Venturing to Lower Manhattan often mirrors a fast-paced trip around the world. Enclaves of immigrant communities from numerous countries and regions, decidedly vast food options representing various communities, and hundreds of spoken languages bouncing throughout the atmosphere embody an area that exists thanks to the myriad of diverse communities who’ve decided to call New York City home.
Chinatown remains one of the most storied neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan’s diverse landscape. It’s one of the oldest Chinese enclaves in the country, and one of the largest; Chinatown is home to more than 100,000 people. Cantonese, Mandarin, and Fuzhounese-speaking residents can be heard while walking across the slim, mesmerizing streets. In addition to diverse languages, Asian residents in the area hail from numerous countries and regions, including China, Japan, and the Philippines. The cultures, languages and dialects, and food introduced by these and other immigrant groups have shaped an area known for picturesque landscapes and unforgettable food.
Though Chinatown is home to generations of residents and welcomes millions of tourists each year, the neighborhood has seen some difficult days. The tragic September 11 attacks left Chinatown, and surrounding neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, completely devastated. Many businesses were closed as the city’s downtown area worked towards recovery. Chinatown saw a similar pattern in 2020, when discriminatory behavior amid the COVID-19 pandemic devastated restaurants and businesses. Like Chinatowns around the country, public response to the pandemic and a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks led to increased violence in the neighborhood alongside closed businesses. Legendary, decades-old restaurants like 69 Bayard Restaurant, Lung Moon Bakery, and Gohan-Ya shuttered their doors, a painful indication of the difficulties facing the cherished neighborhood.
And yet, like so many times in history, Chinatown has prevailed. Though some of the most beloved businesses and restaurants have said goodbye, many have also found a new footing. The classic dim sum restaurant Jing Fong, for example, shuttered its ballroom doors in March 2021, but is working towards reopening in a new location in Lower Manhattan. Newer restaurants like Cha Kee and Alimama Tea showcase a new generation of young Asian creatives and entrepreneurs eager to make their mark in the community. Lines spilling out of the doors of egg tart shops, dumpling joints, and Malaysian coffee shops are just one sign of the neighborhood’s glorious resurgence. It reminds us that though Chinatown may have been hit with devastating challenges, the heart and soul of the community never left.
The many food stalls, open markets, and restaurants that ground Chinatown can’t be wholly digested in just one visit, but there’s certainly an opportunity to get a sense of the incredible history and culture that defines the area. Walking through Chinatown is a remarkably pleasant sensory overload: The smell of crispy duck, vendors selling bags and trinkets, and the seemingly endless array of dumpling houses transport you into a world seemingly separate from the rest of Manhattan. The visit deserves your full attention, and there are a series of restaurants and sights that will ensure a truly memorable trip.
There’s perhaps no better way to indulge in the beauty, warmth, and ingenuity of New York City’s Chinatown than through food. From mom and pop, family-owned dumpling houses, to dim sum halls, to remarkably crafted cuisine prepared in an old opera house, there are truly an endless array of options. Make sure to bring cash, as many bakeries, cafes, and restaurants in Chinatown are cash-only.
46 Bowery New York, NY 10013
A Chinatown mainstay, Joe’s Shanghai has been a favorite stop of tourists and New Yorkers alike, with their legendary soup dumplings even becoming the prize for a friendly wager between two former mayors. Appreciated for its unassuming decor and simplistic approach to service, Joe’s Shanghai keeps the focus on the food. Originally opened in Flushing, Queens in the 90s by restaurateur Mei Ping “Barbara” Matsumura and chef Kiu Sang “Joe” Si, Joe’s Shanghai now has a global imprint. Locations in Japan, Midtown, and of course Chinatown have created an entryway into the wonderful world of xiaolongbao, a steamed Chinese bun that encases piping hot soup. Pork, and pork and crab soup dumplings are most famous here, but the garlic eggplants, scallion pancakes, pan fried flounder, and numerous fried rice dishes are also not to be missed. Joe’s Shanghai is cash only, so make sure to stop by the ATM before grabbing your soup dumplings—and whatever else is on the menu.
151 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002
Co-owners Moonlynn Tsai and Kyo Pang brought an all-day Malaysian cafe to Chinatown, and it resulted in long lines for exceptionally wonderful food. The cafe interior feels like entering a cafe that could be seen in Southeast Asia, demonstrating the owner’s commitments to creating a restaurant true to the culture that has inspired the food. An example of younger generations bringing their take to Asian cuisine, Kopitiam has captured the hearts of Lower Manhattan residents and tourists alike. They have perhaps become best known by nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia, which is complete with coconut rice, ikan bilis (fried anchovies and peanuts), sliced cucumbers, a gorgeous hard boiled egg, and served with their flavorful house sambal. While this dish is a stunner in its own right, the Malaysian-style French toast, fish ball soup, chilled spicy sesame noodles, and honeycomb cake are just a few additional menu items well-worth a try.
