden tins fill the rest of the space, where a vest-clad shopkeep spoons out leaves by the ounce.
A dim sum fixture gets the street cart treatment at this stand, open daily at 7am. Normally parked outside HSBC, the husband-and-wife owners heap ladles of milky white batter onto metal trays with a filling of your choice (we were smitten with the pork and scallion combo). In under five minutes, they’ll hand you a clamshell of silky noodles drizzled lightly in soy sauce. $1.50.
There’s a market on practically every block, but Fei Long—located on the upper end of Brooklyn’s Chinatown—is the best one-stop shop. On weekends, customers from all over the borough flock to the expansive supermarket, stocking up on produce and meat as well as snacks. Refrigerators are filled with frozen goods, including steamed buns, fish balls and ice-cream mochi. Need to refuel? There’s a food court showcasing regional specialties like Cantonese roasted meats and Shanghainese dumplings.
Karaoke: 100 Fun KTV Bar Lounge
No matter how deep you’re rolling, this roomy joint can accommodate you. The 32 rooms are decorated by theme (such as Angry Birds, Hello Kitty, mah-jongg tiles) and range from four- and six-seaters ($10–$40/hr) to two lounges with spacious balconies that fit 50 people ($50–$200/hr) and offer a catered outdoor barbecue ($20 per person). The 80,000-strong song library should keep you busy until the 4am close; but if you must have the latest G.E.M. jam, you can request that it be downloaded. Fair warning: Ask about minimum charges after 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. 718-436-8883, 100funusa.com.
Blowout: Hair Station
Join the waiting masses fiddling with their iPhones under the TV (tuned to a Chinese channel, of course) in this popular salon, decked out in black with splashes of lime green. Once you’ve settled into one of the dozen chairs, prepare to shell out a mere $10 to $16 for a blow-dry (depending on the length of your hair), with an extra $2 charge tacked on for the use of a flatiron or curlers. 718-633-2815. Cash only.
Nails: 8th Ave Spa
Canisters of multicolored glitter line the walls of this space, but it’s no mere neighborhood spot: Customers flock here for Allen Xia, a nail artist who embellishes cuticles with intricate designs, charms and assorted bling (check out some of the salon’s work on Instagram at @SandyLipingSu). If you’re not one for flashy fingertips, opt for the basic manicure ($5) or pedicure ($11), dispensed while you perch in a massage chair. 718-438-8200.
Massage: Tai Shuang Spring Resort
There’s no English sign to help you find this massage parlor and salon; look for a short flight of stairs next to Ying Fong Hong Trading. The lobby’s dim lighting, red paper signs, water features, bamboo plants and fake birds in cages give the place an eclectic yet unmistakably Asian feel. Opt for a full-body massage (60mins $35), a composite of Chinese and Thai practices, or a treatment that zeros in on feet, back, neck, head and arms (60mins $28). 718-686-6111. Reservations recommended.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
It may be sacrilege to say it, but it seems that the legendary 96 -year-old Grand Central Oyster Bar, located in the epic and gorgeous hub that shares its name, is running on fumes. The surly countermen at the mile-long bar (the best seat in the house) are part of the charm, but the fishy lobster roll, overly breaded fried clams and ketchup-tasting pan roast are not. Play it safe—and classic—with a reliably awe-inspiring platter of iced, just-shucked oysters (there can be a whopping three-dozen varieties to choose from at any given time, from Baja to Plymouth Rock) and enjoy the vaulted-ceiling view. As long as the station is abuzz and the oysters good—they are—the other food is really beside the point.
Venue says: “For over 100 years we have been serving the freshest oysters & seafood in NYC! Our Oyster Happy Hour features Bluepoint Oysters, $1.25/each”