Best Chinese bakeries in NYC
Walking into this pristine, neon-pink-tinted Chinatown bakery—opened in 1990, with two offshoots in Flushing—is sheer sensory overload. A bustling crowd herds around the counter, glazed-over eyes taking in the pastry-porn display: vibrant fruit tartlets artfully topped with honeydew balls and tufts of whipped cream; pale rounds of creamy papaya and green-tea custard; and moist, delicate minicakes coated in salt-flecked shredded coconut to counter the sweetness. Ponytailed workers whiz about in pink polos with trays of less eye-catching but mouthwateringly fragrant pork mochi, golden-fried doughnuts hiding soft, glutinous rice and savory minced swine. It’s just as weird and wonderful as it sounds.
This tried-and-true mainstay continues to offer some of the freshest steamed buns in the city, each less than $2.50. If you only have a buck to your name, you can’t do much better than the classic pork bun (80¢), still one of the best deals in town.
Get your mind out of the gutter—the giggle-inducing name doesn’t refer to some Urban Dictionary–sourced innuendo, but to this hole-in-the-wall’s specialty: the steamed bun. Thirteen varieties of stuffed, cotton-light mantou cover every inch of surface space in the small takeout shop. The buns are fluffy, mildly sweet clouds of dough: rich, nutty red-bean paste fills one; salty-sweet duck egg yolk oozes over another. The must-have, though, is the pumpkin bao, a perky yellow bun that reveals smooth, mellow squash puree.
Crack cake. That’s what the renowned sponge cake should be called at this 30-year-old Chinatown coffee counter, so criminally good, you’ll think it’s laced with something illegal. It doesn’t look like much—a squishy, boat-shaped white-sugar cake, pulled from the oven, wrapped in paper and hidden in Tupperware behind the counter. But its unassuming appearance belies an angel-food-like interior, ethereally light and mildly sweet. Even better? The shop has launched a green-tea variety, smaller than the original but steeped with earthy tea flavor, mellowing out to a vanilla finish.
The Boston pie at Yi Shih Yeh’s Taiwanese sweetshop is not what you’d expect—for one, there’s no chocolate glaze. Instead, this fan-favorite take on the classic treat is a large, sugar-dusted whoopie pie, with two flaky, delicate circles of sponge cake sandwiching vanilla-cream custard. The teensy Flushing storefront also has a limited but top-notch menu of cakes, including a sizable selection of roulades, in two display cases. The green-tea roll is a delectable swirl of crumbly, poundlike cake and whipped vanilla cream, brightly hued but subtly flavored with Japanese matcha powder.
Homier than shiny chains like Taipan and Fay Da, this worn-in Mott Street den—sporting blush floor tiles, Formica two-tops and red paper lanterns—specializes in old-school Chinese desserts. A sign on the storefront window proclaims, “We Have the Best Hopia,” a bean-paste-filled pastry introduced by Fujianese immigrants in the early 1900s. The rendition here is pretty damn delicious—a tender, flaky disc filled with savory-sweet black beans or lotus seeds. The rich, thick bean paste also serves as the center of the jin deiu—sesame-seed balls that trace back to the Tang Dynasty—whose crunchy seed coating counters the soft paste and chewy glutinous rice.
Moon cakes—the Chinese answer to the holiday fruitcake—are traditionally enjoyed during China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, but this bare-bones bakery doles out the special-occasion sweet year-round. Owner Tak Law—a Hong Kong native—fills the mini cakes with dense lotus-seed paste, lending them a light nuttiness. The cakes are punctuated with a rich, cooked-through duck egg yolk that adds a nice salt (and, when cut in half, resembles a moon). The funky treat is an acquired taste for Western tongues, so for more familiar fare, look to featherweight, mildly sweet cakes like the almond roll, sheathed in nut slivers, or the simple, spongy angel food cake.
Clued-in locals lamented when Grand Street’s Manna House Bakery folded in 2010 due to lease issues—luckily for neighborhood egg-tart mongers, there are three other locations of the custard-pushing chain sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, including this quick-service Mott Street outpost. Crammed between fruit stands and seafood markets, the small shop does justice to Hong Kong–style buns and pastries, drawing in a boisterous crowd of Chinese natives in the AM when sesame balls, cocktail buns and sponge cake are piping fresh from the oven. The egg tarts are a quick sellout, with a buttery, shattering crust encasing a soft-set center that tastes purely of egg and sweet milk.