Tai Pan Bakery
194 Canal Street, New York, NY 10013
Tai Pan Bakery is another multi-location business that has garnered great respect in NYC. Based in Flushing, Queens, and Chinatown, Tai Pan bakery sells some of the most delightful egg tarts in the city. The custard tarts that have roots in Cantonese cuisine can be found at cafes and bakeries throughout Chinatown, and Tai Pan Bakery is known for its especially careful take on the beloved pastry. Tai Pan also offers other delights, like cakes with floral designs, pastries topped with animal shapes, and other Cantonese and Taiwanese treats. The business is also cash only.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013
In every corner of Chinatown, there’s incredible history that invites visitors on a journey throughout New York’s complex history. Nom Wah Tea Parlor is one such place. It is known as the oldest open restaurant in Chinatown, with a history that dates back to 1920. The original location sits on the historic “Bloody Angle,” and is often recognized for its dim sum. However, the tea parlor began as a bakery, where mooncakes dominated the interest of locals. The tea parlor has since undergone several changes in leadership and culinary style. There’s even a cookbook detailing the restaurant’s perspective on Chinese-American food and Cantonese cooking. Through change and new locations, Nom Wah has still retained its original charm, and the history and traditions speak through relatively inexpensive and flavor-packed food. The shrimp siu mai, pan-fried pork dumpling, roast pork bun, shrimp fried rice, and chicken feet are not to be missed here. But, remember to bring cash to the cash-only establishment, as other options like rice rolls, scallion pancakes, salt and pepper shrimp, steamed lotus buns, and other dishes will most certainly be of interest.
The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St New York, NY 10013
As another restaurant with deep, generational roots in Chinatown, the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is a favorite stop for a post-meal treat. With locations in Flushing, Queens, and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, much of the city has indulged in the varied flavors of the family-owned business. Offering ice cream pints and ice cream cakes, the factory has become known for more traditional flavors like pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla, as well as flavors rooted is Asian flavors, like Durian, taro, red bean, and pandan.
Peking Duck House
28 Mott St # A, New York, NY 10013
It’s not uncommon to see duck lining the windows of Chinatown restaurants. At Peking Duck House, which also has a location in Midtown Manhattan, the duck is the center of the table. This BYOB restaurant is a common spot for large celebrations and family events, and is a great spot when traveling with a group of friends or loved ones. Don’t let the large duck intimate you: highly-skilled chefs will slice the bird for you, ensuring a meal of crispy, meaty goodness.
106 Mosco St, New York, NY 10013
Straight and to the point, Fried Dumpling offers some of the best, well, fried dumplings. There’s pork, fried pork and scallions, and soup, too. Not to mention, five dumplings will cost you less than $2.00 (and thus, they only accept cash). It’s an unbeatable offer for exceptionally prepared food. The street-style nature of the restaurant gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy a good bite while walking through the neighborhood, taking in the plentiful sights, sounds, and smells of the community.
Pinklady Cheese Tarts
11 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
As evidenced by other restaurants and cafes, like Koptiam, Chinatown certainly holds space for Chinese restaurants in business, but also other groups within the Asian diaspora. Pinklady Cheese Tarts digs into Japanese cuisine, offering melt-in-your-mouth good cheese tarts inspired by Hokkaido Cheese in Japan. A small and quiet business, Pinklady offers regular cheese tarts, and flavors like black sesame, ube, and matcha. There are many ways to enjoy cheese tarts; warm while walking through Chinatown is a favorite.
5 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013
Chinatown is known as a street-food friendly neighborhood, filled with expensive bites that can be enjoyed while walking or grabbing a small table. Chinese Tuxedo, however, is a reminder of the range that exists within Cantonese cooking. Depth of flavor and tradition is evident at this restaurant, which is housed in a two-story former opera house. There’s clear ingenuity in the dim sum offerings, like their chicken and corn dumplings with jicama and three cup sauce, and their sweet potato curry spring rolls. Seafood and meat dishes like whole drunken dungeness crab, steamed branzino, and two types of whole roast duck are all innovative and delightful approaches to the cuisine.
In addition to the food of Chinatown, the history and sights are simply unbeatable. From the open-air markets that offer distinctive produce, seafood, and meats, to the various statues and buildings, to the intricate shops, there’s also something new to see in Chinatown. The Dahing Fish Market has interesting options—like lobster, turtles, and frogs—all self-caught by the workers. Some streets and buildings, however, pack especially significant history. One of the most famous is Bloody Angle, a 200-foot-long street. Bloody Angle is a lone block long with a sharp bend in the middle. Now home to cherished restaurants like Nom Wah Tea Parlor, and other businesses like a U.S. Post Office, Bloody Angle was once the deadliest street in the United States. So much gang violence took place there that the street was literally stained red, earning the area it’s notorious name. The street has now transformed into a common meeting place for friends and families, and is now a safe home to numerous businesses. The Museum of Chinese in America provides further information and other important history in Chinese America, including immigration trends, how Chinese Americans have fought discrimination, Chinese American contributions to American history. Also in Chinatown at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge is Mahayana Buddhist Temple of New York, an important faith institution that is a place of peace and serenity to Chinatown and greater New York City residents.
Chinatown’s offerings are infinite. The neighborhood has managed to both carry significant history through old buildings and institutions, while also making space for the reality of change. Most important, however, is that Chinatown is committed to centering its Asian roots and identity, which are evident in the street names, history, statues, and eating styles that exist in the community. Visiting Chinatown may seem like a trip to another world, but truly digging into the history of the neighborhood is a reminder that our world has been deeply influenced by the very communities that have made Chinatown what it is, and we are a better world for it.