A New York City Chinatown Food Tour
September 22, 2011
Last week our good friend Nicole, fresh off her heroic stint of helping me to sell my car, came to visit New York City for 4 days of indulging a few of her passions, namely eating and napping. In between meals, we decided to take Nicole on our patented, trademarked and available for license New York City Chinatown Food Tour. I've been running this food tour racket for some time, testing it out on friends and fine-tuning our selections as the venues change. The reality is this is a collection of a few of our favorite Chinese foods from various restaurants, thoughtfully sequenced for an inexpensive yet tastefully fulfilling Chinatown experience. I've included a handy Google map below, and recommend the stops in the order listed. Luckily all of these restaurants are within a few blocks of one another centered around Mott Street and Canal. You'll need to bring cash, but you won't need much. Eating in 5 restaurants with three people for less than $40 is hard to do anywhere, but is especially remarkable in New York City. Although I took uninteresting photos of the restaurants' exteriors, it didn't occur to me to photograph the food. I guess we were too busy eating it. Enjoy the tour!

View the Chinatown Food Tour in a larger map

First stop: Fried Dumpling
The simply named and sparsely appointed Fried Dumpling serves only that. A mixture of pork and chives rolled into a wonton and fried golden brown, they are a great appetizer for the food tour. If you've seen Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, the service is comparable, but at 5 dumplings for $1, its hard to beat the value. We were feeling like fat cats so splurged for 10.

Food total so far: $2.
First stop: Fried Dumpling on Mosco Street

Second stop: Xi'an Famous Foods
Xi'An Famous Foods has been a New York City institution for a few years, but is a recent addition to our tour. They have locations on St. Mark's Place, on East Broadway, in Queens and their newest on Bayard Street just off Mott. A favorite of Anthony Bourdain, they specialize in northern Chinese cuisine, focusing on hand-pulled noodles, spicy lamb and tofu. My favorite dish there is the spicy cumin lamb noodles, and this is coming from someone who doesn't like lamb. On our tour, we ordered the cold spicy tofu noodles. The noodles were prepared by the chef (who also operated the cash register) and served in minutes. A mountain of noodles dripping in spicy cumin sauce was $4.50.

Food total so far: $6.50.
Second stop: Xi'an Famous Foods on Bayard Street

Third stop: Big Wong King
Yes, this restaurant is called Big Wong. If you're in junior high, you probably think that's hilarious. The Chinese name translates to "Big Wok", and its one of the best all-around Chinese restaurants in New York City. Jessica and her family have been coming here for years, and we often make a trip on a Sunday and buy enough for the week for only a few dollars. The menu isn't innovative, but the food is rock solid. They have the best roast pork, roast duck and congee (rice porridge) in town. During our stop, we got an order of the congee with thousand year egg and salted pork, and an order of roast pork (we also got a beef noodle dish that Jessica and I ate later in the week). We ate about half of what we ordered, but the ladies were admiring a woman at the adjacent table who ordered the daily special: two whole roasted lobsters for $20. The roast pork and congee were $11.

Food total so far: $17.50
Third stop: Big Wong King on Mott Street

Fourth stop: Shanghai Cafe
Our fourth stop is another of the Chiang Family favorites. Shanghai Cafe has a large and traditional Chinese menu, but their specialty is the Shanghai soup dumplings. A soup dumpling is like a fried dumpling, but has a much fattier mixture of pork and other ingredients. When steamed, the fat melts into a highly liquid soup that surrounds the filling and is slurped from a spoon when eating. Reading what I just wrote, that probably doesn't sound appetizing, but trust me - its amazing. We got an order of the 8 pork dumplings, and an order of 8 pork and crab dumplings (I'm told the pork and crab are the best, but I don't' care for crab). The pork dumplings were $4.95, the crab dumplings were $6.95 plus two Tsing Tao beers at $3.00 each.

Food total so far: $35.40.
Fourth stop: Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street

Fifth stop: Mei Li Wah Bakery
Our last stop of the day was for barbecue pork buns. Although I bought the buns while Jessica and Nicole finished their dumplings at Shanghai Cafe, we didn't eat them until the next day. As you can probably infer from the tour thus far, we were pretty full. Mei Li Wah has full menu, but they are famous for their pork buns. They have two varieties; white (steamed) and brown (roasted). I prefer the brown. A pork bun is made from sweet dough filled with minced barbecued pork. Imagine eating a Krispy Kreme donut with a savory pork filling. I can't emphasize how delicious these are. Despite the pork, they are very dessert-like, and I usually bring them home to eat for breakfast. Either the roast or steamed bun is $0.80 apiece.

Food total so far: $37.00.
Fifth stop: Mei Li Wah Bakery on Bayard Street

By now we were feeling a bit wobbly from all the food. We took a long walk through SoHo and eventually headed home where we took a lengthy and well-deserved nap. A few hours later, we stopped by Eataly for a late afternoon snack of charcuterie, cheeses and wine. Much later that night we would eat falafel on MacDougal Street. Although it was only the second day of Nicole's visit, we had accomplished an epic amount of eating and napping.
Later that day, an afternoon snack at Eataly

If your'e going to be in New York or thinking about coming, please let us know as we're always up for the Food Tour. Its a cheap and delicious way to spend the better part of an afternoon. If you have any other Chinatown favorites you can recommend, please let me know.

Editor's Note: Not mentioned here, but obvious if you know us: Quickly could easily be on the list, but its a bit of a walk from these other restaurants. They are notable for their inexpensive shabu shabu dinner and of course bubble tea (bonus: the shabu shabu dinner comes with bubble tea!).