You’ve seen restaurants bait you with everything from rainbow bagels to fancy latte art atop your electric-green matcha drink, hoping you’ll like their Instagram posts. But tofu? Isn’t that the white, cubed soy product that doesn’t taste like anything, even when it’s fried? Its reputation of bland nothingness isn’t exactly made for going viral on social media.
But for Paul Eng, tofu is an all-around hit. Generations of customers patronized his family’s business, Fong Inn Too, from 1933 until 2017, when the small Chinatown shop closed. Now, Eng has resurrected the neighborhood fixture only a few blocks away.
At the new Fong On, the freshly made tofu tastes nothing like you’re used to, whether you order soy milk ($2.50) or dau fu fa (small $3.75), a sweet, custard-like tofu swimming in ginger syrup. If you’re ordering only one dish, however, try the savory tofu pudding ($5.50 or $6.50, depending on size). You’ll likely find a woman behind a glass partition gently ladling the silky tofu from a metal pot into a paper container. Next, a shower of pickled radishes, fried shallots, scallions, sesame oil, dried shrimp and chili sauce make your order taste as satisfying as any red meat–packed meal.
Fong On’s entire menu is scrawled on a wall of white subway tiles, and the prices—nothing is more than $6.50—look like they haven’t increased much since the original Mott Street location opened nearly 90 years ago. It’s just another reason to order some of everything.
The Can’t Go Wrong (small $5) overflows with red beans, grass jelly and taro balls for a refreshing dessert. But we prefer the bai tang gao ($5 or $6), an airy, steamed rice cake with a perfect balance of sweet and tangy.
It may not be flashy and trendy, but we left Fong On feeling that it didn’t matter—after all, everyone in Chinatown knows why this humble tofu shop has been revived, to much local fanfare. It provides something more enduring than Instagram bait.